Another friend in Europe
By M. GERSTENFELD
For Israel, the establishment of a new Dutch cabinet is a far more important event than the much-publicized process against Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders.
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 requested.
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 few years.
On paper, the new minority government led by VVD Liberal Party leader Mark Rutte might even be more favorable to Israel.
The Christian 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 election.
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 government.
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 influence.
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.
Christian Democrat 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.”
The new 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.”
In the 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 church.
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 settlement building.
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.