The foul winds of antisemitism and anti-Zionism are gathering pace in Europe and nowhere more than in the Netherlands. The spectacle of South Africa against Israel on whether Israel is committing genocide in Gaza has found the perfect spot in the Hague. Loud Pro-Palestian protesters, calling for intifada outnumber the quieter, discreet pro-Israel camp. The newspapers are full of articles with keywords such as colonialism, apartheid, and genocide. The country is in between governments, with Prime Minister-to-be Geert Wilders, a known Israel supporter, unable to form a coalition. One-sided debates are held on the TV, few pro-Israel voices are given a podium. A growing Muslim population, who feel an automatic connection to their Muslim brethren, add to stereotypes and false information.
This is incredibly worrying and a sign of neglect on Israel’s part to promote education about the Jews, the connection to the Land of Israel and the wider conflict. There is no Noa Tishby adressing the Dutch public, and this also reflects on other non-English speaking European states. With a younger generation growing up who are educated by misinformation on social media, Israel will face an upward battle to keep support from traditional European allies in the future. It needs to address European hasbara now.
The Netherlands has traditionally been a staunch supporter of Israel. During the 1967 Six Day War and 1973 Yom Kippur War the Dutch enthusiastically donated money as well as blood to the Israeli cause. A survey by Nipo in 1967 showed that 67% of respondents supported Israel. In 1991, during the Gulf War, famous Dutch artists came together to write a song for Israel, ‘Shalom from Holland’. It was a huge hit. Israel was supported by both Left and Right on the political spectrum. Thousands of Dutch youths, such as Geert Wilders, went to Israel to spend time in the kibbutzim and many stayed. The shadow of the Holocaust hung over Holland and was remembered. The Christian parties were then, as now, strong supporters of Israel and the connection of Jews to Israel was clear. However, this staunch overwhelming support is a thing of the past.
A survey done a week after the horrors of Oct 7 saw that only 30% of the respondents supported Israel. A few days after the Oct 7 atrocities, Johan Derksen, a host on a popular Dutch TV show ‘Vandaag Inside’ went on an antisemitic rant, stating the “the Jews kind of asked for it” and that the Netherlands “blindly follows the Jewish community”. There was condemnation, he did not apologize, he changed the focus of his statement from Jews to Israelis, and continues his career happily. It’s been downhill from there. Talkshows such as ‘Khalid&Sofie’ were happy to report on the so-called Israeli bombing on Al-Shifa hospital, without retracting that misinformation. Journalistic integrity has seen a new low across all newspapers, with major news sites such as the NOS reporting falsely that Israel was stealing organs from Palestinian bodies. Information on the tunnels and the wider terrorist network in Gaza is missing completely. The list goes on. There is no song for Israel this time by local celebrities, there are no celebrities publicly backing Israel. There is a deafening silence echoing through the lowlands. The fact that 10 Dutch advertising agencies refused to publicise the plight of the Israeli hostages is just shocking.
On social media, the pro-Palestinian side is dominating. Although the Muslim population numbers around 5% across the Netherlands, the Muslim population stands at 10% in large cities such as Amsterdam. The pro-Palestinian Dutch instagram channel @cestmocro counts 1 million followers and distributes Hamas propaganda. Alternatively, instagram sites such as ‘Stand with Us NL’ count only 7400 followers. A niece of the King of the Netherlands proudly uses the watermelon emoji on her instagram, eventhough members of the Dutch Royal Family should not take political stances. Reports of anti semitic incidents have spiked over 800% since Oct 7 according to CIDI (Center for information and Documentation on Israel). The institute reported that there were way more incidents in schools, which was unknown before. Social media is at the forefront of the spread of false information and incitement and as part of that Jews are wrongly being held responsible for the conflict in the Middle East. Very evident at the protests in the Hague is the age difference with the pro-Israel side definitely older. For the youth, Israeli is a white occupying power, the Holocaust a distant past, Jewish ties to the land of Israel a mystery.
Poltically the Netherland and Israel still have strong ties. Prime Minister Mark Rutte immediately condemned the atrocities of Oct 7. He visited Israel 2 times, and issued a Dutch passport for one of the hostages Ofir Engel. However he and his party lost the election end November. Geert Wilders of the far right PVV should be on route to be the next Prime Minister. He is, for good or bad, the personification of an Israel supporter. He was secretly investigated in 2009 and 2010 by the Dutch Secret Service concerning his ”ties to Israel and their possible influence on his loyalty”. Wilders as Prime Minster is good for Israel but Israel should be aligned with all parties and not part of a conspiracy theory with one particular individual. A coalition is still pending and the interim government is quiet om the Israel-Gaza War. In the lower levels of the civil service there are worrying signs; In December, employees at the Ministery of Foreign Affairs in the Hague held a protest to support a ceasefire in the Middle East. The mayor of Enschede avoided any contact with the Israeli Ambassador to the Netherlands Modi Ephraim at the local Hanukkah celebrations.
What is happening in the Netherlands is echoed throughout Europe. As soon as possible Israel has to direct resources on education and hasbara to non-English speaking European countries to address misinformation. Local pro-Israel voices need to be supported, efforts have to be made on social media. Even though most of these countries are stll politically aligned, it could be only for the short term. A new generation will grow up with no understanding or support of Israel which will affect politics. A growing Muslim population is a factor but lets not forget that even without this community, the Netherlands still lost 75% of its Jews during the Holocaust. We are at a crossroads and the warning signs are there. Israel can not automatically expect Dutch support going forward.