Purim hoax has Dutch media looking for Obama in all the wrong places

Holocaust survivors, widows, people with disabilities — they are all regulars at the Amsterdam office of the Dutch Jewish welfare organization JMW.

But a 20-minute visit to JWM by President Obama and his army of secret service agents?

Now that’s news.

Or, at least, that’s what journalists for leading Dutch media thought when they learned this weekend that Obama would stop by JMW on his visit next week to the Netherlands.

As it turns out, the president will not be visiting JMW. Reports that he would visit were a successful Purim joke started by the up-and-coming Dutch Jewish news site Jonet.nl, with help from JMW itself.

The prank fooled not only the Amsterdam television station AT5 and the Amsterdam FM radio station, but even the highbrow NRC Handelsblad daily, which, after reporting on it, issued a retraction and detailed explanation about the prank to readers of its online edition.

It also surprised Jaap Koos, a JMW employee on call duty today. Usually, he gets no more than a phone call or two, but this weekend his phone was ringing constantly, according to the online article by NRC.

“Three people called this morning [about Obama], and I had no idea what they were talking about,” he told NRC Sunday. “So I called JMW Director Hans Vuijsje, who just couldn’t stop laughing.”

Vuijsje was a major culprit, offering Jonet a quote that seemed to leak parts of the president’s schedule. “He wanted to go see the Anne Frank House, but this was logistically and from a security point of view impossible and too time costly,” he said.

That quote was supposed to be the clincher, but it’s what made me — a Netherlands-based reporter who covers European Jewry for JTA — pass up the bait.

I’d interviewed the director of the Anne Frank House, Ronald Leopold, the previous week, you see, and he didn’t strike me as someone who’d just forget to mention being considered for a presidential visit.

Two hours after tweeting the news that Obama was going to visit JMW, Jonet and JMW called their own hoax and apologized to colleagues who fell for it.

They’d better watch out, however. April Fool’s Day is just a few weeks away, and the many outlets they tricked are likely scheming up their payback..

 

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