Retired Dutch politicians critical of Israel
Support for Israel is not an issue in the Dutch election campaign, but former politicians from all sides are becoming more vocal in their criticism of the country’s actions. And Israel cares.
A group of retired Dutch politicians comprising Christian democrats and right-
and left-wing liberals visited Israel and the occupied West Bank this week.
They had been invited by former prime minister Dries van Agt. While in
office, from 1977 to 1982, Van Agt was a staunch supporter of Israel, but he
has since dedicated himself to raising awareness about the suffering of the
Palestinian people, much to the dismay of some of his party's current
leaders competing in the June 9 general election.
One of the visiting politicians was Bert de Vries, a Christian democrat who let the CDA party in parliament and was minister of social affairs in the 1980s and 1990s. Like many in his generation he was raised, he said, with the notion that crisism of Israeli policies was inappropriate. "Instinctively" he supported Israel in everything it did, including the Six Day War in 1967, which he then considered a move in self-defence. His "discomfort", as De Vries called it, came when he started reading up on the Middle East: the Six Day War, the settlement policies, Palestinians. "My image has been turned 180 degrees."
'One word: discrimination'
Among other places, the group of six visited the Israeli city, Sderot, a frequent target of rocket attacks, and met with Palestinians living under the duress of the occupation. All politicians said they were shocked by what they saw. "The Palestinians live in a parallel legal system, outside that of the Israelis," said De Vries. "I only have one word for that: discrimination."
On Wednesday morning, De Vries was escorted through Hebron on the West Bank by Yehuda Shaul, a former Israeli officer who founded the soldiers’ initiative called Breaking The Silence. In Hebron, a small group of Jewish settlers has occupied the heart of the town and, under the protection of an enormous army and police force, acquired the sole rights to be outside in the city centre.
As De Vries walked the streets, deserted but for the military vehicles, he said, "No country in the world can just ignore international rules, including Israel."
This is what Van Agt has been saying in his books and the lectures he gives around the Netherlands. Last year, the former prime minister founded The Rights Forum, a group of ex-politicians and scholars who want Israel to abide by international law. Many people from his own CDA party have signed up, although the party has never wavered in its support for Israel.
Like a turtle
The CDA is not just the party of Van Agt and De Vries. Today, it is the party of prime minister Jan Peter Balkenende and foreign affairs minister Maxime Verhagen, strong supporters of the Jewish state. The foreign minister especially has always taken Israel's side in international diplomacy. Israel's largest paper, Yedioth Ahronoth, last week quoted an official report that expressed concern about the dimished support for Israel in the Netherlands, but mentioned Balkenende and Verhagen as two steadfast exceptions. Populist Geert Wilders is another Dutch politician who has made support of Israel a key issue, while the socialist party, the green party, labour and the left-wing liberals have all condemned Israel.
"The CDA moves at the speed of a turtle on this issue," Van Agt said. "The party represents the part of the nation that is devoted to the Holy Books." He hoped Verhagen would not return to the foreign affairs ministry after the election. "There is no reason why he should."
On Friday, Verhagen responded via Twitter. "I think politicians should take their responsibility while they are in office," he wrote.