Israel and Holland, in Black and White

In Jerusalem no one is "expecting miracles" from the current EU presidency, which will have to navigate the Europeans' vote. At the same time, they are hoping that it will at least know how to recognizing a new color: gray.

Our ambassador to the United Nations could not manage to restrain himself: Ireland's tenure as president of the European Union will perhaps be remembered in Jerusalem as one of the worst for Israel in recent years. But, "surprising as it is," according to Ambassador Dan Gillerman, the Dutch presidency that has replaced it "is making us nostalgic for the Irish." It seemed as though a sharp knife was stuck into his back when he added angrily that the Dutch "have forfeited their morality that in the past led them to stand by our side..."

The current presidency brought together a European consensus in the UN against the route of the separation fence, and all of a sudden there are people here who are remembering that Holland is not just about setting a good example and rescuing Anne Frank. Holland is also about informing on her and deporting her to Bergen Belsen. Holland is not only the country that has given the world the largest number of Righteous Gentiles (after Poland), but also the one in which the number of Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust (106,000 out of about 140,000) is proportionately one of the highest.

About two weeks after the vote at the UN, Israel's relations with Europe are in a crisis and a large measure of the responsibility for this is attributed to Holland. However, if one distances oneself somewhat from the attempt to deal with history and myths as a way of understanding Holland's motive, a different reality emerges: First of all, the Dutch - like the rest of the Europeans - really and truly believe that the UN resolution on the matter of the fence was to the point and balanced, and even works to the benefit of Israel itself.

The fact that the International Court of Justice is located in The Hague plays a part in the considerations of the Dutch, who do not want to bring about a cheapening of the institution and of the international values that it represents.

Apart from that, Holland has a long tradition of an internal policy that is built on putting together coalitions and on striving for consensus. This almost sacred principle is also part of its philosophy with respect to foreign policy and European policy: Holland is one of the six founders of the European Community and therefore it sees the creation of political unity as an important element in the deepening integration of the continent. The vote by the 25 EU countries in the UN - the first European consensus since the eastward expansion of the organization - is therefore considered by Holland to be an impressive achievement. There are even those in Europe who see the vote as a kind of "formative event."

Michael Bavli, Israel's former ambassador to The Hague, presents another aspect: Calvinist Holland is a country of black and white. When you are black there is no one blacker than you are, and when you are white you can do no wrong. At the end of the 1980s Holland imposed a strict arms embargo on us under which it was prohibited to export to Israel even a single pistol bullet. During the Gulf War, Israel again was garbed in white, and immediately after the first night of the Scuds the Hague hastened to send it manned Patriot missiles. The white gleamed especially brightly during the Oslo period. On the way to the White House lawn, on September 12, 1993, then prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and foreign minister Shimon Peres made a stop at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. Even though it was 2:30 in the morning, the heads of the government of the Netherlands came and greeted them there with great warmth. In this way they wanted to demonstrate that they were "Israel's closest friends in Europe." With the renewal of the intifada, relations deteriorated and the transition back to black was again very swift. In the eyes of the Dutch, ever since then Israel has been in a "black period."

However, parallel to its "Euro-centric" approach, Holland also has evidenced pro-American tendencies in certain respects. It has sent forces to Iraq and its attitude toward Iran and the fight against international terrorism matches the approach of the United States and Israel. Moreover, there are those who see the criticism of Israel as evidence, in fact, of Holland's traditional, profound friendship for Israel: As a country that itself is beating its breast with guilt over the colonial oppression in Indonesia, Holland is trying to "save Israel from itself" and bring Israel back to the straight and narrow path. In the depths of our hearts, say the Dutch, we wish for a "white" Israel.

An important test of the relations will be at the UN General Assembly at the end of September, when the Arab camp will work toward realizing its victory in the vote on the fence and bring about a resolution to impose concrete sanctions on Israel. In Jerusalem no one is "expecting miracles" from the current presidency, which will have to navigate the Europeans' vote. At the same time, they are hoping that it will at least know how to recognizing a new color: gray.