“Are we cowards?” asked an opinion piece which ran this Friday in Holland’s weekly Jewish newspaper, Nieuw Israelietisch Weekblad.
It took the community to task for failing to arrive en mass to demonstrate in front of The Hague last week, as the International Court of Justice spent three days listening to arguments against Israel’s security barrier now under construction.
Jews from Israel, the United States, and other parts of Europe flocked to the triangular square in front of the Peace Palace in protest.
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A number of Dutch rabbis and organizations, including the Center for Information and Documentation on Israel, worked to organize demonstrations, but for the most part the Dutch Jews were absent.
Instead, marching with the international Jewish contingent on Monday morning were 2,000 Dutch Christian supporters of Israel, led by the international group, Christians for Israel, which started in Holland 25 years ago.
“Our founding father had the impression in the end of the 1970s that the love for Israel was decreasing between the Christians in Holland; that is the only reason he started Christians for Israel, to increase the feelings for love and the relationship with the state and the people of Israel,” said its chairman Rev. Jaap de Vreugd
Their group raises several million Euros to support immigration and welfare projects in Israel. In the Netherlands they run seminars and classes on Israel as well as a newsletter. De Vreugd said members of his group are missionaries of new sort. Their aim is to swim against the tide of pro-Palestinian public sentiment by helping Christians learn to love Israel.
“Our first aim is to make Christians more understanding about their own relationship with Israel,” said de Vreugd.
The Christian community in the Netherlands was sympathetic to Israel until the 1970s and then the pendulum of sympathy shifted toward the Palestinians, he said.
The organization has now branched out to other European countries, including Germany, the United Kingdom, and Belgium. They have also opened branches in the United States, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia.
The Christian community in Holland is split on this issue, with those on both sides becoming more entrenched in their positions, said de Vreugd, noting there is an anti-Semitic tradition in Europe, but less in Holland, where there is a strong tradition of good relations between Jews and Christians.
In the last 10 to 20 years, people became less pro-Israel and more pro-Palestinian, he said. The growing population of Muslims in Holland, which now numbers upwards of 900,000 also contributes to the anti-Israel and anti-Jewish feelings among the population, he said.
“This is the atmosphere we live in and in this atmosphere we try to raise our voices, as standing with Israel out of our Christian faith, and our belief in the Bible,” said de Vreugd.
“We see that anti-Semitism is increasing and growing and we want to raise our voices against all these things,” he said.
To that end, he added, it was important that in the march last Monday Christians and Jews walked through the streets of The Hague carrying photos of the 935 victims of terror in Israel since September 2000.
“We wanted to shout without words, with pictures of the victims of terror and to say to the world that Israel has the right to defend itself, and its Jewish and Arab citizens from terror,” said de Vreugd.
Earlier this month, the group wrote a letter to its members asking for a show of support and, to his surprise, more than 2,000 people showed up last Monday.
Love for Israel began early for de Vreugd, who said he grew up with positive feelings about Israel that were reinforced by a visit in 1978. “It made a deep impression on me. Ever since that visit I can’t think of myself and my life apart from Israel.
“We pray for the peace of Jerusalem. We pray for the peace for the Jews and the Palestinians and the Arab people and let us hope that things will be better,” he said.