As queen abdicates, Israelis like the Dutch very much

Beatrix steps down Tuesday; Netherlands’ ambassador in Tel Aviv says he hopes new monarchs will visit Israel soon

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Dutch Queen Beatrix, center, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sarah, in the Hague, January 19, 2012 (photo credit: Amos Ben Gershom/GPO/Flash90)
Dutch Queen Beatrix, center, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sarah, in the Hague, January 19, 2012 (photo credit: Amos Ben Gershom/GPO/Flash90)

Israelis consider the Netherlands the second-friendliest country in Europe, according to a new survey published ahead of the occasion of the investiture of a new Dutch king on Tuesday.

One-fifth of respondents ranked the Netherlands as being the friendliest European country toward Israel after Germany, according to the survey, which was commissioned by the Dutch Embassy in Israel. Asked why, 86 percent of those who took part in the survey mentioned the country’s “continuing support of Israel regarding political issues.” About three-quarters cited “the low level of anti-Semitism compared to other EU member states.”

“Over two-thirds (68%) of the respondents expressed a general positive attitude toward the Netherlands,” according to a statement issued by the embassy through a public relations firm.

On Tuesday, Queen Beatrix, 75, who has been the country’s head of state for 33 years — longer than any other Dutch monarch — will abdicate the throne in favor of her eldest son, Prince Willem-Alexander, 45, in a lavish ceremony in Amsterdam.

“I am confident that King Willem-Alexander and his wife, Queen Maxima, will maintain the warm bond between our two nations, and I hope to welcome them to Israel in the future,” the Netherlands’ ambassador to Israel, Casper Veldkamp, said.

Some Dutch Jews, however, are unhappy about the upcoming royal celebration, or at least a minor part of it: A senior rabbi complained this week about a farewell event for Queen Beatrix scheduled for Yom Kippur. According to JTA, Holland’s chief inter-provincial rabbi, Binyomin Jacobs, said his community was “vexed” over the scheduling of the event, slated to take place on September 14 in Rotterdam.

“Jews are again faced with a reality in which they don’t belong, and that is painful,” Jacobs told a local paper on Friday.

Jacobs will, however, attend Tuesday’s crowning ceremony in Amsterdam.

The Netherlands may be one of Jerusalem’s closest allies in Europe, but the center-right government of Mark Rutte last month became the second country on the continent, after the United Kingdom, to recommend that retailers label products from beyond the Green Line as such. According to a directive issued by the Dutch Economic Affairs Ministry, such products should indicate that they originate from an “Israeli settlement in the Golan Heights, East Jerusalem, the West Bank or in Palestinian territories.”

Explaining the measure, Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans told parliament that Israeli settlements are illegal and an obstacle to peace. “We do not want to contribute to the economy of the illegal settlements,” he said. However, the government directive speaks only of correct labeling; the import and sale of settlement products remains legal, in accordance with EU legislation.

Despite Israelis’ generally positive attitude toward the kingdom, the new survey — conducted last month by research institute TNS Global among 500 Hebrew-speaking respondents — showed that Israelis citizens do not consider the Netherlands a significant trading partner. Only 23% of respondents said the country was relevant for Israel economically — although bilateral trade amounted to more than $5 billion last year, an all-time high.

The Netherlands is the fourth-biggest European exporter to Israel, after Germany, Switzerland and Italy; exports to Israel were worth $2.84 billion in 2012, an increase of almost 3% from the previous year. The kingdom is also the second-largest Israeli export destination in Europe, after the United Kingdom.

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