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Israel's Herzog attends Amsterdam Holocaust museum opening

Published March 10, 2024last updated March 10, 2024

Pro-Palestinian groups and anti-Zionist Jewish groups protested the Israeli president's attendance. The museum's parent organization said Herzog was invited before Israel's offensive in Gaza.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog speaking at the Portuguese Synagogue in Amsterdam
Israeli President Isaac Herzog said antisemitism was on the rise in a speech at the Portuguese Synagogue in AmsterdamImage: Peter Dejong/AP/dpa/picture alliance

Israeli President Isaac Herzog attended the opening of the National Holocaust Museum in Amsterdam on Sunday.

The museum tells the stories of some of the 102,000 Jews who were deported from the Netherlands and murdered in Nazi camps during the Holocaust in World War II.

Three-quarters of Dutch Jews were among the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis.

Among the exhibits are a prominent photo of a boy walking past bodies at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp after it was liberated, dress buttons excavated from the grounds of the Sobibor extermination camp, and walls covered with the texts of hundreds of laws discriminating against Jews enacted by the German occupiers of the Netherlands.

The museum is housed in a former teacher training college that was used as a covert escape route for hundreds of Jewish children.

"Hatred and antisemitism are flourishing worldwide, and we must fight it together," Herzog said at the event, which was held at the nearby Portuguese Synagogue.

The facade of Amsterdam's National Holocaust Museum
The museum is housed in a college that was used as a covert escape route for Jewish children fleeing the NazisImage: Peter Dejong/AP/dpa/picture alliance

The museum was inaugurated by Dutch King Willem-Alexander.

Aside from Herzog, a number of other dignitaries also attended, including Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, Austrian President Alexander van der Bellen and Manuela Schwesig, president of Germany's upper house of parliament, the Bundesrat.

However, the invitation for Herzog to attend the opening has attracted controversy amid Israel's military campaign in Gaza in response to the October 7 Hamas terror attacks.

Protesters criticize Herzog's attendance

Thousands of people gathered at Waterloo Square in central Amsterdam to protest Herzog's presence at the museum opening due to the Israeli military offensive in Gaza.

The protest was organized by pro-Palestinian groups as well as anti-Zionist Jewish organizations.

Attendees chanted slogans including "Ceasefire now" and "Stop bombing children." Others held posters that read "Jews against genocide."

Protesters holding Palestinian flags at Waterloo Square, Amsterdam
Thousands of protesters attended a demonstration at Waterloo SquareImage: Mouneb Taim/Anadolu/picture alliance

Dutch pro-Palestinian organization The Rights Forum called Herzog's attendance "a slap in the face of the Palestinians who can only helplessly watch how Israel murders their loved ones and destroys their land."

More than 30,000 Palestinians have died in the war, according to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry.

Amnesty International put up detour signs around the museum to direct Herzog to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the nearby city of The Hague, where South Africa filed a case against Israel accusing it of genocide. Israel denies the allegations.

A smaller pro-Israel group also gathered nearby with flags and photos of the hostages that were kidnapped by Hamas militants.

Police officers were present to deescalate tensions between the two demonstrations.

Protesters holding Israeli flags in Waterloo Square, Amsterdam
Pro-Israel protesters held their own demonstration nearby Image: Mouneb Taim/Anadolu/picture alliance

In a statement issued ahead of Sunday's opening, the Jewish Cultural Quarter that runs the museum said it was "profoundly concerned by the war and the consequences this conflict has had, first and foremost for the citizens of Israel, Gaza and the West Bank."

It said that it is "all the more troubling that the National Holocaust Museum is opening while war continues to rage. It makes our mission all the more urgent."

The museum said it had invited Herzog before the October 7 terror attack by Hamas, which resulted in the deaths of around 1,200 people in southern Israel.

Hamas is considered a terrorist organization by the US, the EU and Israel, among others.

zc/mm (Reuters, AP, dpa)