AMSTERDAM (JTA) — The incitement conviction of Geert Wilders, a Dutch far-right politician who vowed to ensure his country has fewer Moroccans, will strengthen him electorally, the former leader of Dutch Jewry’s watchdog on racism said.
Wilders was convicted Friday for incitement to discrimination over that 2014 pledge, but the court in Schiphol imposed no punishment, ruling that the conviction was “punishment enough,” the AD daily reported. He was acquitted of inciting to hate.
Calling his Party for Freedom “the largest opposition movement” in the Netherlands, Wilders in a defiant video message about his conviction pledged to “keep naming the Moroccan problem” and said that while the sentence attempts to silence him and his followers, it “only makes me stronger.” He has vowed to appeal the sentence.
Esther Voet, the editor-in-chief of Holland’s main Jewish weekly, the Nieuw Israelietisch Weekblad, predicted the conviction will strengthen the anti-Islam party in the March general election.
“Fine. Suspect the consequences will be five extra seats,” Voet wrote on Twitter about Wilders.
She also said an appeal may further boost his party’s performance in the election.
Voet, who until last year headed the Center for Information and Documentation on Israel watchdog, has criticized Wilders frequently and publicly in the past over that remark and others.
Though it has the support of some Dutch Jews, the Party for Freedom has angered many of them with its support of a ban on ritual slaughter and for teaming up with other far-right groups, including France’s National Front.
In an IPSOS poll from Dec. 6 conducted among 1,093 respondents, the Party for Freedom emerged as the most popular with 29 seats out of 150 in the Dutch parliament’s lower house, the Tweede Kamer. The party currently has 15 seats.
The ruling People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy, or VVD, garnered the equivalent of 27 seats in the same poll. An IPSOS poll from Nov. 24 showed VVD in the lead with 28 seats, with the Party for Freedom at 26. VVD currently has 38 seats in the Tweede Kamer.
Wilders was acquitted in 2011 against hate-incitement charges in connection with a short video in which he inveighed against Islam, a religion he has called “evil and fascist.”
Wilders, who in his youth lived for two years on an Israeli moshav in the Jordan Valley, has called Israel “a place where I feel home” and said it was “close to his heart.” He has also called Israel a “canary in the coalmine” and “the West’s first line of defense against Islam,” including to his many visits to the Jewish state. He has repeatedly said he was arguing for “Judeo-Christian values,” which he said are threatened by Islam in the Netherlands and elsewhere.