Over the last two weeks, the international attention focused on the Netherlands
was almost entirely about the spectacular court proceedings against Geert
Wilders, the leader of the PVV Freedom Party.
First, the prosecutors
asked that all charges of anti-Islamic hate speech against him be dropped.
Earlier the court had already turned the process into a political one by
allowing Wilders to bring only three witnesses it chose among the eighteen he
Last Friday, the judges were removed by an oversight panel of
their peers, who agreed to the claim of Wilders’ lawyer that the court was
suspect of bias. The trial will now have to start afresh before another court at
a date yet to be determined.
From an Israeli viewpoint, however, the
long-awaited establishment of a new Dutch cabinet is a far more important event.
The previous cabinet, under former CDA Christian Democratic leader Jan Peter
Balkenende, was Israel’s greatest supporter in Western Europe during the last
On paper, the new minority government led by VVD Liberal Party
leader Mark Rutte might even be more favorable to Israel.
Democrats are the only other party participating in this cabinet. The VVD has 31
seats in the new chamber and the CDA has 21, after losing 20 seats in the June
This government is supported from the outside by Wilders
Freedom Party, which has 24 parliamentarians. This gives it a narrow majority of
76 seats out of 150.
Many question the stability of the new
Polls indicate that if new elections were to be held,
Wilders’ party might make further major gains. Major components of its platform
include opposition to the increasing influence of Islam in the Netherlands and
containing the wild growth of European Union regulations and
INTERNATIONAL NEWS stories about the new Dutch government have
focused mainly on the agreed-upon measures to be taken to limit the role of
Islam in the public domain. The cabinet is committed to outlawing both burkas
and the wearing of headgear by official prosecutors, judges, and police staff.
Immigrants will have to pay for their language and citizen courses. The
government’s true challenge, however, is implementing huge budget cuts to bring
the country’s deficit under control.
The VVD, CDA, and PVV are, to
different degrees, supporters of Israel. The main anti- Israel hate-monger
parties in the Netherlands – Labor, the Green Left, and the Socialist Party –
are all in the opposition.
Several cabinet members are well aware of the
multiple dangers emanating from parts of the Muslim world. Henk Kamp, the
Liberal minister of social affairs, was minister of defense from 2002 and 2007,
and as such, responsible for the Dutch NATO soldiers in Afghanistan. Justice
Minister Ivo Opstelten, also of the VVD, was mayor of Rotterdam, with its large
percentage of criminal and hooligan immigrant youths.
Leader Maxime Verhagen is now minister of economic affairs. In the past he has
proposed that judges should be able to take away constitutional rights, such as
freedom of speech and assembly from radical Muslims.
In the Balkenende
cabinet, he was a major supporter of Israel as minister of foreign affairs,
almost silencing the Labor minister for development assistance on the
Palestinian-Israeli conflict. During a luncheon in 2005 with him and two other
CDA parliamentarians I asked them what would have happened in The Netherlands if
Muslims shot massively rockets upon them like Hamas did against Israel. One of
them replied: “We thought about it. That would mean civil war.”
minister of foreign affairs is terrorism expert Uri Rosenthal, who for many
years headed the Liberal faction in the Senate.
In Israel, he has
connections with a research institute. When I met him several years ago for what
turned out to be an interesting conversation, he opened it with an opaque
sentence: “I do not publicize my being Jewish, nor do I hide it.”
Netherlands today, there is little opportunity to hide Jewish identity. When, in
recent months, Rosenthal played a major role in the process which led to a new
cabinet, one TV commentator fabricated news claiming that he was part of a
three-member Jewish cabal. Another ostensible member of it was Labor leader Job
Cohen, who frequently stresses that his being a Jew means nothing for his
identity. The third supposed member of this invented club was Lodewijk Asscher,
deputy labor mayor of Amsterdam, who has a Jewish father and was married in a
In the present political and social climate in the Netherlands,
Dutch media are likely to watch Rosenthal’s statements about Israel closely.
Absurdly enough, it may have been easier for the Catholic Verhagen to be
outspoken in his support of Israel.
AGAINST THIS background, it is very
important how the new process against Wilders will develop. He sees Israel as
being in the forefront of the European battle against the destructive forces
emanating from large parts of the Islamic world. He considers Jordan to be the
first Palestinian state, does not want another one and is also in favor of more
From the outside, he will watch the government’s
declarations on Israel carefully.
In the longer term, however, the
development of Wilders public positions is crucial for his future. The less
populist remarks he makes, the greater probably his chances after the next
elections for an official entrance into the government.
The writer has
published eighteen books. His new book in Dutch, titled
The Decay: Jews in the
Rudderless Netherlands, will appear next month.