Dutch Reflections: Jews, Israel, and antisemitism
Having lived for almost two years in the Netherlands, during 2015-2016, I gained some insights into the Dutch Jewish community, the perception of Israel in the Netherlands, and the problem of antisemitism. It is good to be back in Australia. I offer my personal reflections on the situation in the Netherlands.
Zionism in Europe appears to have similar challenges to those we face here in Australia. Israel’s reputation is regularly in the front line of assault from bigotry and undisguised antisemitism much of it coming from disaffected parts of a population, both political and cultural, that has alienated itself from the continent’s profound historic, cultural and legal traditions.
The Dutch have a deserved historic reputation for tolerance. Adjectives most often used when describing the Dutch are that they are: blunt, stubborn, honest, plain speaking, punctual, organised, thrifty, casual, independent, and non-emotional (in public). The Dutch do not line up, and show little consideration in public for a person’s status, gender, or age.
But increasingly, tolerance is mistaken for weakness, thrift for selfishness and independence for disruption. So a vague sort of group-think has settled upon the media perspective of the country, showing a distorted moral shell, such as support for the noisy dissident, or the perceived underdog – with scant regard for factual context.
A 2011 study by the University of Bielefeld in Germany found that more than 38% of the Dutch population agreed with the statement “Israel is conducting a war of extermination against the Palestinians”. Textbooks for school have been published which demonise Israel and subtly reinforce Jewish stereotypes. In a recent Ipsos poll for the Dutch Broadcasting Foundation (NOS), 86 per cent of Dutch voters were concerned about a decline in traditional Dutch values and morals, with just one in ten expecting any improvement in the coming years.
Despite the Anne Frank story and the many brave people in Occupied Netherlands who assisted Jews in hiding, it’s often forgotten that the Netherlands Jewish community suffered the second-largest Holocaust losses as a percentage of population (75%), after Poland (90%) in Occupied Europe. I encountered cherished memories of the past Jewish way of life featured in the Dutch media – which I found admirable – but less support for the Jewish present and future, and even less for Israel.
Contemporary Jewish commentators whose views were publicised were often those of an a religious or an anti-Israel perspective. In their landscape, Judaism represents a quaint artefact and Zionism a colonial oppression.
The Dutch Centre for Information and Documentation on Israel (CIDI) reported 126 antisemitic incidents in the Netherlands in 2015, the second-highest since 2010. Nearly a fifth (24) of the total count were insults shouted at Jews on the street, 12 were cases of online harassment, six were cases of vandalism and five were incidents of physical violence. Disturbingly, a report published by the European Union revealed that 74 percent of all Jewish victims of antisemitic attacks did not report the incidents to the authorities.
There are many allies of Israel to be found amongst the non-Jewish population, especially those aligned with mainstream churches and those who have family connections with wartime resistance. These are great friends to have at a time like this. Also, my experience with the warm, welcoming and encouraging Liberal Jewish congregations in The Hague and Rotterdam, and the small Orthodox congregation in Leiden, left me with the impression they were strongly Zionist.
The political sector is not as friendly towards Israel as in Australia. The recent warm reception of Prime Minister Netanyahu in Australia further underlines this difference – even though Australia’s internal political strains are clearly visible.
The Dutch Government, with a partisan foreign affairs lobby, together with some of the more radical church groups, funds many anti-Israel activities such as Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS). The Dutch government subsidized the BDS-promoting Catholic development aid organisation, Cordaid, with half a billion Euros from 2007 to 2011 and with lesser amounts since. The Netherlands, is a European Union member, and uses this to give it cover when defending anti-Israel actions such as labelling of goods from Judea and Samaria.
In September 2016 a Dutch MP (Turkish-born and from the far left) refused to shake Prime Minister Netanyahu’s hand in Parliament; and a former Prime Minister (Dries van Agt) said that Netanyahu was a war criminal who should be prosecuted during his visit to the Netherlands. In 2012, van Agt said Jews should have had a state in Germany instead of Israel. In 2008, he spoke at a rally in Rotterdam that featured a speech via satellite by the Hamas leader.
Australia is in a better position as a supporter of Israel, geographically, demographically, communally, politically and socially than the Netherlands. Netherlands in turn is better placed than its more troubled neighbours, Belgium, Germany and France. This seems to be due to a combination of: relative economic and political stability, more effective local policing, greater security co-operation with and support for Jewish communities, comparatively less social impact of migrant communities and new migrants, and the customary organised attention to detail.
However, times change and only time will tell whether the Dutch have chosen the wisest combination of domestic and international policies. I remain ever hopeful, given the many fine people I met there.
Tony Leverton is the President of the State Zionist Council of Queensland. The above represents a personal reflection only and is not to be considered the view of the State Zionist Council.