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When a Dutch family comes back to Holland after eight years of living in Israel, people tend to assume its members are Jewish.
So says Leon Meijer, and he should know. Meijer, who completed his doctorate at the Technion, learned that lesson the hard way when his 11-year-old daughter was told by a classmate soon after her return: "It's a pity Hitler didn't finish the job."
Meijer was shocked not only by the comment, but by the discovery that the Netherlands has no laws clearly outlawing Holocaust denial.
Now, six years later, he has drafted legislation which would do just that. Under his proposal, individuals who deny or glorify genocide with the intent to hurt others could be fined or sentenced to up to a year in jail. The law would be added to current legislation prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of race and religion.
Meijer, who serves as an adviser to the Christian Union party, which is sponsoring the legislation, described the measure as more urgent now that "echoes" of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadenijad's denials of the Holocaust could be heard in Holland. "People copy these kinds of remarks," he said, also noting that the number of Holocaust survivors who can personally testify to what happened during World War II is dwindling.
Though the Christian Union holds only three seats in the 150-member parliament, Meijer said that his bill enjoys a good deal of support. Even so, it would take at least six to nine months to approve.
He noted that possible pitfalls include fears that the law would limit free speech, which is one reason he offered to explain why Holland - unlike its neighbors - hasn't banned Holocaust denial outright.
France, Belgium, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Romania, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Lithuania and Poland all have made Holocaust denial illegal, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
Dutch Jewish community leader Ronny Naftaniel said the proposed law could also encounter political obstacles. Since the law isn't limited to the Holocaust but includes all genocide as defined by the International Criminal Court, objections could arise based on other conflicts, such as the current crisis in Darfur or the past experience of Armenians in Turkey.
"I can imagine that there will be political difficulties, but maybe it will get through," said Naftaniel, director of the Center for Information and Documentation on Israel.
Even so, he praised the initiative as "a step forward." He noted that there has been prosecution of Holocaust denial under the existing Dutch anti-discrimination laws on the basis that negation of the Holocausts insults survivors and their children. But he said that any move to codify the offense was welcome.
"There are fewer and fewer survivors and even their children are not numerous anymore, and we think it's important to keep the symbol of the Holocaust complete and without debate. It should not be dependent on the survivors and their children," he said.
The general climate toward Jews worsened starting in 2000, with an increase in instances of spitting, name-calling and other forms of abuse, according to Naftaniel. But he said that the attacks - none of which were violent - had levelled off in the last few years.
Still, ADL associate national director Kenneth Jacobson said "any kind of effort for a Holocaust denial law is a way of dealing with the trend that's developing and to stop it in its tracks."
He noted, however, that "all the polls indicate the vast majority of Europeans" are aware that the Holocaust happened.