In a long interview(1) with Dutch former PM Andreas van Agt on June 27, Haaretz calls his views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict 'unusual' and gives him ample room to explain these views, and to portray himself as an independent voice speaking out of humanitarian concern for the plight of the Palestinians. Regrettably, his anti-Israel views are not that unusual in the Netherlands these days. They are shared by a number of politicians from different parties and persuasions. While they are quite mainstream on the political left, these views are by no means confined to the left, as Van Agt's example shows.
Conservative applauded by the left
Dries van Agt, a member of the mostly conservative Christian Democratic party (CDA), was a student at the Gymnasium Augustinianum, a Roman-Catholic secondary school in Eindhoven in the south of the Netherlands. The school was well known for its old fashioned Catholicism, maintaining for example for a long time the prayer mentioning the Judaei Perfides, the perfidious Jews. One wonders how much the young Van Agt was influenced by this religious inspired anti-Semitism, which was quite common in the Roman Catholic church before the Second Vatican Council of 1962-65.
A close buddy of Van Agt is former Foreign Minister Hans van den Broek, also a member of the CDA and a product of a classic Catholic upbringing, and also a vocal critic of Israel, as are a number of other members of the CDA. When Van Agt and Van den Broek were in the government in the 1970s and 1980s, most Dutch parties still strongly supported Israel, and criticizing Israel was a sensitive issue. However when others became more openly critical of Israel in the 1990s and particularly during the Second Intifada, people like Van Agt joined them, claiming their eyes had been opened by the stories of Israel's abuse of Palestinians.
Despite the fact that the left always strongly opposed Van Agt's politics, they now embrace him for his anti-Israel position. In 2005 he was a special guest at a rally of the Green Left party, and copies of his latest op-ed were handed out to everyone. In contrast, the leaflets about Israel that my friend Wouter and I distributed, both being members of the Green Left party, were removed and we received mostly angry responses.Entertainer telling myths
Dries van Agt tells the usual myths about Israel and the conflict: Israel was created because of the Holocaust, the Palestinians paid for our sins, we abandoned and neglected the Palestinians because of our feelings of guilt towards the Jews, and Israel is the result of these feelings. Because of that, Israel still gets away with grave human rights violations, and anyone who dares to speak out against Israel is labeled an anti-Semite by the powerful Israel lobby that misuses the legacy of the Holocaust to stifle free speech.
Van Agt is quite popular in the Netherlands. He had several op-eds in newspapers and was a guest in a number of talk shows and other TV programs. Therefore, his accusation that he is being stifled by an Israel lobby is a bit strange. Van Agt is both a preacher and an entertainer. I attended some of the many lectures he holds at pro-Palestine rallies, university debates and conferences. He is very entertaining, tells jokes, gets angry, challenges the public, and calls his opponents names and ridicules their positions. But for some reason, he refuses to debate with those opponents directly, with the lame argument that he doesn't want to debate with people who are part of the Israel lobby and are being paid by Israel. The latter accusation is a mere invention, as is most of what he says.
Although he condemns suicide attacks against civilians, Van Agt writes on his website(2) that Palestinians have a right to armed resistance which is grounded in international law, and he downplays Palestinian terrorism by pointing to their 'desperate' situation. He ignores all Arab violence before the suicide bombings by Hamas, and even claims that the terrorism only started as a response to the massacre by Baruch Goldstein, suggesting that no Palestinian terrorism existed before.
Dries van Agt, like most other critics of Israel, relies purely on anti-Israel sources and UN resolutions and documents. He loves to cite Jewish or Israeli critics of Israel, such as Betselem, Ilan Pappe, and the Dutch equivalent of Jewish Voice for Peace, called 'A Different Jewish Voice' (EAJG in Dutch). So how can he know that the 'wall' and the checkpoints are not there to annoy the Palestinians, but thwart about 95% of the planned terror attacks? How can he know that Israel regularly calls off operations because civilians might be harmed, even if dangerous terrorists deliberately use them as human shields? How can he know that for most Palestinians all of Israel is occupied territory that they aim to 'liberate', and that not just hatred against Israel, but against Jews in general is common and widespread in Palestinian society? Only Zionist sources pay attention to those facts, and they are all part of a devilish plot to displace the Palestinians and cover up the truth about Zionist atrocities, according to Van Agt and his following.Hiding behind Jewish voices
Our former PM says he is not opposed to Israel's existence, only to the occupation, and merely fights for peace according to international law. But his views and actions go far beyond that. He advocates the 'right of return' of Palestinian refugees to Israel, and dismisses the argument that that would endanger the Jewish character of Israel, although he lately showed some understanding for the argument that Israel objects to admitting millions of refugees. He repeatedly called for sanctions, boycotts and divestment from Israel, to make Israel 'tear down the wall', withdraw from all of the territories including all of East Jerusalem, and accept a 'fair' solution to the refugee problem. He opposes negotiations, from the Oslo Accords to the Annapolis conference, because Israel is able to dictate its conditions to the Palestinians, as it allegedly did in negotiating the Oslo accords. In 2007, he spoke during a pro-Palestinian rally on May 5th, our national Liberation Day from the 5 year German occupation, and said that the Palestinians have been occupied for 8 x 5 years.
Van Agt likes to hide behind strong quotes from anti-Zionist Jews. In a 2005 op-ed in De Volkskrant
, he quoted Noam Chomsky who said: "Israel's wall is a bid to drive out Palestinians."
Van Agt added that this amounts to ethnic cleansing.
In a recent article on his website, he quoted the infamous declaration by over 100 British Jews:"We cannot celebrate the birthday of a state founded on terrorism, massacres and the dispossession of another people from their land. We cannot celebrate the birthday of a state that even now engages in ethnic cleansing, that violates international law, that is inflicting a monstrous collective punishment on the civilian population of Gaza and that continues to deny to Palestinians their human rights and national aspirations."
On his website he publishes many articles that advocate a one state solution, call Israel an Apartheid state and blame Zionism, not the occupation as the problem. For instance an article from Electronic Intifada founders Ali Abunimah and Arjen Al Fassed, in which they defend the so called 'one-state solution':"These games aside, the end of the two-state solution is a reality, but one that is still hard for many people to absorb. This new era requires new ways of thinking about the conflict; it requires recognizing that partition and the effort to separate people into ethnically pure boxes is the problem and not the solution; that imposing a "Jewish state" on a culturally diverse, multi-religious country has only generated and fueled endless conflict, hatred and bloodshed."
In another article on Van Agt's website, Richard Falk compares Israel's treatment of the Palestinians to the Holocaust(3):"Against this background, it is especially painful for me, as an American Jew, to feel compelled to portray the ongoing and intensifying abuse of the Palestinian people by Israel through a reliance on such an inflammatory metaphor as 'holocaust.'
(....) Is it an irresponsible overstatement to associate the treatment of Palestinians with this criminalized Nazi record of collective atrocity? I think not."
The list of recommended reading on Van Agt's website includes mostly anti-Zionist (often Jewish) writers such as Ilan Pappe, Tanya Reinhart and Norman Finkelstein. With the late Tanya Reinhart he was in an anti-Zionist organization.Lone activist in an anti-Zionist network
Far from being a lone peace activist, Dries van Agt has been engaged in a number of anti-Zionist initiatives and organizations, some of which even include anti-Semites.
Most notably he is 'Prime Counselor' of the International Forum for Justice and Peace (IFJP), a radical organization which doesn't just criticize the occupation, but labels Israel a rogue state that deliberately kills civilians. It denies that Israel is a democracy, calls it a colonialist country like Apartheid South Africa, blames it for Muslim violence and extremism throughout the world, and states explicitly that Israel alone is the problem: "The Conflict in the Middle East" between the Palestinians and Israel does not exist. Zionist Israel is the problem."
In a 2006 position paper(5) the IFJP claims Israel would be a failed state if not for external support. It is blamed for terrorist attacks by Muslims in Europe and elsewhere, and for putting a strain on Europe's relations with Muslim states. Israel should immediately and unconditionally withdraw from all territories conquered in 1967, dismantle its nuclear weapons and pay billions of Euros of compensation to the Palestinians, and if failing to do so, it should be isolated and sanctions be imposed, including prosecution by the ICC of not only its political and military leadership, but also Israeli citizens with a dual European nationality. One has to read the paper itself to fully comprehend the hatred against Israel:"Israel's refusal to make peace is all too obvious - that would mean the end of the Zionist dream. Although this policy is unsustainable, the EU nonetheless doggedly condones and even actively supports it.
According to U.S. criteria, Israel has, ever since its establishment, been a monumental rogue state and a highly active member of the Axis of Evil."
One member of the IFJP was Israel Shamir, a nefarious anti-Semite who wrote a book that was pulled from distribution in France because of its anti-Semitic content. He accuses Jews of striving for world domination and uses the Protocols of the Elders of Zion as a source. Shamir also denied the Holocaust, said that the circumstances in Auschwitz were not that bad, and called Jews "bacteria" and "Christ murderers". His solution of the Middle East conflict consists of all Jews converting to Christianity.
After the populist rightwing newspaper De Telegraaf
wrote about Shamir and his membership of the IFJP, Van Agt filed a complaint with the Dutch Council of Journalism, claiming he did not know Shamir and the paper was slandering him. The complaint was dismissed.(6)
Other members of the IFJP were Tanya Reinhart, who advocated against a two state solution, Jan Wijenberg, who accused the moderate Dutch Zionist organization CIDI of running a private squad of people to harass and beat up alleged anti-Semites and anti-Zionists, and Gretta Duisenberg, known for many anti-Semitic remarks. For example, she claimed that the Israeli occupation is similar to the German occupation except for the Holocaust, Jews are too much occupied with the Holocaust and use it as an excuse, and they are too sensitive to issues relating to the Holocaust. She proposed to also commemorate Palestinian victims on the official Dutch remembrance day for the victims of WWII. Another member is Hajo Meyer from the anti-Zionist organization, 'A Different Jewish Voice', who regularly compares Israeli treatment of the Palestinians to Nazi treatment of the Jews. Although the IFJP's website is dormant at the moment, the organization still seems to exist and it remains registered with the UN Committee on the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People.
Dries van Agt also joined Gretta Duisenberg's group 'Stop the Occupation', of which Jan Wijenberg is secretary. In 2005 Van Agt headed a 'fact finding mission' to Israel and the territories in which some members of the IFJP and some other politicians participated. Of course, it was clear beforehand what facts they would find, and their call for sanctions and a freeze of the EU Association Treaty with Israel was predictable.(7) Large choir of Israel critics
Van Agt, like many others, tells us that the Palestinian suffering, the daily humiliations at the checkpoints and other Israeli 'atrocities' opened his eyes and made him aware of what is 'really' happening. As PM in the late 1970s he claims that he didn't know, he believed the pro-Israel narrative, but now he has seen the Light. This might be true to a certain extent, although he likes - as in many other aspects - to dramatize the story for maximum effect. In the 1970s almost everyone in the Netherlands was pro-Israel, and one needed to be very steadfast to go against that view. Now it is the other way around. So, far from being a hero, a lone voice in the desert crying for justice, Van Agt is a singer in a large choir of harsh Israel critics and his views reflect the spirit of the time. Van Agt has never been a big friend of Israel, however. He condemned Israel in harsh words for the massacres in Sabra and Shatila (as did a number of people), but during most of his term as PM he was simply not interested and not involved with the Middle East conflict. His colleagues from that period don't recall remarkable words or deeds regarding the Middle East by Van Agt, but he was heavily criticized by his opponents for attempting to release the 'Breda Three', three Nazi war criminals serving life sentences and for his notorious 'Aryan remark'. After being asked by a journalist if he, as the new minister of justice would end the detention of the Breda Three, he said that even his Jewish predecessor was unsuccessful in getting them out of jail - 'and I'm only an Aryan'. I tend to give him the benefit of the doubt. Others, also Jewish politicians, favored releasing the three Nazi criminals, and the Aryan remark was made in the context of explaining this.
But isn't it essentially true that Israeli behavior itself is the main cause for the shift in the climate towards Israel, for the harsh criticism that is heard from Van Agt and so many others, as they want us to believe? The conflict has undoubtedly hardened since the 1970s. The occupation has gotten an ugly face and Palestinians are severely obstructed in their daily movements and lives. But much of that, if not all, is the result of two Intifadas and widespread Palestinian violence. While one can surely question the wisdom of some specific Israeli measures, it is a sign of malevolence towards Israel to claim that it deliberately makes Palestinian life impossible, as part of a long history of ethnic cleansing of the land from its indigenous population. People like Van Agt do not criticize specific Israeli acts, but the state itself, that was 'born in sin'. Not just the territories, but all of Israel is a colonialist country that could only come into being on cost of the Palestinians. This anti-Zionist narrative is not caused merely by seeing maltreatment of Palestinians at checkpoints, something also criticized by many Israelis and Zionists.
Andreas van Agt, like many other anti-Zionists, portray themselves as independent innocents who experienced an epiphany regarding Israel, because of the occupation. They pose as big humanitarians who want nothing other than real peace and coexistence, according to international law. Who can be against that? Strangely, Haaretz went along with this fiction, omitting that Van Agt is Prime Counselor of the IFJP, that this organization specializes in anti-Zionist invective, and that well-known anti-Zionists and anti-Semites including Israel Shamir belonged to it. Most Dutch newspapers don't write about these facts either, and I saw this information only in a populist rightwing daily. The Haaretz interview, like the coverage of Van Agt in most Dutch media, does not conform to the standards of professional journalism. It is intentionally or unintentionally naive and disingenuous.
In the very liberal Dutch democracy, Van Agt and his friends have a right to say what they please and to try to create whatever convenient fables about themselves that they can. But journalists and others have both the right and the duty to expose the fables, rather than becoming accomplices in the deception.
Thanks to Wouter Brassť, Ami Isseroff and Joe Hochstein for corrections and comments.
(4) http://www.arendt-art.de/deutsch/palestina/Stimmen_international/expansionistische_israel_problem.htm (in German)
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