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Is Geert Wilders Dividing Muslims and Jews?

You read all about the problems between Jews and Muslims in Europe, and then you actually see it. 

At the Felix Meritis tonight, there was a discussion about the question above organized by the Jewish Moroccan Network. At first, I thought that was an organization of Moroccan Jews. But it’s actually a partnership organization between Jews and Moroccans living in the Netherlands. Why there isn’t a Jewish-Muslim group organizing such a debate is beyond me at the moment. 

The conversation was in Dutch, and despite having a capable and patient translator whispering in my ear, my grasp of the substance is a little shaky. But a few things are clear. There is abundant passion on this issue. Voices were raised, hands were waved, sharp words exchanged.

Also, there is far more disagreement within the Jewish community over how to react to the rise of a politician like Wilders than on the Moroccan side. So far as I could tell, some Moroccans understood Wilders’ appeal, but no one was supporting him. 

It’s unclear how many Jews are as well. One participant said no more than ten percent maximum. But this in a continent where virtually no other far right leader can count on any significant Jewish support, so it’s not nothing either. 

Wilders is an anomaly in Europe, where the rise of far right groups have aroused considerable Jewish angst both domestically and internationally. As far as Jews are concerned though, Wilders is different, and therefore interesting, in two main ways. One, he speaks to a genuine social problem. And two, he is manifestly not anti-Jewish. On the contrary, Wilders is an outspoken defender of Israel who lived in the country for two years as a youth. As a result Wilders has split Jewish opinion in the Netherlands in a way other right-wing leaders have not. 

I met a number of Jews tonight who feel real fear but were at least honest enough to acknowledge that fear might not be real. Men with yarmulkes confessed they do not wear them freely on the streets, but they’re not sure that the danger that leads them to make real changes in their habits is imagined or not. 

I don’t know either. But I do know that if I felt that way in a supposedly liberal democracy, I would be outraged — maybe even enough to vote for a politician who promised to restore things the way they were. 

The best line of the evening came from the most outspoken Jewish defender of Wilders to take the microphone. When I cornered him outside in the hallway, he began ticking off the groups that once felt comfortable in the Netherlands and are now the objects of Muslim scorn. Gays used to be able to hold hands and kiss freely in the streets, he said. The Dutch thought it was fine. Who cared? The Muslims. A woman could walk with a short skirt and the Dutch thought it was sexy. Who cared? The Muslims. 

Then a Jew walks by wearing a yarmulke. "OK, they thought you were a dirty Jew, but they didn’t say it," he said. "Now your ass is getting kicked in certain neighborhoods. By who? The Muslims."

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