Latent anti-Semitism in the Netherlands
Amsterdam mayor Cohen reacts on the results of a recent opinion poll which suggests that half of Dutch nationals would object to a Jewish prime minister, and speaks up about latent Dutch antisemitism, tolerance and the Red Light District. By Rachel Levy.
Amsterdam mayor Job Cohen says it is "outrageous" that half of Dutch nationals would object to a Jewish prime minister leading the country.
Speaking during an interview with Deutsche Presse Agentur dpa, Cohen said the results to this effect of a recent Dutch opinion poll were "incredible".
On Monday, the daily newspaper De Pers published the results of a poll by current affairs television programme Eén Vandaag in which 21,000 people were asked how they felt if a new prime minister were to be from a particular minority or gender.
The result suggested that nine out of ten Dutch nationals would not object to a woman or a gay prime minister - but 50 percent would object to a Jewish prime minister, while less could live with a Muslim prime minister.
"Incredible results," said Cohen. "It is outrageous. I am perplexed about it. Apparently, latent anti-Semitism does exist in the Netherlands. These feelings are, so it seems, deeply rooted. It would be interesting to conduct a similar poll in other countries."
Cohen is seen as embodying the traditional Dutch tolerance. Whereas in recent years Dutch populist parties have been winning votes advocating "a strong hand" against crime, migrants and the Islam, Cohen has continued to build social and ethnic bridges.
Following the assassination of Dutch film maker Theo van Gogh in November 2004 by a Muslim fundamentalist, Cohen made world headlines with the skilful way he reduced ethnic tensions in Amsterdam.
His slogan of "keeping people together" represented his method of mending fences by reaching out to everyone and maintain a continuous dialogue. So how is multicultural Amsterdam doing, more than three years after that assassination?
"Many migrants have a very difficult time in the Netherlands in recent years," says Cohen, "but it seems to be improving today."
Referring to the ongoing heated debate about the position of migrants and Islam, he said that "fortunately, not a few people are gravely concerned by the increased polarisation in the country. Many initiatives have been taken and many projects have been started to to ensure that people feel at home here."
But, Cohen said, "you can also see very clearly the situation causes friction. People are diametrically opposed to each other, particularly when it concerns the debate about the Islam. This is a debate increasingly pulled out of its context."
At a higher level, though, there appeared to be "a certain twitch in society, a fundamental sense of discomfort."
In recent months, Cohen - often criticised as a "softie", took it up against what may be the most powerful people in Amsterdam - the rich entrepreneurs of the famous red light district.
Several brothels and other venues in the area have already been closed down. More are to follow. On Thursday, several thousand people working in the red light district protested against Cohen's policy to clean-up this famous part of the medieval inner city.
"When the Netherlands legalized prostitution in 2000," Cohen said, "the government hoped it would get more control over the industry and reduce crime. Today we know legal venues are being used for money laundering, trafficking woman, and similar crimes."
Asked if the municipality had not expected this, he said: "No, quite the contrary. We expected that the legalization would reduce abuse and trafficking. Now we see it did not have this effect."
He added: "We also notice that legal venues, like coffeeshops and game halls, often attract crime - even if they don't intent to - to an extent that it makes it impossible for the authorities to control the area.
"Everyone who owns a business in the area will have to demonstrate that the money used for their business activities was acquired in a legal way and does not originate from money-laundering."
"Foreign tourists will see in coming years the famous area will shrink. However, it it will not disappear. The famous red light district is part of Amsterdam."
11 February 2008
[Copyright dpa 2008]