JTA, Mar. 16, 2003
The Arab European League was established in Belgium in 2000 to “strengthen Arab and Muslim identity” and fight against perceived discrimination against Arabs and Muslims.
Earlier this month the league opened a branch in Holland. At the end of a week of lectures by the league’s extremist leader, the Lebanese-born Dyab Abu Jahja, the league announced that it had signed up some 600 members in Holland and plans to run as a political party in local elections scheduled for 2006.
Abu Jahja, 31, aroused the suspicions of Belgium’s government last year with his extremist remarks. Apart from advocating Arab rights and demanding that Arabic be recognized as an official Belgian language, the former Hezbollah fighter incited Moroccan immigrants to riot against local Belgians and Jews.
He also calls for the destruction of Israel and the end of what he calls the “Israeli-American imperialist world domination of the last 50 years.”
Both Holland and Belgium have large Muslim immigrant populations, predominantly of Berber Moroccan descent. Some 1,000 people in Belgium have joined the league, officials claim.
The establishment of the Dutch wing of the Arab European League attracted broad attention among Holland’s Moroccan community, as well as from society at large.
For over a week, Abu Jahja lectured at universities, community centers and debating halls around the country. His tour aroused heated debate from the beginning.
In an elaborate newspaper interview in the prestigious daily newspaper NRC Handelsblad, one of the league’s board members, Naima Elmaslouhi, 23, expressed understanding for slogans like “Hamas, Hamas, put the Jews in the gas.”
The slogan has been used regularly in recent years by Moroccan youths during riots and pro-Palestinian or anti-American demonstrations in Holland.
“Such expressions are not effective, but I cannot denounce them,” Elmaslouhi said. Other board members expressed their wish that “Americans return in plastic bags from Iraq.”
Abu Jahja refrained from commenting on such statements. During lectures, however, he sought to denigrate Zionism as racism, rejected the Jews’ right to political independence and openly called for the “dismantling” of Israel.
On March 7, the CIJO — the youth department of the Center for Information and Documentation Israel, the Dutch equivalent of the Anti-Defamation League — organized a demonstration against Abu Jahja’s views.
Abut 150 Jews came to the University of Amsterdam, where Abu Jahja was to lecture.
“We came to protest against Abu Jahja and to try to talk to the AEL-sympathizers,” said Irith Markens, 23, a psychology student and CIJO board member. “Unfortunately, we received very little willingness to talk from our opponents. They continued to call for the destruction of Israel and the establishment of one state of Palestine.”
Markens said she had received at least 200 e-mails from Jews and non-Jews who couldn’t come to the demonstration but wanted to express their support.
Abu Jahja refused to meet with the Jewish group, saying he doesn’t talk to Zionists.
Inside the auditorium, when several Jewish youths tried to ask questions following his lecture, Abu Jahja refused to answer them, stating that Zionism was racism and that he would not answer Zionists.
“I think it’s important not to ignore the AEL, but I think it poses a greater danger in Belgium and, once it is has been established over there, in France,” Markens said. “They have larger and more violent Muslim communities then in the Netherlands.”
The CIJO, meanwhile, is making an effort to establish good relations with more moderate Muslim organizations, meeting in Jewish or Muslim venues or in restaurants.
“We talk Abut things like religion, but also regular things that are important to youths,” Markens said. “Ultimately, I think Jews have more in common with Muslims than with Christians. So we will do all we can to consolidate our contacts with them, and hope that not the AEL but the Muslim organizations we know and befriend are indeed the mainstream Muslim community.”