The era of “unconditional friendship” between Israel and the Netherlands is over, the Dutch right-wing newspaper De Telegraaf reported as Benjamin Netanyahu faced vocal protests during a two-day visit to the country this week to discuss economic cooperation.
In one striking moment captured on video, Dutch MP Tunahan Kuzu refused to shake hands with the Israeli prime minister during a meeting with lawmakers:Palestine solidarity groups had presented a petition to lawmakers, signed by more than 7,500 people, urging sanctions on Israel over its “policies of oppression, discrimination, and land grab and ignoring the United Nations.”
People also took to the streets to protest Netanyahu’s visit.
And more than a thousand people wrote to lawmakers calling on them to skip the planned meeting in parliament with Netanyahu.Rik Grashoff, a lawmaker for the Green Left party, announced on Twitter that he would not attend the meeting because it would not change Israel’s “disastrous policy” towards the Palestinians.
Instead, Grashoff called for more pressure on Israel, including sanctions.
Kuzu, one of two MPs from the DENK party, decided to attend the meeting to confront Netanyahu.
Wearing a button with the Palestinian flag, Kuzu nodded, but did not stretch out his hand when Netanyahu was introduced. The Israeli prime minister appeared surprised, and said out loud, “oh, ok,” before moving on.
Kuzu explained that his actions were a response to Netanyahu’s comments during a closed-door meeting with members of the parliament’s foreign affairs committee, which Kuzu termed “propaganda.”
Kuzu said he had confronted Netanyahu with images of Israel’s destruction in Gaza, asking the Israeli prime minister if this is what his promotion of democracy, technology and security is about. Netanyahu had “no answer,” according to Kuzu.
“While the streets of Gaza were red with the blood of children in the summer of 2014, the red carpets are being rolled out here,” Kuzu wrote on Facebook. “That doesn’t deserve a handshake but a reference to #FreePalestine.”
Wilders, who has received funding from some of the most notorious Islamophobic sources in the US, has also championed Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and questioned the existence of Palestine.
Yet other voices from mainstream Dutch politics joined the criticism of Israel.
“Everybody is to blame for the conflict except Israel,” Labor Party lawmaker Michiel Servaes commented on Twitter.
Prior to the meeting, Servaes announced that he would call on Netanyahu to “end his destructive policies of the occupation and not run away from peace talks. Only then we can stand up for your country.”
Harry van Bommel of the Socialist Party tweeted that Netanyahu had cited the existence of Belgian enclaves within the Netherlands to justify Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.
Netanyahu would have been referring to tiny spots of Belgian territory that are relics of medieval times.
There is no parallel, however: no disagreement exists between Belgium and the Netherlands over who the land belongs to, while Israel’s settlements in occupied territory, on land forcibly seized from Palestinians, violate international law.
Former prime minister of the Netherlands Dries van Agt regretted that the government of Prime Minister Mark Rutte had rolled out the red carpet for Netanyahu.
Rutte’s center-right People’s Party leads a coalition government that includes the Labor Party.
Speaking on national television, van Agt called Netanyahu a “war criminal” who should be sent for trial to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
Meanwhile, Amnesty International used Netanyahu’s visit to protest Israel’s use of administrative detention.
Currently, more than 700 Palestinians are detained without charge or trial, a practice Israel has retained from the era of British colonial rule in Palestine.
During a joint press conference with Netanyahu, Prime Minister Rutte repeated his government’s position that the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign is “protected under the freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.”
While supporting the right to boycott Israel, Rutte has declared that his government opposes BDS.
Rutte’s remark suggests that Netanyahu tried again to push for delegitimizing the BDS movement.
“Settlement building needs to stop, and so do demolitions and incitement,” Rutte said.
Despite such criticism, economic cooperation between the Netherlands and Israel continues as usual.
But as this week showed, the close relationship between the two countries is clearly facing growing resistance.