A poll taken earlier this month found that only 53 percent of the Dutch would consider voting for a Jewish prime minister. In the rankings, Jews figured far behind women (93%), homosexuals (78%) and blacks (75%), but well before Muslims (27%) and people over 70.
For some Eastern European countries, 53% might be seen as a sign of progress; for the Netherlands, it further undermines the country’s myth that all are considered equal.
This finding fits in with many other indications of a more troubled reality for Dutch Jews and their future than the Dutch authorities like to acknowledge.
The attorney-general’s National Center on Discrimination found that in 2006, one-third of reported cases of discrimination concerned anti-Semitism. Jews, however, represent only about 0.2% percent of the population, and discriminating against them is sometimes rather difficult because many are so assimilated that they cannot be easily recognized as Jews, even by other Jews.
The Monitoring Center for Discrimination on the Internet oversees Dutch-language Web sites. The number of complaints recorded concerning anti-Semitism is equal to those regarding anti-Islamic statements. Yet look at the ratio: There are 30 times more Muslims in the Netherlands than Jews.
A substantial number of complaints of anti-Semitism concerns postings originating in Muslim circles.
And yet a report by the Center for Information and Documentation on Israel (CIDI) on the steep rise in anti-Semitic incidents in the Netherlands was not even mentioned by most major dailies, according to Elma Drayer, a prominent Dutch columnist writing recently in the daily Trouw. She stressed that, on the other hand, there was huge interest in improving the chances of survival of a chestnut tree that the late Anne Frank could see from her hiding place. Drayer drew attention to the tendency of many Dutch to embrace dead Jews while keeping their distance from living ones.
There are also outside European efforts to minimize the reality of anti-Jewish discrimination in the Netherlands. The just-publicized report on the Netherlands by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance is an example. The report emphasizes discrimination against Muslims, but mentions the rise in anti-Semitism merely in passing. It also glosses over the role of Muslims as perpetrators in Dutch anti-Semitism.
In recent years 40% of the physical and intense verbal attacks against Jews have been carried out by persons of Moroccan heritage, though they represent only two percent of the Dutch population.
To get back to the poll about voting for prime minister, it is interesting to note that the only Jew seriously mentioned as a candidate for prime minister in recent years is the former mayor of Amsterdam, Job Cohen. Had the Labor Party won the 2003 parliamentary election, he might have been asked to form the Dutch government. The assimilated Cohen does not show any signs of Jewish identification, yet the outside world clearly sees him as a Jew, which explains all hate mail that he receives.
Much has been written about how Jews have supposedly successfully integrated into the Netherlands. This poll, however, proves again that the widespread social anti-Semitism so prevalent before WWII has far from disappeared. Nowadays, moreover, the main characteristics of classic anti-Semitism have mutated into a “new anti-Semitism” which expresses itself in the double standards applied in Dutch circles to Israel, compared to their criticism of other countries.
One former senior Dutch cabinet minister told me recently: “If I were a Jew, I would not want my children to grow up here. I would tell them to emigrate to the United States, Israel or Australia. In view of the present mood and developments in the Netherlands, Jews should realize that there is no future for them here as they will continue to be less and less welcome.”
The xenophobic findings of the Dutch poll are worse than those of an earlier British one. In the Netherlands, 31 percent considered a Jewish prime minister unacceptable and 16 percent had no opinion. A poll conducted at the beginning of 2004 in the UK concluded that almost 20% of Britons thought that a Jewish prime minister would be “less acceptable” than a non-Jewish one. This was particularly relevant at the time since the then Conservative leader Michael Howard was Jewish, albeit highly acculturated.
People can learn much from the Netherlands poll. The Dutch should ponder what it means that so many of them are still discriminating against Jews – of which there are so few, who so much resemble other Dutch, and whose ancestors came to the Netherlands 400 years ago.
The results also underscore how unlikely it is that the country will ever integrate many of the far more difficult to absorb non-Western immigrants and their progeny, who now represent 10 percent of the country’s population.
The writer, chairman of the Board of Fellows of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, is currently writing a book on The Netherlands, Jews and Israel.
Feb. 19, 2008 Opinion