THE HAGUE – Even a journalist from a friendly country like Israel
cannot escape the evasive hands of Geert Wilders' security guards.
The bodyguards of the controversial Dutch politician, the founder and leader of the anti-Islamic Party for Freedom, put me through a strict security check as I arrive to interview him. Once and again they confirm my identity, ensuring that I am not carrying any device which may turn into a weapon.
Wilders himself, on the other hand, appears detached from the security commotion surrounding him. He seems to have gotten used to it. That’s what happens when you're one of the most threatened people in the world.
"To tell you the truth, I do fear for my life," he admits. "I'm just a human being. The threats against me are not only in Holland, but outside the country as well. We are talking about very serious threats on the part of different terror groups, and when you are aware of the extent of the threats, it's only human to think that something will indeed happen.
"But I must not let this kind of thinking affect my work. If I moderate my voice because of these threats, stop expressing my opinion or cease to be a politician, those people will use undemocratic ways, threats and murders to silence others. And they will win. I won't let them win."
And he does have a reason to be fearful: His declarations against Islam and offers to ban the immigration of Muslims into his homeland, the building of new mosques or the wearing of Muslim veils in public, have worked.
As Wilders established his status as the most prominent figure in Europe's anti-Islamic movement, imams across the Muslim world have sentenced him to death. Terror organizations vow to assassinate the person who was not so long ago an anonymous and unimportant politician, and whose support was the only reason for the establishment of new government in Holland just a few weeks ago.
Wilders says out loud what many Dutch and European people likely think, and is paying a heavy price. He lives under tight, round the clock security in a "sheltered house" provided to him by the Dutch government. He is the only parliament member whose home address is unknown.
"It's sad that in the struggle for my country's freedom, I have lost my personal freedom," Wilders says in a special interview to Yedioth Ahronoth. "All I have left is the freedom of expression and thought. The fatwas (Islamic legal pronouncements) and death threats only prove that my claims are justified.
"I am certain that had I criticized Christianity or Judaism, it wouldn't have evoked such a radical response. There wouldn't have been protests at the Vatican. The flag of Holland would not have been burnt. Dutch army forces would not have been threatened. The million and a half people who voted for us in the recent elections don't view me as a fascist or racist."
Wilders will visit Israel next week as the guest of Knesset Member Arieh Eldad (National Union)
at a conference against the "two states for two people" concept.
"Israel is a lighthouse and the only democracy in a dark and tyrannical region," he declares. "It's part of us, of our European identity. Israel is fighting our war."
Only several days ago, a court in Holland decided not to punish a Dutch Muslim rapper who wrote in one of his songs that he planned to attack Wilders. "Listen Geert, this is no joke. Last night I dreamed that I had cut off your head," the rapper sings, promising that "everyone who talks about Muslims gets killed."
There are quite a few stories about Wilders' way of life. Some say he doesn't sleep in the same place two nights in a row and that he has not seen his wife for months.
"In the beginning, six years ago, when the government did not have 'sheltered houses' yet, I spent several months with my wife in prison," he says.
"The cells we lived in were used in the past for the two Libyan agents responsible for the massacre on the Pan Am plane. We weren't there as prisoners, but as sheltered people. We also slept in military camps across Holland, and when we had private meetings we were flown on military planes. It was crazy. There were times when I had to wear a wig, an artificial moustache and sunglasses so that people would not identify me."
'Israel is the only democracy in a dark and tyrannical region' (Photo: AFP)
Wilders is the most prominent leader of the anti-Islam movement in Europe. Only six years ago he quit the Liberal Party and established a one-man faction. Last year, in the elections for the European parliament, his new party stunned the political arena with an unpredicted win.
In the elections for the Dutch parliament, this summer, the Party for Freedom tripled its power, becoming the third biggest party in Holland. According to recent polls, had new elections been held today, it would have become the biggest party with 31% of the votes.
The tie between the two big parties – the liberals and social-democrats – sent the coalition negotiations into a stalemate, until the Liberal Party and its conservative partners decided, in a surprising move, to establish a minority government, which would be backed by the Party of Freedom. Wilders is now officially an accepted and influential element in Dutch politics.
Extreme rightist? Racist? Fascist? "I'm the opposite of all that," Wilders protests. "We use democratic means only. We are definitely not racists; we don't care about people's skin color. It's ridiculous to claim that all our voters are fascists. It's an insult not just towards me, but towards them. There are not that many crazy people in Holland.
"But the political elite, which failed to handle the problems we openly discuss – the massive immigration, the crime, Islam – still thinks its politically incorrect to talk about it. They see the vast support we are getting, and their response is to demonize us."
In all of Europe, Wilders claims, the institutionalized parties don't know how to treat parties like his. "They call us all kinds of names, and then try to copy us. Several weeks ago I spoke in Berlin. I told the Germans, 'Please, forget about your past. The new generations are not responsible for what happened. Get rid of your past, because that's the reason you can't talk freely about the problems of immigration and Islam.'
"Angela Merkel and half of her government ministers criticized the speech, saying I have no right to say such things. But several weeks later, when polls showed that if a party like mine were to be established in Germany it would receive 20% of the votes, Merkel changed her tone and announced the failure of the multicultural society."
Islam, by the way, is not even a religion as far as Wilders is concerned. "It's a totalitarian ideology. There is no room in it for anything that does not belong to Islam. It wants to fully dominate not just the life of any individual, but society's life as well. If you're a secular, an atheist, a Jews or a Christian living in a society where Islam is dominant, your life is very hard. So Islam must be compared to other totalitarian ideologies, like Communism and Fascism.
"I have nothing against Muslims as people. Most of them are law-abiding people, like you and me. And yet, I would like to restrict immigration from the countries of Islam because these people bring along a culture which could change the face of our society if it becomes dominant. We can already see negative changes in countries with a large Muslim population."
In your battle you find yourself alongside very problematic parties, like the Austrian Freedom Party or the National Front in France.
"We don’t have and we'll never have anything to do with such radical parties. They are very different from us. We are culturally conservative and liberal on many issues. Most gay people in Holland vote for my party. This wouldn't happen if we were radical."
Wilders, 47, is one of Israel's strongest and loudest supporters in Europe, and does not hide it – as opposed to others. He even insisted on including in the Dutch government's platform a reference to the improvement of relations with Israel.
"I'm very pleased that Israel is the only country mentioned in the agreement as a country which we must invest in more," he says. "We are the State of Israel's best friends and support it in any way possible."
He laughs out loud when asked about accusations that he is an "Israeli agent".
"Come on," he replies. "I'm clearly not an Israeli agent. It's crazy. I am a Dutch politician who works for Holland and its citizens. But I'm a friend of Israel, and I'm not afraid to say it. Because I openly speak in favor of Israel, people who don't like me make up such stuff. The Iranian press determined that was a Mossad agent. The Jordanians call me a Shin Bet officer. It's nonsense."
His love affair with Israel began at the age of 17, when he arrived in the Holy Land as a volunteer for one year. "I really enjoyed myself, and not just because of the beautiful Israeli women," he recalls. "I was not politically active at the time. I worked in tourism in Eilat, in a bread factory in Jerusalem, in Moshav Tomer in the Jordan Valley.
"I also experienced periods of tension. The border with Jordan was not very safe at the time. We had to go down to bomb shelters because of terrorist infiltrations. We saw IDF choppers arriving. As a person who came from the south of Holland and visited Amsterdam only a few times, these experiences left a great impression on me."
Throughout the years, Wilders visited many Muslim countries as well, including Iran,
Tunisia and Afghanistan. "There too I met many people who were very friendly," he clarifies, "but all these countries are controlled by dictators. People in the region deserve to live under better conditions."
He has many friends in Israel, including in the political system. With former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon,
for example, he had a particularly warm relationship and has a lot of appreciation for him to this very day. "He was also greatly demonized by the West, but was a great politician who serves as a role model for me," Wilders stresses.
"I believe the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not territorial. Those who make this claim have no idea what they are talking about. If you return the West Bank and parts of Jerusalem to the Palestinians, it won't end the conflict. After a certain period of time – a month, a year, a decade – they'll want the rest of the land, because this is an ideological conflict. So the solution cannot be territorial, but ideological.
"The Palestinians believe – and this is the nature of Islam – that Israel is their country and that they are fighting the non-Muslims in the West through it. The struggle against Israel is a struggle against us. We are Israel. The reason Dutch parents can sleep calmly without having to worry about their kids is that Israeli parents stay awake at night because their children are in the army. This doesn't mean Israel cannot be criticized, but I'm not ashamed to fight for Israel."
During the conference Wilders plans to attend in Israel, he will try to convince the audience that the Palestinians already have their own state.
is Palestine," he rules. "That's how it was in the past, after the Sykes–Picot Agreement, and this is the solution for the conflicts. Jordan's kings, Abdullah and Hussein, have even made such declarations in the past. They changed their approach only when they discovered that such declarations may have a negative impact on their regime due to the Palestinian majority.
"I am against ideas of a transfer or ethnic purification. But if Jordan turns into a Palestinian state, Palestinians could be encouraged to move there. Naturally, I'm not the one to decide how the conflict should be solved. Israel is a democracy and the Israelis will decide on the desired solution. It's your decision."
What are your thoughts about the 'Loyalty Law'
debate in Israel? Can it work in Holland too?
"I think it's a good idea. Even if the background in Holland is different, adopting any oath of loyalty to the state is a good idea. We won't be able to pass it with our current coalition. In the past I spoke about an integration contract for immigrants or an oath of loyalty to the state, which would indicate that their top commitment is to the state and to our values, constitution and culture. That would be a positive step.
"People in Europe don't know what they are anymore, so they don't know what they're fighting for. We must reinvent our identity. In France, before every presidential speech, they show the country's flag and play the anthem. If someone would do that Holland, people would think he was mad. Here, even the parliament doesn’t have a flag.
"You're not a racist if you're proud of your uniqueness and struggle for your culture. Europe's great disease is the idea imposed on us by the leftists and liberals, that all cultures are equal. People don't see the difference between Islam and Judaism or Christianity, and there are thousands of differences. We fight against this idea and we're slowly winning."
Wilders doesn't hide his support for a military option against the Iranians. "Iran is the greatest geopolitical threat on Israel, on stability in the entire Middle East, and on Europe and the entire world," he says. "This is a country run by mad people, religious fanatics like Khamenei or other lunatics like Ahmadinejad.
"Now we are seeing some movement there. Even the Revolutionary Guards are voicing criticism. Iran can blow up from the inside. The danger in countries dealing with an internal threat is that their regime will do crazy things. That's what I'm afraid of.
"Because of the growing internal instability, they must not be given access to plans which could be used for military purposes. They will search for a joint external enemy, and Israel will be the first to pay the price. I hope diplomacy will lead to a non-military solution, but if at the end of the day Israel decides on a military counterattack because its existence is threatened, I will understand. The alternative is having Israel destroyed."
Is Turkey becoming a new Iran?
"Turkey is a very complicated country. We have good relations, and it's a distinguished NATO member. But this is the kind of country that could easily take the path of Islamism. I reject the American pressure on the European Union to accept Turkey as a member. Europe does not need such a big country in which Islam is dominant. Being a good neighbor is not being a member of the family.
"If Turkey becomes an EU member it will have to adjust to certain criteria, including returning to army to its bases. I'm quite concerned about that. In Turkey the army is the only balancing power. If the army returns to the bases, people like (Prime Minister Recep Tayyip) Erdogan will be able to increase the Islamization process, and then we'll have a Trojan horse in the heard of Europe. I also don't want Europe to share a border with criminal countries like Iran and Syria."
And what do you think about Israel joining the European Union?
"I would advise my friends in Israel not to consider it. The EU has always been on the Palestinians' side. Israel has many friends in Europe, but Europe is not Israel's friend."