Wednesday, December 22, 2010


Barry Rubin *
The Netherlands is a fascinating test case of how Middle Eastern factors--immigration, foreign policy issues--affect European politics. These questions have become highly partisan ones, with the left side and right side of the spectrum often having diametrically opposite standpoints. The 2010 election brought to power a government that is friendly toward Israel and has pledged to reduce immigration.


The Netherlands is about to provide Europe with an important experiment: Can a center-right government manage an overblown welfare state, nationally suicidal multiculturalism, and virtually open-door immigration policies in a way that can maintain popular support and solve problems? After months of negotiations failed to bring about a coalition government across the spectrum, a new government has finally been formed. The partners are the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), a European liberal (that is, conservative) party and the Christian Democratic Party, (CDA). As it is, together they have 52 seats. While the VVD has been growing, the CDA has been in decline.

To be sure of a majority, the government will be supported from the outside by the Party for Freedom (PVV) led by Geert Wilders, giving a grand total of 76 seats, a razor-thin majority. Another small Christian party with two seats might offer support when needed. What makes this arrangement controversial is the role of Wilders, a controversial figure often described as “anti-Islam” and made into something of a bogeyman in Dutch politics. Yet Wilders' role has arguably undermined the conservative side since if he hadn’t run, the two other main conservative parties would have gained almost all of his votes and had a big majority. Wilders is thus something of a distraction here, who will be used by the left to call the new government various names; but the key figures are the leaders of the VVD, Mark Rutte, and of the CDA, Maxime Verhagen. Conservative and center parties received 55 percent of the votes in the elections.

Both of these parties support lower taxes, the free market, smaller government, less government regulation, limited immigration, are friendlier toward the United States and Israel, and take a tougher stance on radical Islamist groups. Thus while the international media is going to be focused on Wilders, the Dutch majority supports a program that might be called Wilders without the most controversial bits.

Among the key points in the new government’s program:

--Heavier punishments for repeat criminals and the hiring of more police, including a special increase in those dealing with animal-cruelty crimes (a big issue in Holland).

-- Immigrants will receive Dutch citizenship for a five-year trial period during which it would be revoked and they would be deported for being convicted of any crime requiring twelve years imprisonment.

--A ban on the burqa, with no headscarves permitted for judges, prosecutors, or police.

--Cutting legal immigration in half.

--First-cousin marriage, common among Muslim immigrants, will be banned.

--Spending cutbacks, for the minister of defense also, including a withdrawal of the Dutch forces from Afghanistan.

Will this program be implemented and will it lead to more social peace and economic stability in the Netherlands? All of Europe will be watching.


The political situation in Europe today is quite different from the stereotype of a continent hostile to the United States (even if Obama is personally popular) and Israel, appeasement-oriented toward Iran and revolutionary Islamism, and eagerly multicultural and politically correct. True, Europe is more oriented in that direction than North America, but there is a real political struggle afoot over these and other issues.

In many countries—notably the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Germany, and to a slightly lesser extent, the United Kingdom and France—the partisan gap between the left and center-right marks a boundary of much greater significance than it did in the 1970s or 1980s. Although each situation is different, the parties of the left tend to be more anti-American and anti-Israel, less alert to the threat of revolutionary Islamism, as well as favoring continued large-scale immigration.


The Netherlands is a small country with many unique characteristics. Yet this society also offers an interesting case study of how these issues—including the Middle East and immigration of large numbers of Muslims with consequent demographic shifts—affect European societies. It also shows why European political systems—though each, of course, is different—are deadlocked on ideas and power, paralyzed from taking effective action to deal with their problems.

After the June 2010 elections, centrist and conservative parties hold 83 seats, while those of the left have only 67. Since there are ten parties in parliament, however, there tend to be coalition governments in which decisions on key issues are deadlocked. The two largest have only 20 percent of the seats each.

In the elections, only three seats changed hands between the two broad blocs. Yet this conceals some important changes. The biggest news was the shift within the center-right to favor the PVV led by the controversial Geert Wilders, which almost tripled its vote, going from 9 to 24 seats. To his enemies, almost no epithet is too extreme to throw against him. The flamboyant Wilders has been outspoken in opposing immigration and especially that of Muslims, making a sharp critique of political Islamism and sometimes Islam itself. Throughout the elections, Wilders had round-the-clock bodyguards to protect him from assassination by Islamists.

The rise in support for Wilders’ party is in large part a response to serious concern over the domestic situation in the country. Aside from the assassination of a filmmaker by a radical Islamist, there has been a steep increase in crime and social welfare spending.

Amsterdam, not long ago the most gay-friendly city in the world, is a place where homosexuals might be attacked in the streets by Muslim immigrant youth. Twenty percent of Dutch teachers report that attempts to teach about the Holocaust, in the country of Anne Frank, were rejected or disrupted by immigrant children.

In an event that became widely discussed, a television show followed Rabbi Lody van de Kamp and two young men clearly dressed as Jews who were mocked and insulted, apparently by Muslims, while walking down Amsterdam’s streets. A Jewish man wrote in response that he dare not put a mezuzah on his door or wear a kippah (skullcap), much less show that he was gay, adding, "It's perfect living in [the neighborhood of] Bos en Lommer as long as you stay inside."[1]

While Muslims still comprise only a bit more than five percent of the population, whole areas of Dutch cities have a majority of people who are recent immigrants who are far from being assimilated to the country’s traditional norms. For example, it is frequently estimated according to polls that up to half of the country’s Muslim population is sympathetic to the September 11 attacks.

To understand the Netherlands requires comprehension of two concepts often credited for the stability and success of Dutch society. One of these is polder, which basically means a high value placed on consensus. In the narrow sense, it means employer-worker cooperation, a form of what is often called “corporate” structure. This means that decisions are made slowly among a set of very centralized interests. This system is often useful but may be disastrous if faced by the need for tough and quick decisions required by a major financial or social crisis.

Given this Dutch emphasis on stability, the violence that has developed over immigration—which has always come from Muslim immigrants and not from “nativists,” in contrast with other countries—and resulted in the murder of Theo van Gogh by an Islamist, was especially shocking.

The other concept is zuilen, which means the organization of separate, relatively autonomous communities, each of which has its own political parties, trade unions, schools, and media--though this system has weakened since the 1980s. Nominally, this deliberate division of society would seem to contradict the polder framework but the two actually fit together since the zuilen also permit centralized, elite decisionmaking on the basis of compromise and consensus. The leaders of the zuilen come together to achieve a decision acceptable to all.

While the zuilen have been weakened, they have left their mark on Dutch society. The four historic zuilen are: Protestant, Catholic, Socialist, and Liberal (in the European meaning of the word, that is, moderate conservative).

This approach provides a potential way of dealing with Muslim immigrants that doesn’t really exist in other countries, where historically assimilation into a single national/ethnic identity model has prevailed. The issue is debated as to whether the Muslims, who constitute about 1 million out of a population of 17 million, form a fifth zuil and if that should be a state policy. This issue is discussed in the section on Muslim immigrants, below.

Domestic Issues in the Election

Leaving aside the question of immigration and immigrants, there were a number of important domestic issues in the election, generally along the lines of the political debate in other countries. The two conservative parties, Wilders’ PVV and the VVD, argued for budget reductions and tax cuts.

The left wanted to increase taxes on the rich—from 52 to 60 percent as the top rate—and was also critical of keeping a mortgage interest tax deduction for everyone rather than only for the less wealthy. There were also arguments about whether the health care system (mandatory private insurance with companies unable to refuse anyone) should charge higher rates for the portion paid by the patient based on income level. Conservatives also criticized the cost of the Greek bailout for Dutch taxpayers. Finally, conservatives argued that immigration was costing the Netherlands a great deal of money and so limiting it would constitute a major revenue saving. Labour and the smaller left-of-center parties argued that immigration was a source of revenue, a financial asset for the country.

Muslim Immigrants and Immigration

In practice, one can argue that the process of creating a new zuilen is already happening. Many immigrants do live lives almost totally outside mainstream Dutch society, don’t speak the language, and retain separate institutions and customs. They watch their own media (especially the al-Jazeera satellite station). So far, however, there have been no Muslim political parties, with Muslims tending to support Labour.

A potential problem is that the dominant view among Muslims—which doesn’t mean that all share it, but which has become the ideology of most leaders and activists—is rather Islamist, or at least communal nationalist. This means it is hostile to Western values and civilization. Given the nature of the zuil system, energetic minorities can easily impose their stances on the larger community.

When Dutch leaders form alliances with these leaders, this deepens the radical tendencies shaping the Muslim immigrant sector. That is why the case of Ayaan Hirsin Ali, who was strongly criticized by the Dutch as well as Muslim establishment for her modernist, anti-religious approach, is so important. She was finally forced to leave the country when the government refused to pay for her security.

In fact, though, there are very real differences within the Muslim community. Dutch analysts and ordinary citizens contrast between, “Turks,” thought of as more moderate and middle class, and “Moroccans” (who don’t necessarily come from Morocco), who are seen as more traditionalist and militant. These are not precise definitions, of course, but are in common use, and there are other Muslims as well. Yet this is how the issue is often discussed in the Netherlands.

The two models for responding to these issues are personalized in Wilders and the former mayor of Amsterdam, Job Cohen, the Labour Party candidate. Cohen stated during one of the televised debates that Islam was a religion similar to Christianity and Judaism. Wilders, however, viewed Islam—or at least Islam as it enters the political arena—as a radical and intolerant ideology. To back up his point, Wilders noted that he had to wear a bulletproof vest when he appeared in public.

Wilders’ party platform spoke of Dutch society facing “the multicultural nightmare," Islamization, diminished freedom, and the rise of a European super-state ruled by elites with little concern for their own people. Wilders wrote: “The hated multicutural experiment has only given us negative results and Islam doesn't bring us cultural enrichment but Sharia-fatalism, Jihad terrorism, and hatred against gays and Jews. Everywhere in Europe we see the same problems with Islam." Wilders’ platform sees Islam as a religion that “aims at world domination."

How then should the Dutch government, according to Wilders’ party, handle this problem?

--Convicted criminals with dual nationality should be deported from Holland.

--For their first ten years in Holland, immigrants cannot receive social benefits. (The conservative VVD party has the same proposal). Only after a decade without any criminal record would citizenship be granted.

--The Netherlands will not allow dual nationality.

--No new mosques will be built, and mosques where violence is propagated will be closed.

--All separate Islamic schools will be closed, and the Koran will not be taught in public schools.

--No government funding for Islamic Internet media.

--Strong opposition to Turkey’s membership in the EU.

--Heavy punishments for female circumcisions.

--Ban on the burqa and a tax on headscarves being worn in public.

--A maximum of 1,000 asylum seekers per year.

--A complete stop of immigration from Muslim-majority countries and also from southeastern and east European countries.

While Wilders wants to halt all immigration from Muslim-majority countries; the VVD wants to halt all immigration of those with lower-level skills, arguing that they are likely to end up on the welfare rolls, which might amount to much the same thing but is less confrontational. Wilders wants to stop the construction of mosques and close those involved in radical agitation; the VVD wants to take actions against those that preach radicalism, saying in its platform: "Salafist mosques that actively work against integration do not fit into Dutch society." Thus, while Wilders tends to see Islam in general as a threat, the VVD focuses on radical Islamism.

Aware that the VVD was his main rival for obtaining votes on the immigration issue, Wilders attacked Mark Rutte, the VVD leader, by claiming that he spoke toughly about immigration during the election campaign but did not act in the past when the opportunity was offered to him, citing specific cases.[2]

During the debates, for his part, Rutte accused Cohen, the Labour Party leader, of favoring an Islamic “zuil” in Dutch society and subsidizing a mosque when he was mayor of Amsterdam. On another occasion, Rutte attacked Cohen as being soft on crimes committed by Moroccan-origin immigrants.

In an interview with the conservative blog De Dagelijkse Standaard (DDS), Rutte said the priority was to fight Islamism (Salafism) through the security forces and to criticize the tendency on the Dutch left to be tolerant with the intolerant. The problem, according to Rutte, is that state policies often tend to favor the radicals among Muslims and do things that actually inhibit integration. He also mentioned the lack of humor and self-criticism in Islam, along with its lack of any division between mosque and state.

The small, most liberal Christian party, Christian Union, also expressed concern over these issues: "Every Dutchman has the right to assembly, to religion and to express his opinion. But financial support of Dutch political, cultural and religious institutes from demonstrably non-free countries (such as Saudi-Arabia and Iran) is not permitted. It's allowed to protect a free society from the importation of bondage." It also supported banning the burqa from public buildings, public transport, and schools.

Since the PVV, VVD, and Christian Union received almost half of the votes, this shows the arguments about the problem of Muslim immigration (and immigration in general) have an important constituency in the Netherlands.

Cohen supported existing policies, current immigration rates, and refusing to treat Islam differently from any other religion.

The government is doing everything possible to ignore certain aspects of mass immigration, including costs and growing antisemitism. One of the main arguments against mass immigration is that it is incredibly costly compared to the benefit it yields. A report by a government agency estimated that non-Western immigration costs the Netherlands 6 billion Euros a year, while a study by the respected Nyfer research institute sets the amount at 7.2 billion Euros a year. This includes the cost of welfare, disability insurance, and unemployment payments for immigrants and their children. Additional costs derive from their disproportionate role in crime and as prison inmates.

In response, the anti-racism organization Nederland Bekent Kleur (Netherlands Recognizes Color) did not contest the numbers but called the ideas of the PVV "put your own people first politics." Historically, the idea that a government had the duty to put the interests of its own citizens first was rather the basis of the nation-state. Now in Europe this has become a controversial matter.

There is every effort being made, however, to prevent a controversy over the fact that mass immigration, radical Islamism, and government policies toward Muslim communities are leading to an increase rather than a decrease of intolerance in the country. In the Netherlands, the problem is coming from the Muslim, not the “native” side. Bruce Bawer has written about how this applies to gays in Amsterdam, formerly the most tolerant city in the world toward them.[3]

Ironically, when a Dutch “native” committed a political murder it was to kill Pim Fortuyn in 2002 because that politician was very critical of Islam, stating that “moderate Islam doesn’t defend modernity.” The killing of filmmaker Van Gogh by an Islamist radical was also a big shock to a society that prides itself on being peaceful and compromise-oriented.

Another news story was based on a survey that 20 percent of teachers in large cities had difficulties, or even found it impossible, to teach about the Holocaust because of opposition by Muslim students. When PVV members of parliament asked the government for a response, ministers said merely that the government was “concerned.”[4]

As for the situation of Jews in Amsterdam, the generally left-oriented newspaper
NRC Handelsblad described the creation of a secret synagogue in one district of the city with a large “Moroccan” population, no-go zones for those wearing recognizably Jewish religious symbols or clothing, harassment of a rabbi who could no longer walk freely in the streets, and tremendous hostility toward Jews and Israel from Muslims.[5]

During a parliamentary debate over antisemitism in June 2010, following a report documenting a dramatic increase in incidents, representatives of all the center-right parties spoke of their concern on the issue, while those of the left didn’t attend, remained silent, or stressed that Islamophobia was the main problem.

The State Apparatus and Foreign Media Against Wilders

It was clear that elements of the Dutch state were employed to harass and discredit Wilders. This includes his trial on the basis of accusations regarding his statements on Islam and coverage in the mass media.[6]On April 25, for example, a state television documentary compared him to the Nazis and Serbian ethnic cleansers. In addition, the justice minister, a CDA member, wrote a letter to Wilders claiming that a Jewish candidate on his list, Gidi Markuszower, was a security risk, hinting that he was spying for Israel. Markuszower, a member of the tiny Dutch Likud organization, denied the accusation and said there was no evidence for it. He dropped out of the campaign, however, so as not to damage Wilders’ party.

The foreign media ran “news” articles strongly endorsing Cohen against all the other candidates, both in the Washington Post[7] and the New York Times.[8] The Post article portrayed Cohen as wanting to return the country to tolerance, as if the Dutch people and his opponents all represented intolerance.

The latest annual report by the official organization responsible for monitoring violent and subversive threats, the AIVD, focused on jihadi groups. Aside from indicating concern over the weapons of mass destruction programs in Iran, Pakistan, and Syria, the group pointed to domestic dangers from Salafism, the Muslim Brotherhood, Tablighi Jamaat, and Hizb ut-Tahrir. These groups were defined as viewing Islam as incompatible with democracy and as anti-Western, antisemitic, and anti-integration into Western societies.[9]

The Netherlands and the Israel Issue

The Netherlands, of course, is not a world power, and thus foreign policy issues play a small part in the political campaign. In this context, however, the issue of Israel played a disproportionately large role.

While historically the Netherlands was pro-Israel, this has changed in recent decades. This is especially evident in the media, which tends to be hostile in general and does not report factors that might make Israel appear to be better or as following rational policies. Pro-Israel statements by Dutch politicians also tend to be underreported, including statements by government officials or parliamentarians in that regard.

The Dutch government, however, has not become energetically hostile, but tends to make luke-warm statements that stress that the Netherlands might be critical of specific Israeli policies but does not advocate pressure or enmity.

A typical example was when several parliamentarians in mid-2010 asked Foreign Minister Verhagen about government-subsidized groups that use the money for anti-Israel propaganda. He said he would discuss the issue with the groups and warn them not to violate the terms of the grants again or else they would receive more money; but it was not clear that there was any serious follow-up on the issue.

Anti-Israel groups are active in publishing articles and books that take a strongly anti-Israel stance, while pro-Israel organizations exist but are less visible, especially in the mass media. On June 4, 2010, for example, a column appeared in the large daily newspaper De Volkskrant by historian and Labour Party member Thomas von der Dunk calling on the Dutch government to declare Likud Netherlands--an extremely tiny group--as a terrorist organization like Hizballah.

During a popular TV-show called DWDD aired during the campaign, a poet presented a political statement about Israeli terrorism regarding the Gaza flotilla. Among the audience applauding was a high-ranking parliamentary candidate of the VVD, Hennis-Plasschaert, who was later elected at the polls.

Political Parties and Israel

Wilders’ party is the most explicitly pro-Israel, calling that country, “The central front in the defense of the West.” Its platform calls on the Netherlands to support Israel against criticism from leftists and Muslims and demands for concessions, saying the conflict is not over territory but ideology. The platform calls for an alliance with countries struggling with Islamist threats and especially opposition to Iran.

The VVD also repeatedly claims to be “a friend of Israel,” but its stance is not completely consistent. Thus, for example, Atzo Nicolai, a parliament member who is the party spokesman on foreign affairs, said he didn’t understand what had "gotten a hold of Netanyahu's government with regard to the action against the Gaza-flotilla." He also reportedly accused Foreign Minister Verhagen of being “very one-sided” and holding a position that “always coincides with the one of Israel.”[10]

In general, the center-right parties are relatively friendly toward Israel, though the VVD holds a spectrum of views including some hostile ones as well. Parties that support Israel’s basic rights--though not necessarily all of its policies or actions--hold 55 percent of the seats after the 2010 elections.

The further left parties openly condemn Israel. D66 criticized Israel for building settlements on Palestinian land and for restricting the Palestinian economy and freedom of movement but has no criticism of the Palestinian Authority (PA) or Hamas. It calls for only parties that “have sworn off violence” to be included in negotiations but offers some loopholes about the acceptability of parties participating in elections, which could mean Hizballah.

Both the GroenLinks ("Green Left") and Socialist parties explicitly include Hamas as a force to be engaged and propose postponing the EU treaty of association with Israel as a means of pressuring that country for unilateral concessions. The Socialist party even calls for supporting a unilateral PA declaration of statehood.

An interesting example of how these stances work in practice was when local Socialist party groups advocated and supported Muslim groups in boycotting Israeli fruit during Ramadan. On the one hand, the Socialists said this was in support of “peaceful resistance” against Israeli policies in the “Palestinian territories,” implying that this was only about the West Bank. Yet it also said that the fruit came from Palestinian lands under Israeli occupation, whereas they came from inside Israel, thus implying that all of Israel should be under Palestinian Arab rule.

Thus, D66, GroenLinks, and the Socialists are clearly anti-Israel. As a result of the 2010 elections, these parties hold 35 of 150 parliamentary seats, almost one-fourth.

The remaining one-quarter are held by the Labour Party and--given its role as the most likely government coalition partner from the left--its stance is especially important. In practice, and despite being led by Cohen, it is as hostile as the other left parties. Among its platform provisions are:[11]

--"The Palestinian groups Hamas and Fatah ought to reconcile with each other. Without unity among both groups peace in the region is impossible." One might remark that if these two groups were to become partners, peace in the region would be even more impossible.

--"Further investigation of alleged crimes during the Gaza-war on the basis of the UN Goldstone report." This depends on a report very much biased against Israel and is a position out of line with U.S. policy and that of the other larger EU states.

--An end to the blockade of the Gaza Strip.

--"In case of violation [of human rights, MvR] the treaty of association with Israel should be used as a means of pressure. The PvdA [Dutch Labour party] is aware of the fact that there are large differences in the power ratio between the state of Israel and the Palestinian Authority." This last point is especially interesting as it is an explicit statement of supporting a side largely because it is weaker.

Except for urging an end of rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip to Israel and urging, "Both parties must be pressed to abide by international law,” the Labour party’s stance is very much against Israel.

While these left parties are all “pro-Palestinian” they don’t make much differentiation between the PA and Hamas. What is particularly shocking is the support that is offered to Hamas. The Labour party and Socialists want to talk to all Palestinian representatives while GroenLinks and D66 explicitly include Hamas as an acceptable negotiating partner.

Thus, the positions taken toward Israel coincide almost completely with their place on the left-right political spectrum. There is no objective reason for this to be so in terms of the Middle East situation or Dutch interests. Thus, the decision on where to stand arises from an ideological perception rather than a foreign policy analysis.

Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen, a Christian Democrat, took a stance toward Israel that might be described as moderate European, meaning highly critical at times but not materially hostile. In a May 19, 2010 speech in Amsterdam marking the 62nd anniversary of Israel, he made the following points:

--Iran should not be accepted into the UN Human Rights Council as long as it brutally violates human rights.

--Like many Europeans, he took a stronger stance on sanctions against Iran than did the Obama administration, stating that if stronger sanctions could not be passed through the UN Security Council, they should be imposed directly by the United States and EU.

--Not only did he issue a ritual condemnation of antisemitism, but he also pointed out how widespread it is, citing figures that half the hate speech on the internet was antisemitic in nature and that he is shocked by the anti-Jewish responses he receives in response to his own blogs and articles.

--UN criticism of Israel is often automatic without consideration of the facts.

--He mistakenly claimed that due to Dutch efforts, teaching about the Holocaust was being done in the UN schools of Gaza. (It would have been easy for him to find out that this was not true.)

--He gave as a reason a two-state solution was necessary that otherwise Jews might become a minority in Israel. This is untrue, but it is an argument often made in Israel itself. The point here is that the foreign minister made a “pro-Zionist” argument as his rationale for supporting a two-state solution rather than an anti-Israel one.

The Gaza Flotilla Issue

At the June 1, 2010 election debate, the representatives of the Christian Union and Christian Democratic parties supported Israel, the latter noting that the Gaza flotilla passengers who attacked Israeli troops had not kept to international law. In contrast, the VVD representative spoke of friendship with Israel but stated that in this case it “seems completely” as if Israel had been wrong. In addition, he praised the extreme left-wing Israeli Breaking the Silence group, though he also called for a tough stance toward Iran. The Labour parliamentary member merely complained that the Gaza blockade was not well defined, a remark that ran contrary to even the Dutch foreign minister’s position.

Actually, the Dutch government’s position was rather favorable toward Israel in three respects. First, the foreign minister refused to condemn Israel since, he explained, not all information was available. Second, he proposed an Israeli--not a UN--investigation (though one CDA MP, Raymond Knops, called for a UN investigation). Third, he criticized the Gaza flotilla for not accepting Israel’s offer to transport the goods it carried by land into the Gaza Strip. Finally, he added that the overwhelming majority of CDA members supported his policy, though certainly there was a minority that opposed it.

In a post-election parliamentary debate, the foreign minister said that he did not want Hamas’s rule in the Gaza Strip to be “strengthened” and praised Israel for the “partial lifting” of the sanctions on Gaza. The Labour Party’s spokesman in the debate said that Israel’s blockade had broken international law since--according to him--any blockade at sea had to be temporary and must let through humanitarian aid.

Israel As a Domestic Political Issue

There is an interesting point shown by Dutch politics in regard to attitudes toward Israel. It is often presented as if “Europe” were anti-Israel or that there were a powerful, inevitable trend in that direction. In fact, in many countries, Israel has now become a partisan issue, in which the party (or parties) of the left is hostile while those of the center and right are friendlier to Israel.

This situation is most apparent in the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, and France, while less so (though there are still differences) in the United Kingdom and Germany. Both sides tend to see Israel in the context of larger ideological and identity issues. This does not mean that center and right policies are uncritical by any means.

Still, in broad terms, it might be said that the present governments in France, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom are relatively friendlier toward Israel than the opposition. The reverse is true in several smaller countries, notably Spain and Belgium. While saying this, it should be added that the standard for being considered “friendly” is lower than it was in past decades.

The 2010 Election

The most notable result of the election was the massive increase of votes for Wilders’ party. This is partly misleading, however, if one examines the bigger picture.

While seats were distributed far differently among the parties of the left and right respectively, the switch between these two “blocs” was only three seats. On the right there were big gains for both of the two “secular” parties that had spoken out about immigration and Islamism.

On the center-right there was an increase from 80 seats to 83. The main change was that the Christian Democratic voters switched to VVD and PVV. The main conclusion seems to be that voters wanted parties that fought more explicitly against mass immigration and Islamic influences but did not change their position on the political spectrum.

On the left, there was a greater diffusion among parties. The left has 67 seats, down from 70 seats. Socialist and Labour voters went to D66 and Green Left.

Thus, three of the four largest parties are center or conservative. Since, however, the center and right cannot form a government, they have to bring in some parties of the left, most likely Labour. The balance of power remains largely the same.



People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD)

Conservative (liberal in European terms) free-market-oriented party. Lower taxes, smaller government, less government regulation.

Gained 9 seats: From 22 to 31.

Party for Freedom, (PVV)

Led by Geert Wilders. Conservative, strong position against immigration, and critical of Islam.

Gained 15 seats: From 9 to 24.

Christian Democratic Party, (CDA)

Centrist religious party, no tax increases, often government coalition partner.

Lost 20 seats: From 41 to 21.

Christian Union, (CU)

Religious party, conservative on social policy but favors more government control over economy.

Lost 1 seat: From 6 to 5.

Dutch Orthodox-reform party, (SGP)

Conservative religious party.

Kept its two seats: No change.


Democrats '66, (D66)

Defines itself as “progressive liberal” but is generally leftist. Seeks major changes in Dutch society.

Gained 7 seats: From 3 to 10.

Labour (PvdA)

Support higher taxes, an end to mortgage interest deductions, multiculturalism.

Lost 3 seats: From 33 to 30.

Green Left, (GroenLinks)

Successor to the Communist Party plus environmentalists. The left-wing party.

Gained 3 seats: From 7 to 10.

Socialist Party, (SP)

Formerly more to the left but has moderated in recent years.

Lost 10 seats: From 25 to 15.

Party for the Animals, Partij voor de Dieren (PvdD)

Animal-rights party. Very leftist.

Kept its 2 seats: No change.


While much of the attention regarding the elections focused on Wilders’ VVD, the second biggest winner was the mainstream conservative (in European terminology, liberal) People's party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), which went from 22 to 31 seats. The VVD favors lower taxes, smaller government, and less government regulation. While Wilders often focuses his criticism on Islam itself, the VVD is quite critical of radical Islamism.

Though the VVD’s positions are less extreme than Wilders, it also favors serious reductions in immigration, the closing of mosques where radical doctrines are preached, and the denial of social welfare payments for immigrants during their first decade in the country. These two parties received one-third of the vote and three Christian parties, from whose voters Wilders and the VVD obtained their increased support have somewhat similar stances.

A similar pattern emerges regarding stances toward Israel. Wilders is an outspoken supporter, but the other parties are also sympathetic--though there is an anti-Israel minority in the VVD. The foreign minister, for example, a Christian Democrat, said that Israel was entitled to stop Gaza flotilla ships in international waters, refused to condemn Israel’s actions, and supports tough sanctions on Iran’s nuclear program. While the four non-Wilders center-right parties are more nuanced in their attitude than decades ago, they are certainly not kneejerk anti-Israel in their positions.

Thus, about 55 percent of Dutch voters backed parties that want a real change in key policies. Yet nothing dramatic is likely to happen, as 45 percent endorsed parties on the left. Moreover, given the Dutch passion for consensus, the existence of so many parties, and the reluctance of several other parties to bring Wilders’ party into government, some kind of broad coalition will likely emerge.

On the left, the largest party, Labour, led by former Amsterdam mayor Job Cohen, declined slightly. It can be described now as a party of the Dutch status quo, that is, continuation of existing policies. Despite being led by a nominal Jew, it is very critical of Israel and totally uncritical of Hamas. The big loser was the Socialist Party.

There is another important point that deserves wider recognition. While Wilders is seen by some as a great threat to democracy and by others as a savior, the fact is that his party will not likely become the leader of a government. Its support won’t grow beyond a certain point, and the effective labeling of it as extremists—rightly or wrongly—means that other parties can’t or won’t form a government coalition with it.

If voters for Wilders’ PVV had backed the VVD or the Christian Democrats, the outcome would have produced a bloc strong enough to lead a government that might take effective action to fulfill their platforms. Thus, Wilders’ real impact is to ensure a coalition government that ensures a lack of change—the exact opposite of what seems to be the case.

Instead, the result is a deadlock between two sides with such different overall visions of Dutch politics and society, meaning that stagnation is likely on the key issues. The Dutch believe, however, that they thrive on this kind of paradox, confident in finding some compromise to ease them through. Yet can a major crisis be long avoided given the economic and social issues faced by the Netherlands and so many other European states today?

*Prof. Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are Lebanon: Liberation, Conflict, and Crisis (Palgrave Macmillan), Conflict and Insurgency in the Contemporary Middle East (Routledge), The Israel-Arab Reader, seventh edition (Viking-Penguin), the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan), A Chronological History of Terrorism (Sharpe), and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley).


[1] Nederland 2, June 20, 2010,


[3] Notably, Bruce Bawer, While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam Is Destroying the West from Within, (New York: Doubleday, 2006),

[4] De Telegraaf, June 15, 2010,,buitenland.

[5] Welingelichte Kringen, June 13, 2010,; Benjamin Weinthal, “Dutch Anti-Semitism Reaches Record High,” Jerusalem Post, September 19, 2010,

[6] De Volkskrant,

[7] Washington Post, June 4, 2010,

[8] Russell Shorto, “European Muslims’ Jewish Friend, Job Cohen,” New York Times Magazine, May 28, 2010,

[9] General Intelligence and Security Service of the Netherlands (AIVD), April 19, 2010,

[10] Een Ander Joods Geluid, June 11, 2010,

[11] PvdA Website,
MERIA Journal Staff
Publisher and Editor: Prof. Barry Rubin
Assistant Editor: Yeru Aharoni.
MERIA is a project of the Global Research in International Affairs
(GLORIA) Center, Interdisciplinary University.
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