Palestinian flag fever sweeps Netherlands

AMSTERDAM, June 24 (JTA) — Palestinian flag sales are booming in the Netherlands, as pro-Palestinian groups prepare for a “National Palestinian Flag Day.” The June 30 event is the latest development in a flag war that began on a quiet, leafy Amsterdam street. Gretta Duisenberg, wife of European Central Bank President Wim Duisenberg, started the flagmania by hanging a Palestinian flag from her balcony for about six weeks. Duisenberg bought the flag on the Internet and first brandished it at a pro-Palestinian demonstration in Amsterdam on April 13 that also featured swastikas. She began hanging the flag from her balcony after the rally. Because of a tree in front of the house, it was difficult to see the flag — except to the van der Wiekens, a Jewish couple living diagonally opposite. The wife, Rosa van der Wieken, is a member of the Amsterdam City Council. After looking at Duisenberg’s flag for about five weeks, the Van der Wieken family asking her to remove it because some might consider the Palestinian flag as representing terror. In an ensuing phone call, Duisenberg told Van der Wieken it was “the rich Jews” who enabled Israel to continue the “colonial oppression of the Palestinian people,” Ron van der Wieken said. The Jewish couple went to the media, and the piece caught the eye of local lawyer Herman Loonstein, chairman of a small group called Federative Jewish Netherlands. Loonstein filed a formal complaint with an Amsterdam city court, accusing Duisenberg of anti-Semitism and incitement. “Hanging out a flag is not against the law, but these statements are,” he said. That very same day, Duisenberg’s husband came home from the European Bank’s headquarters in Frankfurt, quietly removed his wife’s flag from the balcony and returned to Germany. Meanwhile his wife called in to a popular Dutch talk show, claiming she never said anything about rich Jews. She “merely” had said it was “the rich Jewish lobby in America” that is perpetuating Israel’s injustice against the Palestinians, she claimed. Loonstein had told a journalist he would ask the World Jewish Congress to investigate the possibility of declaring Wim Duisenberg persona non grata in the United States. The WJC declined to get involved in the matter, but Duisenberg and the Dutch media quickly interpreted Loonstein’s remark to mean that a New York-based Jewish group was threatening to ban Wim Duisenberg from the United States. Since then, the flag that flew at the Duisenbergs has been passed from supporter to supporter and flown from houses and apartments throughout the Netherlands. The local Palestine Committee did brisk business selling flags to sympathizers wanting to back Duisenberg. The group says it can hardly handle the demand for flags as June 30 nears. Support for the Palestinians, who generally are portrayed as oppressed by Israel, is high in the Netherlands, as it is throughout Europe. Support has grown since April, when European media trumpeted Palestinian accusations that Israel carried out a “massacre” of civilians in the Jenin refugee camp. A sprinkling of Israeli flags appeared in response. Most quickly came down after the owners had their windows smashed with stones or insults hurled at them from the street. Meanwhile, the complaint against Duisenberg has largely been forgotten. Most expect it to be dismissed. The Jewish community generally blames the media hype of the incident on Loonstein’s decision to go to court. The community by and large is choosing to ignore the flagmania, for fear that overreacting will increase the real anti-Semitism surfacing in the Netherlands in recent months. “Using an anti-Semitic cliche doesn’t necessarily make one an anti-Semite,” said Harry van der Bergh, a member of the Netherlands’ Central Jewish Organization. “Ms. Duisenberg’s flag action was an example of ordinary stupidity,” he said, “and I would have greatly preferred it if Jewish reactions had shown more tactical sense.”

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