Antisemitism and Permissiveness in Dutch Society[1]


Manfred Gerstenfeld


In the 21st century, both verbal and violent antisemitism in the Netherlands have reached new postwar heights. This is accompanied by an increasingly critical and frequently discriminatory attitude toward Israel. The Netherlands in the past had the reputation of a country where antisemitism was a relatively minor phenomenon, but the reality in recent years has changed. In a European Union study on antisemitism, the country was included among the continent’s leaders in this type of racism. The summary of this report on European antisemitism published by the European Union Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia (EUMC), which covered the first half of 2002, said:

France, Belgium, the Netherlands and the UK witnessed rather serious antisemitic incidents such as numerous physical attacks and insults directed against Jews and the vandalism of Jewish institutions (synagogues, shops, cemeteries).[2]

     Statistics on antisemitic incidents in the Netherlands over the past six years show an overall level much higher than in previous decades. When analyzing the various types of antisemitism including anti-Israelism one has to keep in mind that the Netherlands is not a country of extremes or major uncontrolled violence. Any analysis of a phenomenon such as antisemitism, thus has to be nuanced.


National Characteristics


Before analyzing the nature and manifestations of antisemitism in the Netherlands, one should understand the country’s characteristics, in particular those of its political debate and culture. Over the centuries, the Netherlands’ major constant enemy has been the sea. A large part of the Dutch population lives in dried areas below sea-level, behind dikes, in polders. Until a few years ago, it was agreed that the country was governed by a poldermodel. Its underlying metaphor is a legacy of the past, when the dikes were in danger due to floods. All those living behind it had to collaborate according to agreed principles in order to prevent its collapse.

     Though mainly used in the economic arena, the poldermodel approach reflects Dutch society at large. Disagreeing parties make efforts to reach a broad consensus on important issues. In order to do so they discuss matters as long as necessary. This also explains why the Dutch like to find practical solutions to problems without defining ideological or intellectual positions too sharply. The country’s prevailing culture is frequently defined as a praatcultuur (talking culture).

     One example of the poldermodel is that the establishment of coalition governments may take several months. Thereafter the coalition partners are supposed to stick to what has been agreed. It fits the country’s culture that no political party after the war has obtained anything close to a majority.


A Culture of Permissiveness


A second defining element in the Dutch societal culture has been that many transgressions or near-transgressions of the law are tolerated. This is called gedoogcultuur (the culture of permissiveness). It has become synonymous with “closing one’s eyes” to multiple transgressions of the law. In its most simple form, this has meant, for instance, that the police did not intervene when cyclists rode through a red traffic light, even when it was forbidden. It was considered better to permit minor transgressions in order not to overload the police and justice apparatus.

     This culture was prominent in the attitude toward disparate matters such as soft drug use, immigration policies, industrial safety, and some transgressions of the law on euthanasia. Another consequence of this culture was the often unhindered expansion of street gangs in the country’s largest cities and elsewhere. The latter also reflects an anti-authoritarian attitude that is quite common in Dutch society.

     Another defining factor of Dutch society is the desire for political correctness. Xenophobia, nowadays widespread, is officially frowned upon. Yet another national characteristic is a structural hypocrisy when comparing one’s own society’s shortcomings to those of others. A good illustration is that Dutch governments seem to have major problems confronting the consequences of matters for which they are responsible. This reached a low point during and after the Srebrenica massacre in 1995 where Dutch UN soldiers left the inhabitants to their fate. Yet this does not prevent Dutch ministers from regularly criticizing the Israeli government’s behavior in infinitely more difficult circumstances.

     The poldermodel and gedoogcultuur evolved against the background of a number of far-reaching cultural changes in the past decades. One was increasing secularization to a point where by now approximately half the Dutch—excluding immigrants—have no religion. After the Second World War, Calvinist versions of Protestantism (mainly in the north) and Catholicism (mainly in the south of the country) were still dominant.

     Another major development was the immigration of non-Europeans from countries such as Turkey, Morocco, Surinam, and the Dutch Antilles. These immigrants and their progeny, even if they hold Dutch nationality, are called allochtones and account for about ten percent of the Dutch population of 16 million.

     Close to one million of these are Muslims, of whom approximately one-third are of Turkish, and another third of Moroccan origin. In the three major towns, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and The Hague, allochtones comprise nearly half the population. Demographic forecasts see a further percentage increase of allochtones, due to the low birth rate among the autochtone Dutch.

     These developments took place in an atmosphere of vague multi-culturalism. In a country where the debate about abstract concepts does not carry much interest or prestige, the exact meaning of the term was never submitted to great scrutiny. The broad concept was that people from a variety of cultures would live peacefully next to each other. The underlying idea was that their cultures would cross-fertilize leading to a happier and more creative society.

     In the major cities, however, allochtone ghettos emerged which became problem areas. In some, the police do not enter when in uniform. Recent information shows that even in 2006, such instructions were given by a police commander in the Diamantbuurt, one troubled quarter of Amsterdam.[3] When this became known, the police reacted by saying that it only concerned a segment of the police.


Two Political Murders


Two political murders in the new century disturbed the idyllic image that many in the Netherlands were still promoting even though the reality had become rather different. On May 6, 2002 Volkert van der Graaf, a Dutch animal-rightist murdered the populist politician Pim Fortuyn. This was unprecedented in the democratic Netherlands; the previous political murder had taken place in the 17th century.

     On November 2, 2004 the radical Muslim Mohammed Bouyeri killed the Dutch filmmaker, Theo Van Gogh on a street in Amsterdam East. The murderer’s behavior shocked the Dutch public: he shot his victim several times with a pistol and afterwards finished him off  with a large knife. Bouyeri left another knife in the body with a letter attached, addressed to the liberal parliamentarian Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a secular Muslim woman who is very critical of Islam. The letter praised Allah and threatened Hirsi Ali, Jozias van Aartsen, then leader of the liberal parliamentary faction; and Job Cohen, the Jewish mayor of Amsterdam.

     The Van Gogh murder and subsequent reactions suddenly brought to the surface many structural ills of Dutch society. Reactions far surpassed what is common when one private person kills another cruelly in a civilized society. Latent feelings of hate and racism burst out. Within one month there were more than one hundred attempts of arson and desecration of mosques, schools, and other Islamic institutions, or other anti-Muslim violence.[4] There were also a number of arson attempts against churches.

     Above all, however, there was a developing sense that a far-reaching reevaluation of Dutch society’s functioning was necessary. Among many, there was a feeling that rather than being tolerant, the Netherlands could be characterized as “having excessive tolerance for intolerance and crime.”

     The Van Gogh murder brought with it also a change in the international image of the Netherlands, which had often wrongly been perceived as an admirable example of a tolerant society.

     After decades of a certain type of behavior, a nation’s attitudes do not change rapidly. The poldermodel and gedoogcultuur are deeply ingrained, as is the talking culture. This inhibits rapid policy changes. Since the Van Gogh murder, the Netherlands can best be characterized as a confused society. The Dutch are now well aware of many societal problems. Articles describe them in detail, many questions are raised, but few answers are given. The subjects discussed include what Dutch values are and what immigration policies should be. Both issues have an impact on, and are influenced by, attitudes toward allochtones, and particularly the Muslims among them.


The Jewish Community


Mainly as a result of the Holocaust, the Dutch Jewish community is very small. Before the war, 140,000-150,000 Jews lived in the Netherlands. About 105,000 were deported to Eastern Europe, where more than 100,000 were murdered. Since the war, the number of Jews has been more or less constant. According to Jewish legal criteria, the figure is approximately 30,000. If one includes those with only a Jewish father, one reaches about 40,000.[5] This thus represents 2-3 pro-mille of the Dutch population.

     Dutch Jewry is very assimilated. The Centraal Joods Overleg (CJO), the representative body of the Dutch Jewish organizations, has as members the Ashkenazi, Liberal, and Portuguese religious communities, JMW (the organization for Jewish social work), FNZ (the Federation of Dutch Zionists), and CIDI (Center for Information and Documentation on Israel). The combined membership of these organizations, which represent almost all of organized Dutch Jewry, comes to about 8,000. From a religious point of view, most Jewish life in the Netherlands is concentrated in about 30 square kilometers in the southern parts of Amsterdam and the Amstelveen suburb. This represents less than one thousandth of the surface of the Netherlands.

     The Jewish day schools are located there as well as many other Jewish institutions, including the offices of the two main religious communities, the Ashkenazi and Liberal. It is also the only area in the country where regular weekday religious services are held.


A Variety of Questions


Any analysis of antisemitism in the Netherlands has to address a variety of questions, which are valid for any post-modern Western European democracy. How does antisemitism manifest itself and who are the main perpetrators? How do antisemitism against Jews and the new antisemitism against Israel interconnect? What are the main sources of information about them? How does the phenomenon of antisemitism relate to general developments in Dutch society and to what extent can it be mitigated?

     The main perpetrators are Muslims, extreme right and left wingers, and some Christians. Antisemitism manifests itself in various ways: violent acts against individuals and Jewish institutions, verbal attacks against Jews, and discriminatory remarks against Israel. One finds in the Netherlands expressions of racist antisemitism as well as its Christian theological variants and the “new” anti-Israeli version.[6]

     Many perpetrators of violent antisemitic acts and threats in the Netherlands are of Moroccan descent, a community which represents only two percent of the Dutch population. Insults against Jews often come from the same source. It is mistaken, however, to attribute all antisemitic violence to the members of this ethnic community. As far as violence against Jewish institutions is concerned, neo-Nazis and extreme right wingers are among the main perpetrators.

     A specific Dutch phenomenon is the way antisemitism is expressed on football fields, which is discussed in more detail below. Discriminatory attitudes toward Israel are manifest in the statements of Dutch government and party politicians. Biased anti-Israel media reporting in the Netherlands goes often unchecked.




Violent and verbal antisemitism have become facts of life in the Netherlands. Both official data and anecdotal evidence prove this, even if many Dutch Jews have no personal experience of it.

     At the same time there is among many Dutch Jews and others an inclination to relativize the antisemitism. In its 2003 annual report, CIDI wrote that while the antisemitic violence in the Netherlands is totally unacceptable, it pales “compared to the situation in which the Jewish community finds itself in France, England and Belgium. In particular, in Antwerp and Paris, already for a long time, life-threatening incidents have occurred.”[7] A Dutch rabbi told this author that he is regularly insulted by young Moroccans and remarked: “But in France it is much worse.” In view of the small size of the Dutch Jewish community, the number of reported antisemitic incidents, however, is sizable. In 2004 CIDI reported 326 incidents, slightly below the figures of 2003 and 2002. This means about one reported incident per one hundred Jews.

     If it is related to easily identifiable Jews, such as those wearing a kippa, or having Jewish facial traits, the incidence is much higher. In 2004 in the U.K., with at least 300,000 Jews, there were 532 incidents.[8] In France, with over 500,000 Jews, the number of incidents in that year came close to one thousand.

     Various assumptions are made as to why the number of reported incidents in the Netherlands is high. One is that the data may embody more types of antisemitism than in other countries. Some experts claim that in the Netherlands people complain more readily about such incidents. It is also often mentioned that the number of physically violent incidents is not significantly high.

     The annual CIDI reports provide detailed insights into the great variety of antisemitic incidents. They prove once more that antisemitism is an integral part of national culture, even if this should not be interpreted as meaning that a large number of Dutch are antisemites.[9] It is in particular the report’s description of individual cases which gives a detailed perspective on Dutch antisemitism.[10] Another important contribution of the document is that it illustrates how complaints often have few consequences due to the inefficiency and attitudes of the police and justice.


The CIDI Report


There are several other more incidental sources on Dutch antisemitism as well as additional anecdotal material. Yet the CIDI annual report on antisemitism is the only document which has investigated the subject over a substantial period.

     The CIDI website is also the main internet source for a broad overview of the major expressions of antisemitism in the Netherlands.[11] The published overview is updated once a year. The latest CIDI report covers both 2004 and 2005 until May and numbers over seventy pages.

     Among the 326 antisemitic incidents in 2004, the largest category was 121 hate emails. The second largest group was verbal insults, for instance by neighbors, over the phone, at school or work, or in a political context. There were five incidents of physical violence and fifteen of threats. Only in 2002 were there more, with twelve cases and nineteen threats of physical violence. In 2004 four of the five cases of physical violence concern Jews who were spit on by North African allochtones.

·          A North African spat in the face of a visibly Jewish man, calling him a "cancer Jew" a number of times and knocking off his eye glasses. The police arrived and took the attacker with them. A complaint was registered but the prosecutor refused to charge the perpetrator in view of what he considered to be the insignificant nature of the incident. This case is typical of the Dutch culture of permissiveness and how it manifests itself at the level of the justice system.

·          A non-Jew in Gouda who carried an Israeli flag on his scooter was threatened without actual physical violence. In August 2004, two North African allochtones in a car tried twice to push him off the road. As the man frequently wears a cap with Israel on it, he was often insulted with words such as “Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas” and “cancer Jew.” At the end of October 2004, again a car attempted to force him off the road.

·          A Jewish girl was insulted almost daily at school as “cancer Jewess” over a period of nine months. The perpetrators, North African allochtones, made hissing sounds—which in the Netherlands are associated with escaping gas—and sang “Jews one has to kill.” The girl was also threatened physically. She complained four times to a teacher, who took no action. The girl finally ceased going to school. Only in 2005, after the school admitted its failure, did the girl return.

·          A recognizable Jew was on holiday in a town in the north of the Netherlands. He was threatened on the street by a North African allochtone of about 30 years old. The latter said to him “Yehudi…if I see you once again in this street, you’ll be killed.” A complaint was made, but the police did not consider it either a deadly threat or an antisemitic remark because the only expression used by the persecutor was “yehudi.”

     The category of insults is important because it demonstrates that antisemitism in the Netherlands is far from limited to North African allochtones—almost exclusively of Moroccan origin—who according to some estimates cause over 40% of the more serious antisemitic incidents.

·          A 14-year-old Jewish girl was with her friends in an Amstelveen supermarket. An employee saw her and started singing an antisemitic song. She complained to the manager who said he did not know who did this.

·          A boy in a school in Amstelveen told a Jewish girl in his class that she should listen to a song whose words are: “The Jews have to be killed and we will come to fetch them.” The boy who played this to her said that he used his freedom of speech.

·          In a school in Dordrecht there were regularly antisemitic remarks. A non-Jewish child complained about a girl who said that she understands why Hitler killed the Jews. She would be happy to blow them up because she hates them. The teacher did not react to the complaints and said that these expressions can be expected.

     Pupils of an Amsterdam school visited the Anne Frank house and made remarks such as “very good—they could have killed more Jews.” The Amsterdam mayor ordered an investigation into whether there is a trend of radicalization at schools. Four out of twenty-five schools reported ethnic tensions between pupils. However, it was also mentioned that there are more problems after school.

     Some publications also contain antisemitic remarks. A publisher, Noer, produced a guide for Islamic education. It said that Jews destroy humanity by their “cunning and evil.” The book was criticized by Dutch parliamentarians because it also told Muslim husbands they should beat their wives in a way that leaves no signs.


Analysis of 2003


In its analysis of Dutch antisemitism in 2003, CIDI concluded that the number of insults against Jews continued to increase over 2002 and that in particular, recognizable Jews were the victims of threats and insults. In about 43 percent of the incidents where the perpetrator was recognized, the victim claimed that they were of North African origin. Also the number of antisemitic incidents in schools continued to rise.

     The report quoted the then-Amsterdam Councilor in charge of Education, Rob Oudkerk, who told a newspaper that several teachers had advised him that the subject of the Holocaust had become almost impossible to teach. He said it not only created an intimidating atmosphere but in some cases, it led to threats to the teachers over the telephone, such as: “we know where your child goes to school.” As a result of this, Jewish teachers were inclined to hide their Jewish identity.

     A non-Jewish teacher with a Jewish name reported that when he passed by, some pupils called him “dirty Jew.” Another was quoted as saying: “In my previous school…I sometimes said, in order to confront pupils with antisemitism, that part of my family is Jewish. Now I don’t dare to do that anymore…that’s how one must have felt at the end of the 1930s.”

     This teacher was wrong, however. Dutchmen were not intimidated at the end of the 1930s in the democratic Netherlands before the German occupation to such an extent that they had to express fear for revealing they had Jewish family.

     Besides violent incidents, the 2003 CIDI report contains tens of pages describing threats and insults. In one school, a Jewish child was not allowed to participate in table tennis games because other pupils said that it was “forbidden for Jews.” Several synagogues, monuments, and cemeteries were covered with graffiti. The above lists only a small selection of incidents from the report.[12]


Earlier Years


In earlier years, one found the same motifs, but also occasionally more severe incidents. In 2002, eighty extreme rightists marched in Rotterdam, shouting, “Honor to the Waffen SS.” The mayor of Rotterdam forbade the demonstration, but the extremists appealed to the judge who decided that the Dutch constitution permits the freedom to demonstrate. A year earlier, a judge in Maastricht rendered a similar decision.

     In the same year, in a youth football competition, an Orthodox Jewish team playing against a team of young Dutchmen of Moroccan origin was assaulted. One Jewish boy suffered a concussion, and another’s ankle was damaged. Moroccans pursued the Jews into the locker room. Several bystanders gave the Hitler salute.

     In 2001, windows of the guard’s house at one of the Jewish cemeteries near Amsterdam were smashed on two occasions. Several Jewish cemeteries were also desecrated. At Oosterhout, seventy graves were vandalized with swastikas, runic letters, and signs such as “Juden raus” (away with the Jews) and “Wir sind zurück” (we are back). The perpetrators belonged to an extreme Right organization and were caught, but once again the Dutch judicial system showed its tolerance for intolerance. The accused were sentenced to less than one month in prison. The Jewish community expressed its disappointment about the lenient punishment.

     Later in the year, swastikas were found on tombstones in the Zaltbommel Jewish cemetery. Several Jewish institutions and war monuments were defiled with swastikas or vandalized.

Other Sources of Data

Among the other important sources of information on antisemitism is the Meldpunt Discriminatie Internet (MDI). It receives complaints about discriminatory items on the website and thereafter makes, usually successful, efforts to have the offensive material removed. In 2004, 97% of the items it dealt with were taken off the respective websites, discussion forums or weblogs.

     Antisemitism was the largest category in both 2003 and 2004. There were 531 complaints of antisemitism in the latter year, to which 79 complaints about Holocaust denial have to be added. For comparison, all other complaints about discrimination based on religion came to 443. Of these 409 concerned Islam and 34 Christianity or others.[13]

     Yet another source of information is the reports of local organizations which monitor discrimination. As more than half of Dutch Jews live in Amsterdam, the Meldpunt Discriminatie Amsterdam, is the most relevant one as far as antisemitism is concerned.

     In 2004, 697 complaints were received relating to discrimination; 230 of which concerned ethnicity or skin color, and 45 concerned antisemitism. It shows again that antisemitism is a major problem, not only in view of the number of complaints as related to that of Jews, but also as all allochtones are recognizable, whereas only a limited number of Jews are. For comparison, the number of complaints received from homosexuals—a larger category than Jews—was 38.[14]

     Some additional information about the intimidation of the Jews is accessible in the national and local Dutch media. These only report a small number of the incidents. The Jewish weekly NIW and the Jewish website however are more detailed sources.

     There are foreign sources on Dutch antisemitism as well. In 2002, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) published a study on attitudes toward Jews in ten European countries.[15] Eleven questions were posed and those who agreed with six or more of the statements listed were considered the “most antisemitic.”

     According to the survey, 7% of the Dutch population harbored strong antisemitic views. Eighteen percent of the Dutch population believed Jews have too much power in international financial markets, 15% responded that Jews do not care what happens to anyone other than their own kind, 35% thought Jews stick together more than other Dutchmen, and 48% believed Jews are more loyal to Israel than to their own country.[16] The last prejudice is the most absurd because many Jews in the Netherlands are so assimilated that they are unrecognizable even by other Jews. Nobody knows what the majority of Dutch Jews think about current affairs.

     The ADL updated its ten-country survey in early 2004 and found a general decrease in antisemitic attitudes. Only the United Kingdom and the Netherlands showed an increase in hard-core antisemitic views compared to two years earlier; it reached 9% in the latter. Roughly speaking, this represents an order of magnitude of one million most antisemitic Dutch adults. On the question of those Dutch who considered that Jews are more loyal to Israel than to their own country, however, the figure had declined from 48% to 44%.[17]


“Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the Gas”:

Antisemitism Seeping into Society from the Stadiums


Antisemitism on soccer fields requires a specific analysis. First, it developed there long before the new higher level of antisemitic incidents was reached from 2000 onwards. Second, it has several traits specific to the Dutch situation. Third, it illustrates one of the well-known characteristics of antisemitism: it may start with the Jews, but goes on to reach others. Fourth, the long tradition of antisemitic chants at several Dutch soccer fields is typical of one of the major flaws of Dutch society at the turn of the century: its tolerance for intolerance.

     The problem has existed for years with—until recently—hardly any effective measures being taken to address it. This has been particularly noted with regard to many fans of one of the country’s leading soccer clubs, Feyenoord of Rotterdam. They insulted their competitors, Ajax, as a “Jewish” club, partly because some of its non-Jewish supporters identify with Israel. Already many years ago, thousands of Feyenoord’s fans sung from their stands: “Gas the Jews.”[18] But the same chants occur elsewhere as well. In recent years the more frequent version is “Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas.”

     The antisemitic songs have been heard regularly now for many years by tens if not hundreds of thousands in Dutch football stadiums. The press has described it over the years as a recurring phenomenon. Only occasionally have efforts been made to weaken their impact, for instance by playing loud music during football games.

     The authorities’ lack of will to deal with this recurring racism has led to other developments. For many years it has been seeping into society at large where it is even more difficult to combat. In the stadiums it is accompanied also with hate chants targeting others, such as black players.

     Significant reactions from the football authorities only came in September 2004. This was after the media wrote that on the tribunes of ADO, the Hague first league club, besides what they call “the usual antisemitic curses,” there was regular singing of: “Sylvie is the prostitute of Amsterdam.” This was a reference to the girl friend of Ajax’s (non-Jewish) international player, Rafael van der Vaart.[19] Since then, official positions have become less tolerant toward racism in the stadiums, but the main damage has been done.

     A more extensive case analysis of antisemitism on the Dutch soccer grounds would be important despite the fact that its many perpetrators are marginal individuals in society. One reason is that what was once confined to specific areas, mainly stadiums and their environment, has now permeated the Dutch public square. Another that it illustrates the consequences of the authorities’ ongoing tolerance toward persistent racism against minority groups.


Police Tolerance


Among the many examples of how far Dutch tolerance will go, yet another one—mainly directed against Jewish sentiments—involved the manipulation of the Holocaust on behalf of animals in 2004. An animal rights movement organized a demonstration, “Holocaust on Your Plate,” in the Leidse Plein, a major square in Amsterdam.

     On its panels and flyers, the suffering of animals was illustrated with pictures of the Holocaust. The police initially removed the panels and flyers, but they were soon returned upon the instructions of the prosecutor, who said that comparing animal suffering with that of Holocaust victims is not a criminal act in the Netherlands.[20]

     Another incident illustrative of Dutch permissiveness occurred after the killing of the Hamas terrorist leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin by Israel in March 2004, when a number of pro-Palestinian organizations held a protest meeting in the Dam Central Square of Amsterdam, where the national monument in memory of the Second World War stands. Among the organizers was the Arab European League (AEL), which promotes the destruction of Israel. During the meeting, the police watched passively while an Israeli flag was burned.[21] When asked, a police spokesman said that it is permissible to burn a national flag as long as it does not endanger people or property.


The General Mood


Beyond quantifiable physical and verbal attacks, the general atmosphere in the Netherlands and how it is perceived by Jews is important. This cannot be quantified but only related in anecdotal form. Kippa-wearing Jews are from time to time insulted, as happened to Ruben Vis, secretary of the NIK, the umbrella organization of the Dutch Ashkenazi community, who related his experiences to the media in 2004.[22] At the same time, then-NIK Youth Rabbi Menachem Sebbag related that after receiving many threats he began to go out as little as possible. He was quoted as saying: “Since I stopped going anywhere, I have less problems.”[23] One also hears about Jews who have started taking lessons in the martial arts.

     Another person interviewed then, the cantor of an Amsterdam synagogue, Gideon Van der Sluis, said that the situation had radically deteriorated. He was confronted with antisemitic remarks every week whereas five years earlier he may have heard them once a year. In private conversations and occasionally in the media, Dutch Jews mentioned that they expected that sooner or later a Jew would be killed by an immigrant of Moroccan ancestry.[24]

     On May 4, 2003—the national Memorial Day for victims of the Second World War—several commemorative ceremonies were disturbed. In one area in Amsterdam, de Baarsjes, youngsters of Moroccan ancestry shouted, “Jews have to be killed,” about twenty times during the two minutes of silence in memory of the dead. In another part of town, Slotervaart, youngsters from the same background played football with the memorial wreaths.[25] In the Amsterdam reality, it was considered good news that there were no recurrences on National Memorial Day in 2004 and 2005.


The Perpetrators


As we have said, a substantial number of the perpetrators of anti-Jewish violence in the Netherlands are youngsters of Moroccan ancestry. Part of the Moroccan community is influenced by ongoing foreign Arab hate propaganda against Jews. Furthermore, the general crime rate among the allochtones—i.e., immigrants and their descendants—in the Netherlands is disproportionately high compared to the population at large. This is not only true for Muslims, but also for people whose parents came from the former Dutch colonies in Latin America.

     The impact of racist incidents caused by Muslims has been so widespread that in certain parts of the major Dutch cities, recognizable Jews try to hide their Jewish identity. The Jewish schools, for instance, instruct children not to wear a kippa on the street.

     Despite the overwhelming factual evidence many Dutchmen—politicians and others—found it exceedingly difficult, before the Van Gogh murder, to understand that among leaders and individuals in minority groups, such as the Dutch Moroccan community, one can find a substantial number of extreme racists. When one could not deny this any longer they were reluctant to stress it, as there is also significant Islamophobia in Dutch society. In addition, studies of racism in the Netherlands has focused mainly on right-wing groups and hardly mention Muslim racism.


Attitude toward Israel


Changing Dutch attitudes toward Israel lead sometimes to bizarre situations. In November 2003, the European Union published one of its Eurobarometer polls. It asked respondents which countries they saw as a danger to world peace. Fifty-nine percent of Europeans considered Israel as such. This was the highest percentage with respect to any country, including states such as Iran that are major supporters of terrorism.[26]

     With 74%, the Netherlands had the highest percentage of respondents who considered Israel a danger to world peace. Next in line was Austria, which during the Holocaust participated more zealously in Nazi activity than Hitler’s Germany. After the Van Gogh murder and the Dutch reactions to it, it is even more evident that the poll’s findings reflect more what is wrong with Dutch society than with Israel.

     Only a few politicians describe the anti-Israel variant of Dutch racism clearly. Then European Commissioner, Frits Bolkestein, said at the 2003 Kristallnacht memorial meeting in Amsterdam, that the comparison of Israel with Nazi Germany is a new type of antisemitism. He claimed that it is mainly expressed in Western Europe by badly-informed North African youngsters, influenced by Arab propaganda in which there is no distinction between anti-Zionism and antisemitism. He added that nobody could have thought that nowadays in Amsterdam, near the National War Monument in Dam Square, a man with a kippa being pursued by young Moroccans, would be forced to flee into a nearby hotel for safety.

     At that gathering, the Jewish mayor of Amsterdam, Cohen, said that for the first time the annual memorial meeting for Kristallnacht needed to be used as a warning against increasing antisemitism. However, he did not mention young Moroccans as the perpetrators, though it is generally known that they are the main source of violent antisemitism in Amsterdam. He instead used the term “other citizens of Amsterdam.” This approach is misleading, however, because the violence against Jews is not an expression of the identity of these youngsters as Amsterdam citizens. It is part of the way they perceive themselves as Muslims. After the Van Gogh murder it has become clearer how much the Amsterdam mayor’s attitude is paradigmatic for those who have closed their eyes to what was there to be seen long before.

     The Turkish speaker at the meeting, Selami Yuksel, Chairman of the Contactorgaan Moslims en Overheid—the contact body of Muslims and the authorities—had no need for politically correct euphemisms. He admitted that mainly young Muslims are guilty of “inacceptable behavior.” He stated that on part of this group, the Muslim organizations had lost their grip.[27]


Van Agt and Duisenberg


One of the most notorious promoters of discriminatory attitudes toward Israel is former Dutch prime minister Dries van Agt. He hardly misses an occasion to blame Israel for many problems in the Middle East. Another is Gretta Duisenberg, initially recognized publicly only as the wife of Wim Duisenberg, the late president of the European Central Bank, who did not distance himself from his wife’s remarks.

     Mrs. Duisenberg, besides being extremely anti-Israel, is a distorter and inverter of Nazi history. She said, inter alia, that with the exception of the Holocaust, the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories was worse than the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands.[28]

     Duisenberg, who supports the SP (the most extreme left party in the Dutch parliament), is seemingly outside the Dutch mainstream. A poll of the “quality” daily de Volkskrant among its readers, however, ranked her as the fourth most popular Dutch person. This poll, though unscientific, has significance. Before the Second World War, there were no polls to give comparable data. Yet there is little doubt that, for instance, none of the Dutch National Socialist key figures had such a popularity then. It is another proof of how little parts of the Dutch population care about Duisenberg’s distortion of the Holocaust and support for the Palestinians, masking the genocidal trends in their society.


The Media[29]


In the Dutch environment, where government ministers occasionally express anti-Israel bias, where antisemitic remarks frequently go unpunished, and where insults and violence against Jews are far from rare, a crucial role is being played by the media reporting on Israel.

     CIDI from time to time reacts and writes letters to the editor against anti-Israeli statements and articles. The absence of a regular pro-Israel media watch in the Netherlands, however, means journalists can frequently write biased articles attacking Israel without fear of consistent critical examination of their publications.

     Structural anti-Israel reporting is not dealt with effectively. For example in 2002, a study of the image of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in eight Dutch media was undertaken by Louis Zweers. He wrote that after the bombings at the Passover seder in Netanya on March 29, 2002, Israeli tanks entered Ramallah. Sixty percent of the 1,400 pictures distributed by AP, Reuters, and AFP/EPA came from Palestinian photographers. Zweers says that these pictures provide a different view of the conflict than the work of non-Palestinian photographers.[30]

     One of the few authors exposing the Dutch moral equivalence approach is the Jewish novelist, Leon De Winter. He wrote:

The Israeli army doesn’t aim for the killing of innocent civilians, even if they may die during armed conflicts. It cries to heaven when this happens, but it is ethically and morally of another order when suicidal terrorists intentionally blow themselves up together with Jewish children. Who denies this difference cannot differentiate between truth and lie.[31]


The Dutch Jewish Community’s Reactions


The Dutch Jewish community is unable to fight adequately against anti-Israel developments. This is partly due to its lack of political consciousness and partly to its small size.

     Even if only a small percentage of Moroccan Muslims are involved in anti-Jewish and anti-Israel activities, an increasingly unequal struggle has developed in Dutch society where among many other groups one finds anti-Israel feelings. There is also a small Jewish anti-Israel group called Ander Joods Geluid.

     On the active pro-Israel side, there is a group of Christians organized in a movement called Christenen voor Israel (Christians for Israel.) For instance, during the pro-Israel demonstration about the security fence case at the International Court of Justice, their presence was much more important than the Jewish one.


The Jews as a Societal Indicator


A prolonged series of antisemitic incidents in democratic societies is an indicator of multiple malfunctions. Due to antisemitism’s long history in Europe its analysis illustrates, often more explicitly than other indicators, the structural deficiencies of a country’s government as well as a society’s judicial, educational, and value systems.

     The Holocaust, Dutch failures during and after the war with respect to the Jews, and the partial recognition of these have also created a high symbolic meaning of attitudes toward Jews, as well as toward the state of Israel.

     Against this background, the contemporary aggression against Jews in the Netherlands has a symbolic societal meaning, beyond the pain of the actual victims and the fear it causes among potential ones. The Jews have become, par excellence, a sensor for many of the wrongs in Dutch society. This is all the more important since in the complex societies of today such indicators are the best way to effectively analyze their key characteristics.

     Whoever has watched the developments concerning the Jews in the Netherlands over the past decade could have identified many of the societal problems years earlier, which the Van Gogh murder highlighted. The most obvious is that when perpetrators receive light punishment or are not punished at all, aggressors understand that they face minimal risks.

     The events in the Netherlands at the end of 2004 and in 2005 have indeed made it abundantly clear that Jews are not the only ones in the Netherlands who are, far above average, harassed, threatened, and insulted.

     Future developments will influence how fast the confrontation of the Netherlands with at least some of its core failures will proceed. Major incidents, including suicide and other murders caused by Muslim extremists are inevitable. How these will affect the Netherlands will depend on where they will happen and who the victims will be.

     As its deterioration has developed over a long period, a significant turnaround of the Dutch value system will be a lengthy process as well. This may bring with it also a gradual—and long overdue—improvement of the justice system, which is one necessary step among many in redirecting the increasingly confused Dutch society and in dealing more efficiently with antisemitic incidents.



      [1] This research is part of a project on Dutch attitudes towards Jews and Israel, funded by the Israel Maror Fundation

[2] Werner Bergman and Juliane Wetzel, “Manifestations of Antisemitism in the European Union: First Semester 2002 Synthesis Report on behalf of the European Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia,” Center for Research on Antisemitism, Technical University Berlin, March 2003.

[3] “Agent mocht straat niet op in uniform,” Parool, 7 Feb. 2006.

[4] Margriet Oostveen, “Extreem-rechtse jongeren zorgwekkend snel radicaler” NRC Handelsblad, 2 Apr. 2005.

[5] Hanna van Solinge and Marlene de Vries, eds., De Joden in Nederland Anno 2000 (Amsterdam: Aksant, 2001) 31.

[6] For a definition of when antisemitism becomes anti-Israelism, see Michael Whine, “Progress in the Struggle Against Antisemitism in Europe: The Berlin Declaration and the European Union Monitoring Centre on Racism and Xenophobia’s Working Definition of Antisemitism,” Post-Holocaust and Antisemitism, no. 41, 1 Feb. 2006.


[8] Antisemitic Incidents Report 2005 (London: Community Service Trust, 2005), 4.

[9] Manfred Gerstenfeld, “The Deep Roots of Antisemitism in European Society” Jewish Political Studies Review 17 (Spring 2005): 3-46.

[10] Hadassa Hirschfeld and Agnes van der Sluijs, Antisemitische Incidenten in Nederland, 1.1.04-5.5.05 (The Hague: CIDI, 2005).


[12] Hadassa Hirschfeld, “Jaaroverzicht antisemitisme in Nederland 2003 en overzicht, 1 January-5 May 2004,”

[13] Complaints Bureau for Discrimination on the Internet (MDI), Annual Report 2004 (Amsterdam: Magenta Foundation, 2005).

[14] Meldpunt Discriminatie Amsterdam, 2004 Report (Amsterdam: Stichting Meldpunt Discriminatie, 2005).

[15] ADL, “European Attitudes Toward Jews: A Five Country Survey” (New York: ADL, Oct. 2002). ADL, “European Attitudes Toward Jews, Israel and the Palestinian-Israel Conflict” (New York: ADL, 27 June 2002).

[16] ADL, “European Attitudes Toward Jews: A Five Country Survey.”

[17] ADL Press Release, “ADL Survey Finds Some Decrease in Antisemitic Attitudes in Ten European Countries,” 26 Apr. 2004.

[18] Simon Kuper, “Ajax, de joden, Nederland,Hard Gras (Amsterdam) 22 (March 2000): 141.

[19] Jaco Alberts, “ADO-supporters vinden zichzelf nu ‘lief’,” NRC Handelsblad, 18 Sept. 2004.

[20] Emily Gordts, “Holocaust-actie beledigend,” Trouw, 9 Apr. 2004.

[21] Hans Moll, “Politie kijkt toe bij vlagverbranding,” NRC Handelsblad, 29 Mar. 2004.

[22] Steffie Kouters, “Joden voelen zich ontheemd in hun eigen Mokum,” de Volkskrant, 1 Nov. 2003.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Paul Andersson Toussaint, “Nieuw taboe: ‘jodenvriendje zijn,’” De Groene Amsterdammer, 31 Jan. 2004.

[25] “Allochtonen verstoren herdenking vierde mei,” Het Parool, 8 May 2003.

[26] European Commission, “Iraq and Peace in the World,” Eurobarometer Survey, no. 151, Nov. 2003.

[27] Willem Beusekamp, “Onwetendheid voedt nieuw antisemitisme,” de Volkskrant, 10 Nov. 2003.

[28] “Strafklacht tegen Gretta Duisenberg,” Algemeen Dagblad, 11 Jan. 2003.

[29] The author thanks Jitsgak Moed for his assistance with the media section.

[30] Louis Zweers, “Palestijnse camera’s domineren beeld,” De Journalist, 29 Nov. 2002.

[31] Leon De Winter, “Bush heeft gelijk,” NIW, 28 June 2002.