Inside story'It feels like back when Jews' addresses were handed out'

Once a tolerant haven, Holland sees antisemitism surge as Jews across Europe scent danger

A record number of hate crimes reflects a post-Oct. 7 reality that’s making the continent’s Jews question their futures, but they no longer see Israel as their ‘insurance policy’

Cnaan Lidor is The Times of Israel's Jewish World reporter

Anti-Israel demonstrators protest against Israel's President Isaac Herzog attending the opening of the new National Holocaust Museum in Amsterdam, Netherlands, March 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Phil Nijhuis)
Anti-Israel demonstrators protest against Israel's President Isaac Herzog attending the opening of the new National Holocaust Museum in Amsterdam, Netherlands, March 10, 2024. (AP Photo/Phil Nijhuis)

The three women who rang the doorbell of a Jewish nurse near Amsterdam last month initially seemed like neighbors paying a call.

After the nurse opened the door on March 27, however, the women called her a “child murderer” and told her to leave the Netherlands, the nurse said. The women likely targeted her in connection with angry fliers that had been circulated in her neighborhood, advertising the fact that the nurse’s daughter was an Israeli soldier. The fliers contained the nurse’s address and workplace, and accused her of being “complicit” in her daughter’s “crimes.”

This incident was one of hundreds of cases of antisemitic abuse in Holland following the outbreak of war between Israel and Hamas on October 7, which began with a devastating attack in which terrorists killed some 1,200 people in Israel. This surge is so dramatic that it’s causing many Dutch Jews, including the nurse, to recall the 1930s and question their future in a country that for centuries has stood for tolerance and acceptance.

“It feels like in World War II when the addresses of Jews were given out,” the nurse told the De Telegraaf daily on condition of anonymity for fear of further attacks.

In the Netherlands, which prides itself as being a global flag-bearer for religious tolerance, the Holocaust analogy is particularly painful because, during the genocide, the Nazis and collaborators murdered 75% of the Jewish population — the highest death rate in Nazi-occupied Western Europe.

A redacted copy of the flier that advertises the name, address and workplace of a Dutch-Jewish nurse in connection with her daughter’s service in the Israeli army. (CIDI)

The incident at the nurse’s home, which police are investigating, is part of an “explosion” of antisemitic incidents that began right after October 7, the Center for Information and Documentation on Israel, or CIDI, which is Dutch Jewry’s watchdog on antisemitism, said in a report about 2023 that it published Tuesday.

That year, the Netherlands saw a record number of 379 documented antisemitic incidents, a 245% increase over 2022, whose tally had also been an all-time high. Of the 2023 incidents, 60% happened between October and the end of December.

Sticks and stones may break bones

One of the first incidents in the surge happened on October 11. A young man was speaking Hebrew while cycling through Amsterdam when a passerby shouted to him: “Dirty Jew,” the cyclist told CIDI. This and many other incidents happened before Israeli troops had entered Gaza and even as troops were still fighting with terrorists inside Israeli homes that the terrorists had invaded, killing and sometimes raping the inhabitants.

Damage from a rock hurled into the window of a Jewish home in the Netherlands on October 26, 2023. (Courtesy: CIDI)

The following day, a woman who had forgotten to conceal her Star of David pendant, which she usually does, was called “rotten Jewish whore” by teenagers who chanted the insults at her at around noon in the center of Utrecht, a picturesque city known for its beautiful canals, she told CIDI in an incident report.

Such spontaneous incidents increasingly gave way to preplanned actions as the war progressed, including the women’s visit to the nurse’s home. By the end of October, the Israel Defense Forces had begun a ground offensive in Gaza aiming to destroy the Hamas terror group and release the 253 hostages seized by terrorists on October 7.

According to the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza, some 33,000 Palestinians have died in the war. The unverified data do not distinguish between civilians and combatants, of whom Israel says it has killed at least 13,000.

Shortly before the intimidating visit to the home of the nurse in Amstelveen, a heavily Jewish suburb of Amsterdam, several protesters disrupted a concert near Rotterdam by Lenny Kuhr, a Jewish singer. The protesters chanted “Zionist child murderer” at Kuhr, a past Eurovision winner for the Netherlands who has children living in Israel and a grandson who was recently wounded in Gaza.

Israel’s President Isaac Herzog, second left, points at the Portuguese Synagogue during a ceremony marking the opening of the new National Holocaust Museum in Amsterdam, Netherlands, March 10, 2024. (Patrick van Emst/Pool Photo via AP)

Anti-Israel protests during last month’s reopening ceremony of the country’s National Holocaust Museum over President Isaac Herzog’s attendance shocked many Dutch Jews, who viewed the demonstration as ominously disrespectful of the memory of the victims, and according to some was also antisemitic.

A post-October 7 ‘new normal’

After October 7, “it is now normal for Jews to be screamed at on the street. It’s more and more antisemitic,” Dutch Chief Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs told The Times of Israel this week. “People are scared and nervous,” he said.

Jacobs said he speaks daily with Jews who are considering leaving for Israel. The rabbi said he has not used public transportation for years for fear of an assault.

Jacobs, whose home has been vandalized repeatedly in recent years, does not attempt to dissuade congregants from leaving the Netherlands, he said. All but two of Jacobs’ seven children have left their native Netherlands, raising their own children in Israel and beyond.

Dutch Chief Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs at Westerbork Memorial Center, May 14, 2017. (Cnaan Liphshiz)

“Why should I want them to live in a country where antisemitism is thriving?” said Jacobs, whose parents survived the Holocaust and whose family has lived in the kingdom for centuries.

Another rabbi, Aryeh Heintz, was assaulted on March 29 at a department store in Utrecht. The perpetrator told Heintz he had no business being there while “dressed as a Jew.” Other shoppers stopped the perpetrator from hitting Heintz again, De Telegraaf reported. The perpetrator, 40, later turned himself in, but was released and is not being prosecuted as per prosecutors’ decision. The rabbi is considering appealing the decision not to prosecute his alleged attacker, his lawyer said Thursday.

Not isolated to Holland

The trends on display in the Netherlands, where about 40,000 Jews live, are occurring across Western Europe, Ariel Muzicant, the president of the European Jewish Congress, told The Times of Israel last week in Jerusalem. Muzicant and EJC board members were in Israel as part of a joint delegation with the American Jewish Committee.

“Lots of Jews in Europe are afraid to go to synagogue, to send their kids to school, to show a kippah or a Star of David,” said Muzicant, who lives in Vienna. “My grandchildren now wear a cap over their kippot,” he added. A father of three, Muzicant has one grandson living in Israel and several relatives considering moving there, he said.

One of the participants of the EJC delegation, who asked not to be named for security reasons, said they had a bodyguard with them around the clock. Another communal leader from their country has three, the visitor said.

“It makes your life miserable. You have to schlep a security guy around with you when you go with your spouse to the theater,” they added.

Ariel Muzicant, right, Noemi Di Segni and Faina Kukliansky stand on the patio of a hotel in Jerusalem on April 2, 2024. (Canaan Lidor/Times of Israel)

Noemi Di Segni, president of the Union of Italian Jewish Communities, doesn’t mention her Jewish community roles at her place of work, the communal lay leader said. She does not feel safe ordering a taxi to her home. “I give an address around the corner because I don’t want the driver, who may be Turkish or Iranian, to know where I live.”

The vast majority of Muslims, she emphasized, pose no threat and share many values with Italian Jews. “But all it takes is one [person] who’s dangerous,” she said.

Dangerous people are causing some Jews in her community to hide their mezuzot and preventing them from “regularly and openly conducting Jewish lives,” Di Segni said. (Sales of a recently developed camouflaged mezuzah are skyrocketing in Europe, its makers say.)

Broadly speaking, European Jewish Congress president Muzicant said, “the bigger the percentage of the Muslim population, the more threats you have. In the Czech Republic, you don’t need security. In Germany, Austria, France, Italy — you do.”

Demonstrators protest Israel’s actions in Gaza at a rally in Paris, France on January 6, 2024. (Dimitar DILKOFF / AFP)

A Muslim correlation to antisemitism?

Extremist Muslims are believed to be responsible for 70% of the antisemitic incidents documented in the Netherlands, a former head of CIDI, Esther Voet, said in 2014. But data a decade later is murkier, the current CIDI director, Naomi Mestrum, said.

Statistics are “not clear cut,” because perpetrator profiles are difficult to ascertain. While many incidents are perpetrated by Muslims, many others appear to be carried out by non-Muslims.

“Unfortunately, antisemitism does manifest itself across the board,” Mestrum told The Times of Israel.

In France, “nearly all” antisemitic violent acts are perpetrated by people with a Muslim background, according to a 2019 interview with Sammy Ghozlan, a French former police officer and head of the BNVCA watchdog group.

Some Muslim leaders, including Imam Hassen Chalghoumi in France, have devoted considerable efforts to fighting antisemitism. But others, like Mohamed Tatai, the rector of the Great Mosque of Toulouse, have continued to recite in sermons religious texts commanding Muslims to kill Jews.

Some Dutch Jews support the country’s surging far-right Party for Freedom party, which is staunchly pro-Israel as well as anti-Muslin, and which received the highest number of votes in last year’s elections and is conducting coalition talks. But many other Jews in the Netherlands — and indeed throughout Europe — fear the far right as much as they do Islamist extremism.

Leader of the Party for Freedom (PVV) Geert Wilders delivers a speech at a post-election meeting at the Nieuwspoort conference center, The Hague, November 23, 2023. (John Thys/AFP)

What researchers sometimes call “new antisemitism” – the targeting of ordinary Jews over Israel’s actions – began changing the lives of French Jews in 2000, when the Second Intifada triggered a wave of violence against Jews of a magnitude last witnessed under fascism. As the phenomenon spread, it spurred some to emigrate – about 50,000 French Jews have moved to Israel over the past decade.

Israel’s Ministry of Aliyah and Integration is expecting a wave of immigration by Jews from Europe and beyond following the war, the minister, Ofir Sofer, said at a news conference last month. The arrivals’ motivations, he said, were “mostly Zionism and solidarity, not necessarily fleeing antisemitism.”

Yet other European Jews have responded to antisemitism by reasserting their presence in their societies, Muzicant noted.

Before October 7, European Jewry’s general attitude “was always like this: We live here, we like it here, we’re home here — and we have a life insurance policy, and that’s Israel,” Muzicant said. But October 7 is leaving many “at a loss of a compass, not sure of what’s going to happen. There’s no clear answer right now.”

Part of the uncertainty, he said, is “because the insurance policy, apparently, wasn’t such an insurance” – a reference to how the onslaught, which caught Israel’s army off guard, is making many Jews in Israel and beyond fear for the Jewish state’s viability.

File – National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir arrives at a voting station in Tel Aviv, during the municipal elections, February 27, 2024. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Muzicant also accused National Security Itamar Ben Gvir of exacerbating European Jews’ antisemitism problems with inflammatory rhetoric, including on resettling Israelis in Gaza. Muzicant added he would not meet with Ben Gvir out of principle.

Ben Gvir’s office did not reply to a request to comment on these allegations. One settler leader, Yishai Fleisher of Hebron, called Muzicant’s remarks part of “a failed appeasement” that’s especially dangerous in the Middle East.

Back in the Netherlands, antisemitism is already changing not only how Jews interact with their communities and religion, but also their everyday routines, Jacobs, the chief rabbi, said.

A congregant of his recently told Jacobs that at a local supermarket in Amersfoort, a cashier shouted “Free Palestine” at him while he was wearing a kippah. The congregant, who asked not to be named, complained to the store manager, but the cashier still works there, the congregant said.

“I don’t think I can go in there wearing a kippah anymore,” the congregant wrote to Jacobs. “In fact, I don’t think I’ll shop there at all because they left a bad taste in my mouth. It hurts.”

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