Antisemitism on the rise in the Netherlands

Edition 28 June 2019, by Benjamin Roberts

While on 6 June 2019, European leaders stood shoulder to shoulder commemorating the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landing on the beaches of Normandy, at home each European nation honored its national heroes that stood up against the atrocities of the Nazi regime, including the Holocaust in Europe. However, only two months earlier, the Dutch Center for Information and Documentation Israel (CIDI) reported for the year 2018 a 19% increase in antisemitic incidents compared to the previous year.

According to CIDI, a total of 135 cases of antisemitism were reported in the Netherlands, mostly involving name-calling by schoolchildren, in the workplace and between neighbors. One of incidents included a Jewish child at school who was told in a group app that “All Jews should die” and “Go back to the gas chamber”. The Netherlands is not the only country in Europe experiencing a rise in antisemitism. The United Kingdom, France, and Germany have also reported more antisemitic incidents than in previous years. In May 2019, Felix Klein, the German government’s senior advisor on antisemitism, told journalists, “I cannot advise Jews to wear the kippah everywhere all the time in Germany”.

Contrary to the antisemitism of the 1930s and 1940s, the anti-Jewish sentiment in Europe today is not of the same caliber. For one, the word “Jew” is often used as a derogative, and according to the CIDI, school kids use the word not fully understanding its connotation and what happened in the Second World War. According to a scientific study conducted by the Verwey Jonker Institute in 2015, modern antisemitism in the Netherlands is not directed at the Jewish faith and Dutch Jews specifically, but more as a reaction towards the state of Israel and its suppression of Palestinians in the occupied territories. Since the state of Israel was founded in 1948, western European governments have often unconditionally supported Israel and turned a blind eye to their treatment of the Palestinian minority, who were often forced from their homes and had to live as second-rate citizens. In the Netherlands, when schoolchildren call Jewish children names, often the name callers don’t understand the exact meaning, and are only repeating what they heard from their parents while watching the evening news.

According to the Dutch historian Remco Ensel of the Radboud University in Nijmegen, who together with Evelien Gans published The Holocaust, Israel, and ‘the Jew’. Histories of Antisemitism in Postwar Dutch Society (2017), antisemitic language today is not as blatant as it was in the 1930s. Ensel argues anti-Jewish sentiment is often expressed in subliminal code language: “People don’t directly make unpleasant remarks about Jews, but they use businessman and philanthropist George Soros as a scapegoat”, and suggest, for example, there is an international conspiracy of Jews that want to take over the world.

According to Ensel and Gans’ research, 51% of Dutch Jews hear insinuations that the Israeli government act like Nazis in their treatment of the Palestinians, 34% of Dutch Jews are told that Jews are exploiting the Holocaust to their own advantage, and 34% of Dutch Jews hear that Jews have too much power. Before the Second World War, there were approximately 140,000 Jews living in the Netherlands, but 73% of Dutch Jews did not survive the Holocaust. Today there are roughly between 30,000 to 40,000 Jews living in the Netherlands, which is about the same as the number of American nationals living in the country. After the war, many Jews chose to shed their Jewish religion and customs and blend into mainstream Dutch society.

The CIDI hopes with its new report that the Dutch government will spend more money on educating young people about the consequences of antisemitism in the past and about the Holocaust. After hearing the reports of increased antisemitism, Rob Oudkerk, a Jewish former parliamentarian, decided to wear a kippah for five weeks and see if he experienced antisemitism. Oudkerk experienced various reactions, often depending on the location. In some areas of Amsterdam-West, with its predominantly Muslim population, the former Labor Party politician felt uneasy, but on other occasions, such as a visit to the fishing village of Urk, he was greeted with “shalom”. According to Oudkerk, the problem is partially an identity issue, and one that many Dutch Jews in the Netherlands struggle with. He encourages Jewish men to just wear their kippah and be proud of it.