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April 23, 2011

Amid growing anti-Semitism in the Netherlands, Dutch Jews admit they are frequently the victims of harassment and attacks. Increasing religious prejudice is forcing many to question just how tolerant the Netherlands is.

Man wearing a kippah (Jewish skullcap)
Even Dutch sporting events are plagued by anti-SemitismImage: picture-alliance/dpa

The number of incidents of Jews being verbally harassed or even physically attacked is on the rise in the Netherlands. Among the venues for such incidents are the country's soccer stadiums.

In one recent case, a midfielder from Dutch first division club ADO Den Haag led a group of the team's fans in anti-Semitic songs, following a victory over Ajax Amsterdam. An estimated 100 ADO hooligans celebrated in the team's clubhouse, chanting things like: "we're going Jew-hunting" or "Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas."

Dutch prosecutors are currently examining a video shot on a mobile phone, which shows a young man with short blond hair - ADO midfielder Lex Immers egging on the crowd.

In fact, before Lex Immers made it to ADO's first division team, he is known to have run with a group of hardcore soccer fans.

Shortly after the incident, following ADO's 3-2 victory over Ajax on March 20, the club imposed a fine on the midfielder, and he was banned for five matches. Immers also issued an apology on ADO Den Haag's website. But he still doesn't seem to understand what all the fuss is about.

"Sure, I understand why people are upset," he said. "But I also hope that they understand that I didn't mean it the way they think; 'the Jews' is a kind of nickname for Ajax. But next time, I will probably think twice about it."

Fear of persecution

This hooligan scandal, in which another player and the coach were also involved, is by no means an isolated case. It is but a small piece of a puzzle, which, when put together, paints a picture of an ugly side of the Netherlands.

Members of a Jewish community
Many feel that they are forced to conceal their Jewish identityImage: AP

Out on the streets, Dutch Jews are increasingly becoming the victims of bullying insults and acts of violence, according to Benzion Evers, the son of an Amsterdam rabbi.

"Cancer-Jew, dirty Jew, Jews to the gas. All the vulgar words you can imagine are whispered and shouted at us as we pass people by,” Evers said. "There are physical threats as well, ranging from pushing and shoving to fist fights."

In Amsterdam, many Jews who wear long beards, a hat and tails no longer dare to take the tram or go to the market. According to Evers, religious services or meetings are now held under guard.

"We are constantly occupied with trying to conceal our Jewish identity in public," Evers said. "Friends of mine now wear baseball caps rather than wearing their kippah, (the Jewish skullcap.) We are trying to make ourselves unrecognizable.

National controversy

The fear of persecution among members of the Netherlands' Jewish community has led to a fierce public debate, which was sparked by former European Commissioner Frits Bolkestein.

In an article published in a Dutch newspaper, the liberal-conservative politician offered some advice to what he described as "sensible Jews." He stated that they would be better off emigrating to Israel or the United States as he had little confidence in the effectiveness of the government's proposals for fighting anti-Semitism.

"They must accept the fact that they have no future in the Netherlands," Bolkestein said.

What isn't completely clear is exactly how Bolkestein meant those words – whether these were his true feelings or if he was simply hoping to shock people into taking the issue seriously.

Dutch anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders
Anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders blames Muslims for growing anti-SemitismImage: AP

Professor Paul Sars, Dean of the Faculty of Humanities at the University of Nijmegen was shocked.

"I find it completely outrageous. True tolerance means that you immerse yourself in the lives of the people around you and everything which affects them," Sars said.

Ironically, Jews in Holland enjoy the support of the controversial right-wing politician Geert Wilders. He said on Twitter that it wasn't the Jews who should emigrate but rather Moroccans and other Muslims - who he says are to blame for any anti-Semitism in the country.

In the Netherlands, being on the extreme right of the political spectrum doesn't necessarily equate to anti-Semitism. In fact Wilders is a strong supporter of Israel.

"He is against Islam. He's against anything which he see's as a threat to Israel," Professor Sars said. "By taking this stance, he can say that his political position is pro- Israel and against everything else - Everything that's alien to the Netherlands."

Tolerant façade

Despite Wilders' pro-Israel attitude, the level of success that he and other extreme-right politicians have enjoyed in recent elections has shown that not all of Dutch society is as tolerant as its image abroad would suggest.

"This image that people have in Germany of the Dutch being laid-back and able to get along with anybody is based on a very superficial view," Professor Sars said. "When things get serious, there is a lot concealed below the patchwork quilt of cultures."

Some though, have grown weary of this public debate about anti-Semitism in the Netherlands. Benzion Evers has taken Frits Bolkestein's advice to leave the country at face value. After completing his university degree this year, he plans to take his wife and child and emigrate to Israel.

Author: Wim Dohrenbusch / pfd
Editor: Andreas Illmer