A prominent Dutch politician sparked a heated debate in the Netherlands this week by saying practicing Jews had “no future here, and should emigrate to the U.S. or Israel.”
The statement made by Frits Bolkestein, former European Commissioner and ex-leader of Holland's ruling rightist VVD party, was published in the recently released book Het Verval (The Decline), written by Manfred Gerstenfeld, a Netherlands-raised Holocaust survivor and senior researcher at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.
Bolkstein backed up his statement by saying that the increase in anti-Semitic incidents in the Netherlands over the past decade had led him to have limited confidence in the ability of the government to fight anti-Semitism.
Bolkstein came under fire for his comment, including from members of the three-party coalition led by his own faction. Geert Wilders, the leader of the anti-Islam Party for Freedom, reacted by saying that “not Jews should emigrate, but anti-Semitic Moroccans.”
In his book, Gerstenfeld examines the attitude of the Dutch Protestant Church toward Jews and claims that anti-Semitism is not restricted to people of Muslim background in the Netherlands.
He cites as an example Gretta Duisenberg, a friend of the Dutch queen and pro-Palestinian, who recently told a Dutch newspaper that she was “almost proud to be called anti-Semitic.”
Mirjam Sterk of the Christian Democrat party - the third partner of the current coalition – took a less reactionary stance, but also decried the remarks, saying: “The concerns are great but [emigration] is not the solution.”
The Netherlands has a Jewish community of roughly 40,000 people. According to a report by the Dutch police from September, the country has seen 209 discriminatory incidents targeting its Jews in 2009 - a 48-percent increase compared to 2008.
Femke Halsema of the Green Party questioned Bolkestein’s sanity after she heard the remarks. Ronny Naftaniel, head of CIDI – the largest watchdog on anti-Semitism in the Netherlands – said this was not the first time Bolkestein has expressed this view.
“It’s a warning, and this may be a reality if society and the government fail to act on anti-Semitism,” Naftaniel said. “But it’s too fatalistic – Jews and non-Jews need to fight against intolerance.” He described Bolkestein as “a friend of Israel.” Gerstenfeld said Bolkestein was “attentive to the Netherlands’ Jewish population.”
Frits Bolkestein was political leader of the current ruling party VVD between 1990 en 1998. He later served as European Commissioner from 1999 until 2004.
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