Moving beyond the violence

21st July 2003, Comments 0 comments

Relations between the Dutch Jewish and Muslim communities have been complicated by ongoing Mid-East violence - but are there ways to ease the tension? Aaron Gray-Block investigates the problem and some solutions.

Claims of rising anti-Semitism

Despite continuing Mid-East violence and a sharp increase in anti-Jewish attacks at the start of 2002, the Netherlands has in recent months seen a lull in anti-Semitic incidents, but it is apparent that underlying problems remain.

Dutch Jewish groups claim anti-Semitism is on the rise, as evidenced by an increasing number of violent incidents and discrimination reports over several years.

Claiming Jews face death threats, violence, verbal abuse and anti-Semitic emails, letters and faxes, the Centrum Informatie en Documentatie Israel (CIDI) urged the new government in June to address the problem.

The CIDI attributed the rise in incidents last year and especially the first four months of 2002 to violence between Israel and the Palestinians.

Deputy Director Hadassa Hirschfeld said Moroccan youths, influenced by anti-Jewish rhetoric in Arab media, are primarily to blame for the increase in Anti-Semitic occurrences.

Meldpunt Discriminatie Amsterdam, said 127 incidents of alleged discrimination against Jews were reported last year, 54 of them in Amsterdam.

The number of incidents in Amsterdam rose to 81 in the first six months of this year, echoing the jump between 1999 and 2000, when 14 and 54 incidents were reported respectively. National figures are not available for 2002.

CIDI chairman Ronny Naftaniel said despite a more recent calm, problems involving Feyenoord football club fans at the club's open day in July — at which anti-Jewish statements likely directed at arch rival club Ajax, known as "the Jews", were chanted — is proof of an ongoing problem.

 Rubin Vis, secretary-general of the Central Joods Overleg — a consultative body for Dutch Jewish organisations — said "it is shocking to see so many people speak anti-Semitic remarks".

He also said the Jewish society upholds democratic ideals such as freedom of expression and religion without using violence, citing a Jewish youth protest in Amsterdam on 21 April as an example.

A protest which turned ugly

Amid a European-wide spate of protests and attacks against Jews, and Jewish and Israeli institutions at the start of this year — which particularly affected Belgium, Britain, France, Germany and Spain — the Nederlands Palestina Komitee (NPK) organised a demonstration on 13 April against Israel and its use of military force.

The protest which centred around Amsterdam's Dam Square broke out into violence and vandalism, and one US-born Jewish expatriate claims to have been assaulted in the melee.

Expatica discussion contributor Jeff Wolosom said he was attacked while en route to a job interview by pro-Palestinian protestors. He was wearing his Jewish yarmulke at the time. Wolosom claimed his assailants closed in around him at the World War II monument on Dam Square chanting "Dirty Jew, Die Jew". They kicked and hit him until pro-Israeli activists finally pulled him free, he said.

Police are investigating the protest's violence, but will not confirm victim details. No specific suspects have been identified and the investigation remains open.

The Muslim response

The NPK denies suggestions of tension between Jewish and Muslim communities and said violence cannot be described as anti-Semitism.

The NPK regrets the violence from the 13 April demonstration, which saw 19 people arrested as rioters scuffled with police, but said the problems were relatively minor considering it estimated about 25,000 people were involved in a "very peaceful march".

Spokesperson Wim Lankamp condemned the violent attacks, but claimed "people and groups who still blindly follow Israel should not be surprised by such protests".

He also said in light of the lessons from World War II — which resulted in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights — people should stop supporting what he claimed are Israel's exclusive rights and policies of oppression.

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