Geert Wilders' Freedom Party finishes second to governing Christian Democratic Alliance.
By BENJAMIN WEINTHAL, JERUSALEM POST CORRESPONDENT, BERLIN
The Dutch politician Geert Wilders' Freedom Party won 17 percent of the vote in Friday's European Union parliamentary elections in the Netherlands.
Wilders, who has compared the Koran to Mein Kampf, campaigned on an anti-EU and anti-immigrant platform.
The Freedom Party finished second to the governing Christian Democratic Alliance, which garnered 19.9% of the vote.
The campaign in the Netherlands was a "debate between those opposed to the EU and those in favor," Dr. Ronny Naftaniel, head of the pro-Israel organization Center Information and Documentation on Israel in the Netherlands, told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday.
Naftaniel, a Dutch Jew whose organization monitors anti-Semitism and racism, said "Wilders is bringing to attention things that are important for Dutch society," citing "the situation of extreme Islam."
Muslims have repeatedly threatened to murder Wilders, who is under constant police protection, for releasing a documentary film, Fitna (2008), critical of the Koran. The Netherlands has 17 million people, of whom 800,000 have a Turkish or Moroccan background.
The Dutch Labor Party, a partner in the coalition of Christian Democratic Alliance Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, suffered a humiliating election loss, securing only 12.1%, down from 23.6% in 2004.
Wilders founded the Freedom Party in 2006 and its electoral curiosity is that the party does not have members.
Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld of The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, a leading Israeli expert on the Netherlands, told the Post that "Wilders is very pro-Israel" and the "Labor Party has a left wing which can be defined as anti-Israel."
Gerstenfeld, who was raised in the Netherlands and moved to Israel in 1968, cited the Labor Party candidate Thijs Berman's efforts to sanction Israel as representing the anti-Israeli tendency within the party.
Wilders has been banned from entering the United Kingdom since February 12 because of his sharp criticisms of Islam. He has delivered talks in the United States and Israel on the rising influence and danger of political Islam in Europe. According to Naftaniel, Wilders is "in front of being pro-Israel."
"Wilders was not expected to do well in this election" because it is a challenge to "mobilize people against the European Union," Gerstenfeld said.
The Freedom Party scored a first place victory in the country's second largest city, Rotterdam (22.5%), and in the third largest, The Hague.
Gerstenfeld said Rotterdam was the "most criminal city of the Netherlands." This helped to explain, Naftaniel said, why Wilders was "hitting on points" such as "migrant criminality" that resonated with Dutch voters.
Wilders, following his election triumph, called for early national elections. The EU vote showed that "the people have a yearning for a different Holland," he said.
The next national election is set for 2011.
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