Wilders. Often operates in a populist way
Photo: AFP

Geert Wilders' mistake

Op-ed: By opposing ritual slaughter, Dutch politician risks losing support of pro-Israel groups

Last week, Israeli Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger wrote a letter to Geert Wilders, the pro-Israel leader of the Dutch Freedom Party (PVV). The party’s platform for the upcoming parliamentary elections on 12 September includes the prohibition of ritual slaughter. Its parliamentarian Dion Graus also intends to continue his failed past efforts to forbid the import of ritually slaughtered meat.


Rabbi Metzger wrote that Graus has taken the classic anti-Semitic position of targeting Jewish rites as done over the centuries. He added: "One cannot be at the same time a friend of Israel and the Jewish people and on the other hand support an anti-Jewish law and be friends with Mr. Dion Graus."


Wilders, the only Dutch politician known internationally, has acquired a justified reputation for major support of Israel. He has said that Jihad is not only against Israel, but targets the entire Western world. The current PVV platform also states that Jordan is Palestine. Yet last year already, Wilders’ image in the Jewish world took a severe beating.


On the prohibition of unstunned ritual slaughter, the PVV supported the extreme positions of the small populist Party for the Animals. In Parliament, Graus called ritual slaughter ‘ritual torture.’ He furthermore turned the Jews into a political instrument by falsely claiming that his party was not anti-Islam because the ritual slaughter law would also hurt the Jews.


In June 2012, a covenant on unstunned ritual slaughter was reached with difficulty between Muslims, Jews and the Dutch government. This led to tensions in the Dutch Orthodox Jewish community between rabbinical and lay leaders. Yet most Jews were glad that this major threat to Jewish identity seemed over.


Prohibiting ritual slaughter has not come up in current Dutch election debates. Yet in past weeks, this issue has drawn much media attention in the Netherlands, Israel and also among organized Jewry in the United States. The Amsterdam Orthodox community has declared that it considers Graus "a danger for the Jewish communities in the Netherlands and Europe."


Populist attitude

Former PVV Parliamentarian Wim Kortenoeven has alerted major US Jewish organizations. He was the only one of his party to vote against the proposed anti-ritual slaughter law last year. He left the PVV in early July. Kortenoeven says that several of his colleagues supported his position, but caved in under pressure from Wilders.


The first American Jewish organization to challenge the PVV on the ritual slaughter issue already in 2011 was the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Now, its Associate Dean Rabbi Abraham Cooper wrote again to Wilders requesting he drop the issue from PVV’s platform. In his answer, Wilders claimed that anti-Semites will not be tolerated in his party and that Graus was not one. Rabbi Cooper was not convinced and wrote a second letter which remains unanswered.


This conflict made the front page of the largest Dutch daily de Telegraaf. The article also claimed that US Jews had been financing Wilders because of his pro-Israel positions and this was now at risk as the PVV was attacking one of the most fundamental rituals of the Jewish religion. Little proof was given to substantiate the Jewish financing. Far more important is that Wilders has been warmly received in major pro-Israel Evangelical Christian communities in the United States. This is unlikely to continue now.


Why would Wilders threaten important American relationships by insisting on a marginal issue such as prohibiting ritual slaughter? The most probable explanation is that this is one more indication of the populist way he often operates.


Wilders’ initial success derived from having identified two crucial issues for the future of The Netherlands neglected by others. He identified the threat extremist Islam posed to the future of democracies and also realized that the democracy-deficient European integration in some critical fields had dangerously run ahead unchecked. He translated these issues into populist campaign slogans which gave the PVV 24 out of 150 parliamentary seats in the 2010 election.


The PVV however, did not upgrade to a professional party as it should have. It still has no research organization. It rarely details any proposal in great depth. From time to time, Wilders tosses out extreme remarks which do not help his two major political aims. Though frequently warned, he has ignored the problems which his position on the ritual slaughter issue could cause, mainly among foreign supporters.


Had Wilders professionalized his political approach, there was a good chance he could win the upcoming elections. The problems due to uncontrolled European integration, as well as the violence of extremist Islam have aggravated further and are now exposed for everyone to see.


The longer Wilders' populist attitude continues on many other issues, the less valuable his pro-Israel positions will be for Israel. At the same time, the PVV being in the forefront of anti-Semitic proposals on a crucial issue for Jews, will not be overlooked.


Manfred Gerstenfeld is a member of the Board of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, of which he has been chairman for 12 years.




פרסום ראשון: 09.04.12, 10:45
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