AnalysisDutch Jews 'can expect more from this new government'

The anti-Muslim, pro-Israel far right now runs Holland. Is the European Parliament next?

Upcoming elections for the EU’s legislature are expected to see gains by parties with ideologies feared by many Jews — even as they may be the community’s most ardent champions

Canaan Lidor

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

Geert Wilders, second from right, participates in a group selfie with Marine Le Pen and other far-right politicians at a press conference of the right-wing Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF) group in the European Parliament on April 25 , 2019, in Prague, the Czech Republic. (AFP/Michal Cizek)
Geert Wilders, second from right, participates in a group selfie with Marine Le Pen and other far-right politicians at a press conference of the right-wing Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF) group in the European Parliament on April 25 , 2019, in Prague, the Czech Republic. (AFP/Michal Cizek)

At a particularly bleak moment for European Jews, one of their most vocal supporters has effectively reached power in the Netherlands, the European Union’s fifth-largest economy and an influential founding member of the bloc.

A staunch advocate of Israel who worked as a volunteer in his youth in an Israeli agricultural community, Dutch politician Geert Wilders last week formed a new coalition that’s so pro-Israel and pro-Jewish that its founding contract promises to look into moving the Dutch embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and mandates Holocaust education for all new naturalized citizens.

The new coalition led by Wilders and his Party for Freedom marks an unprecedented departure from the Middle East policies of all its predecessors, not only in the Netherlands but in all of Western Europe.

There is, however, a significant caveat: Wilders is a far-right provocateur — a strident anti-Islam firebrand who supports laws that would ban the production of both halal and kosher meat. The possessor of a conviction for inciting ethnic discrimination against Moroccans, he has called Islam a “reprehensible, hateful, and violent” religion.

As Europe nears the potentially dramatic June European Parliament elections, the rise of Wilders and the divided Jewish response to it encapsulates the broader dilemma facing many European Jews and others: embrace the rising far right despite historical baggage and exclusionary views, or reject it in favor of a mainstream with milder politics but a questionable record of standing with Israel, the Jews — and even Europe itself.

The May 16 formation of a coalition led by the Party for Freedom, which won the highest share of the votes in the 2023 Dutch general election, is likely to help its performance in the June 6-9 European Parliament elections. In those elections, voters from all EU member states choose their national representatives to the bloc’s legislative branch.

Chairman of the Dutch Freedom Party Geert Wilders speaks at the third Hungarian edition of the Conservative Political Action Conference, CPAC Hungary, in Budapest, Hungary, April 26, 2024. (Zoltan Mathe/MTI via AP)

The victory by Wilders, who has agreed to not serve as prime minister in order to facilitate a coalition agreement, is a rare achievement that could give the far right a new and prominent podium, and galvanize sister movements across the EU in next month’s vote.

Polls from before the formation of the Dutch coalition predicted that the Party for Freedom, which nationally has 37 seats of the 150 in the lower chamber of the Dutch parliament, would jump from currently not having any seats in the European Parliament to 10, becoming the largest Dutch party in the European Parliament (The Netherlands has 29 seats in the 720-seat European Parliament)

These projections are part of an EU-wide trend, where far-right parties are expected to increase their electoral strength collectively by at least 20% over the previous European Parliament elections of 2019, reaching 163 seats or 22% of the house.

More than just a gauge for the popularity of the major forces and ideologies in the European Union, the makeup of the European Parliament can affect budget votes and political appointments. The European Parliament has supervisory powers over the EU’s executive bodies and can confirm or veto the appointment of officials to top positions.

Shades of the 1930s?

Many European Jews with bitter memories from the Holocaust fear the rise of the far right, which is harnessing popular resentment of mass immigration into Europe, progressivism, globalization, and restrictive policies aimed at addressing climate concerns.

Rabbi Lody van de Kamp (JTA)

“People ask me whether this makes me think of the 1930s,” Lody van de Kamp, a dovish Orthodox rabbi from the Netherlands, wrote in an op-ed (in Dutch) last week in the Kanttekening news site. “The answer is yes.” The Party for Freedom has “the most abject ideas seen by our society since liberation in 1945,” he added.

Van de Kamp’s fears are a common reaction to the incremental rise in the far right’s popularity across the European Union, which appears to be a backlash to a wave of immigration by millions from the Middle East and Africa that began in 2014.

Already in 2016, Gerard Spong, a well-known Dutch lawyer with Jewish ancestry, noted Wilders’s incitement conviction, which he got for promising at a party gathering to make sure there are “fewer” Moroccans in the Netherlands. “Replace ‘Moroccans’ with ‘Jews’ or ‘gays’ and there you go,” Spong said (in Dutch) at a talk show.

Yet Wilders is an admirer of what he often calls Judeo-Christian culture. He spent two years in Israel in the 1980s, and his wife, Krisztina Marfai, is reportedly of Jewish descent. Wilders and the Party for Freedom, which has a Jewish senator, have many Jewish supporters thanks to these credentials. In a now-famous 2013 speech in Germany, Wilders called the Jewish state “our navigational light surrounded by darkness,” adding that it’s “fighting our fight.”

Wilders publicly blames Muslims for the increase in recorded antisemitic incidents, well before they skyrocketed following Hamas’s October 7 onslaught in Israel and the ensuing Israeli military campaign in Gaza.

“It’s almost nauseating,” he said at a parliamentary debate in 2020. “No one has mentioned antisemitism’s greatest cause: Islam, of course, and Islamization.”

Anti-Israel activists wield wooden planks before using them to hit students at the University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands on May 6, 2024. (Courtesy)

His new coalition has the strictest-ever immigration policy adopted in the Netherlands, and it says the kingdom will negotiate with the EU to decrease asylum-seeker arrivals.

The head of CIDI, the Jewish community’s watchdog on antisemitism in the Netherlands, recently said that while people of Muslim background perpetrate antisemitic incidents, the group has no definite statistic on whether this demographic is disproportionately represented.

Jewish support for the far right

At a time when many Jews see successive Dutch governments as ineffective at curbing antisemitism and insufficiently supportive of Israel, Wilders is gaining Jewish supporters.

Dutch Jews “can expect from the new government more action against the anti-Israel hate,” wrote Rob Fransman, a Holocaust survivor, columnist, and writer. “The sour attitude of left-wing media to the new government is highly satisfactory,” added Fransman in his recent column (in Dutch) for In November, he wrote (in Dutch) on X that while he did not vote for Wilders, the left’s reaction to October 7 “makes me wish I had.”

Leaders of the Alliance for the Unity of Romanians – AUR speak during a rally to promote their candidates for the EU elections in Targoviste city April 7, 2024. (Photo by Daniel MIHAILESCU / AFP)

Across the EU, far-right parties are basking in Wilders’s success.

“It shows that more and more countries within the European Union contest the way it works… and hope that we can again master a migration that is considered by many Europeans as both massive and anarchic,” Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s National Rally, said on France-Inter radio in December.

A spokesperson for the Romanian AUR party told The Times of Israel: “We welcome the breakthrough of Mr. Wilders [and] hope that this alliance will be mirrored in the European Parliament.”

In France, the National Rally is projected to top the chart of French European Parliament delegates, rising in the polls by 61%, from its 18 current seats to 29. Similarly, AUR is projected to be the only Romanian party making serious gains, nearly doubling its strength from the 2019 elections to 19% of the vote or 12 seats.

In Germany, the far-right Alternative for Germany, or AfD, which currently has nine seats in the European Parliament, is neck-and-neck in the polls with Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrats, with both parties projected to win 16 seats.

French far-right party Rassemblement National (RN) leader Marine Le Pen during a press conference in Paris, on January 25, 2024. (ALAIN JOCARD / AFP)

AfD, National Rally, and AUR have all expressed support for Israel and vowed to fight antisemitism. But they and multiple other like-minded parties have also demonstrated a greater propensity than Wilders’s party for Holocaust denial or minimalization by top officials or antisemitism scandals in its ranks.

Back in the Netherlands, Ronny Naftaniel, a former leader of Dutch Jews, advises looking at the European far right on a country-by-country basis.

“It would be a mistake to paint them all with the same brush,” said Naftaniel, a former member of Dutch Labor who has criticized Wilders frequently.

Despite its issues, Wilders’s coalition “can deliver positive developments on the fight against antisemitism, a firmer attitude towards Iran and in supporting Israel,” said Naftaniel, the vice chairman of the Brussels-based CEJI educational group. “That doesn’t mean all far-right parties are legitimate. It needs to be examined on a per-country, per-party basis.”

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