Amsterdam, Dec. 9 (JTA) — Dutch politicians are debating whether to block an Islamic group from establishing branches in Holland. The debate began after the Arab European League — long a source of ethnic tension in Belgium because of its stridently anti-U.S. and anti-Israel stances — recently announced plans to create branches in Amsterdam and Rotterdam. Both Belgium and Holland have large Arab communities, predominantly of Moroccan origin. The league’s official purpose appears innocuous enough: to preserve the culture and language of Arab immigrants in Europe and protect immigrants’ rights. But some Dutch Jews and politicians are worried by the league’s past actions in Belgium, particularly those of its Lebanese-born leader Dyab Abu Jahjah, who reportedly once belonged to Hezbollah. Ronny Naftaniel, director of CIDI, the Dutch equivalent of the Anti-Defamation League, is worried about what will happen if the Arab European League sets up shop in Holland, where some 44,000 Jews live. “The AEL is a case in point of how anti-Zionism can become anti-Semitism,” he said, “the difference being that the local population could well join its members in their anti-Semitism.” Founded in 2000 by Jahjah and five others, the league now has some 1,000 members in Belgium, and many more sympathizers. Jahjah’s calls on followers to avoid adjusting to Western values, and his support for making Arabic Belgium’s fourth official language, already have earned him considerable publicity. He derides Muslim politicians who favor integrating into European society. His motto — “Be proud to be an Arab and a Muslim” — is particularly appealing to young Muslims in densely populated, low-income urban neighborhoods, where unemployment among immigrants is soaring. The organization is under constant surveillance by Belgian authorities due to the riots that have followed the monthly anti-Israel, anti-American demonstrations organized by Jahjah. On April 3, for example, an angry mob of anti-Israel demonstrators marched on the Jewish quarter in Antwerp shouting “Jihad, jihad!” and demolished cars, trolleys and storefronts. Local police stopped them as they entered the Jewish Quarter, arresting several Moroccan youths during the violent confrontation that ensued. On Sept. 29, pro-Palestinian rioters loudly praised Osama bin Laden and Hamas. At a mass meeting Nov. 15 in Brussels to oppose a possible U.S. attack on Iraq, Jahjah issued an undisguised call to arms before a crowd of 2,000. “We must arm ourselves and all those who resist the United States,” he said. Rioting demonstrators later set fire to a local branch of McDonalds. At the end of November, the league created a uniformed militia to shadow and photograph police patrols in Antwerp and four other cities to prove that a zero-tolerance campaign against petty crime was anti-Arab racism. In a development that is perhaps not unconnected to the league’s activities, the xenophobic, far-right Flemish Bloc has gained a 33 percent backing among voters in Antwerp, including a surprisingly large number of Jews. Antwerp has a Jewish population of about 20,000 and some 21,000 Moroccans, out of a total population of 450,000. A statement issued by the league says the far-right and “Zionist fanatics” rule Antwerp, and says the city should become a mecca of pro-Palestinian activism. In December, while Dutch politicians were debating a ban on the league’s activities in Holland, an elderly Belgian in Antwerp shot his neighbor, a teacher of Moroccan descent. During the race riots that followed, Jahjah was arrested for inciting violence. He was released three days later due to lack of evidence, but banned from addressing public meetings and demonstrations for the next three months. Unless the movement is banned in Holland, the league will start branches in the country’s two major cities by February 2003. Jahjah’s second in command, Ahmed Azzuz, is not concerned. “We’re coming for sure,” he says. The Dutch government has postponed a decision on the ban pending further investigations.
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