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Anti-Israel diatribe raises stir in Holland

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AMSTERDAM, Jan. 15 (JTA) — Anti-Semitic, pro-Palestinian comments from the European Central Bank president’s wife are nothing new — but some say Gretta Duisenberg went too far this time. With her latest comment — that the “Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories is worse than the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands” — even some of Duisenberg’s pro-Palestinian supporters began to abandon her. Duisenberg, the wife of European Central Bank President Wim Duisenberg, made the comment during a trip to the Middle East earlier this month. She also accused Israel of committing terrorism against the Palestinians, saying Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon provokes new attacks every time there is a cessation of violence. Her trip came just after two Palestinian suicide bombers from Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat’s Fatah Party carried out an attack in Tel Aviv, killing 23 people and wounding more than 100 others. That didn’t stop Duisenberg, who heads the Dutch group “Stop the Occupation,” from visiting the West Bank, where she appeared hand-in-hand with Arafat to lament the fate of the Palestinian population and express sympathy for suicide bombers. Duisenberg, who refused to meet with Israelis during her trip because Israel prevented her from visiting the West Bank last November, said Israelis could come to Holland if they wanted to meet with her. Anja Meulenbelt, a well-known Dutch author and pro-Palestinian activist who accompanied Duisenberg, called her behavior “unwise” and said she was harming “the cause.” The delegation split up, but later agreed to finish the trip together. Not surprisingly, Duisenberg’s actions prompted outrage among Jewish groups. The Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem attacked Duisenberg’s comments, such as the statement that the Germans “never went so far during the Nazi occupation” as the Israelis did in blowing up Palestinian homes. She “should have educated herself about those violent chapters in Dutch history before making senseless comparisons,” said the chairman of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial, Avner Shalev. The Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center called on the Dutch government to immediately revoke the diplomatic passport granted Duisenberg because of her husband’s position. “It is no longer possible for the Dutch government to look the other way” as Duisenberg “continues to leverage her husband’s position to grotesquely abuse the memory of the victims of the Nazis,” said Rabbi Marvin Hier, the center’s dean and founder. Duisenberg’s comments “can only come from the mouth of a rabid anti-Semite,” Hier said. “No objective, fair-minded person would stoop so low.” The Wiesenthal Center subsequently posted a petition on its Web site calling on the Dutch government to revoke Duisenberg’s diplomatic passport. To date, some 20,000 people worldwide have signed the online petition. The response to the petition is “a sign of the deep anger and resentment Gretta Duisenberg has generated as a result of her hateful statements. We expect many thousands more to demand that the Dutch government remove her cloak of ‘diplomatic legitimacy,’ ” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the center’s associate dean. Duisenberg’s past activism on behalf of the Palestinians has elicited support and sympathy among Dutch society, but her latest trip may have backfired. She now faces her third complaint of anti-Semitism, and Dutch commentators are beginning to ridicule her. Following her return to the Netherlands, Duisenberg published a statement saying she regretted if her “occupation comparison” hurt anyone’s feelings — but she did not retract any of her statements. Not usually media-shy, Duisenberg cancelled all public appearances this week, claiming “exhaustion.” Her behavior also has hurt her husband, who was criticized for saying he supports his wife “100 percent.” Meanwhile, Dutch politicians blasted Duisenberg’s behavior, with some calling it “one-sided” and others saying it was “disgusting.” Foreign Minister Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said Duisenberg was misusing her diplomatic passport, adding that she should only use it when accompanying her husband on trips related to European Central Bank business. Despite calls from the Wiesenthal Center and the Anti-Defamation League, however, de Hoop Scheffer decided not to impound Duisenberg’s diplomatic papers. Last April, Duisenberg caused an uproar in Holland when she draped a Palestinian flag from her balcony in Amsterdam and left it there for six weeks. When her Jewish neighbors complained, Duisenberg told them “the rich Jews in America” enabled Israel to continue the “colonial oppression of the Palestinian people.” Herman Loonstein, a local Jewish lawyer, filed a formal complaint against her for anti-Semitism and incitement. That case was dismissed, but Duisenberg soon provoked a second one. In June, when she founded “Stop the Occupation,” a Dutch radio interviewer asked how many signatures she hoped to collect supporting the organization. “Six million,” Duisenberg said, and laughed. That prompted another Jewish lawyer, Abraham Moszkowicz, to file a second anti-Semitism complaint with the Dutch attorney general. Duisenberg denied it was an oblique reference to the 6 million Jews who died in the Holocaust. Again, the claim was dismissed. The latest anti-Semitism complaint also is likely to be dismissed, legal observers say, but the pattern of behavior is eroding Duisenberg’s popularity, even in pro-Palestinian circles.

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