Dutch opposition parties boycotted a parliamentary delegation to the Middle East in February after parties supporting the right-wing government insisted on going ahead with the visit despite an Israeli government ban on allowing the lawmakers to visit the besieged Gaza Strip.
Following the uprising that overthrew former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and after Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman blocked a proposed visit to Gaza, all parties opposing the right-wing government preferred to postpone the visit.
In spite of the tradition of deciding on such official parliamentary visits on the basis of consensus, right-wing and Christian parties decided to proceed on their own and their visit from 22 to 28 February became a right-wing junket.
In 2009, the parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs decided to plan an official visit to Egypt, Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Lebanon and Jordan. Egypt was to have been the focus of the visit given the important role of the country in the region.
But after the dissolution of the Egyptian parliament by the transitional military government, the Dutch parliamentarian delegation lost its major counterpart. After Lieberman refused permission for the delegation to visit Gaza, opposition parties called for the delegation to be postponed so that it would not become unbalanced.
The visit by the exclusively right-wing parties pours more oil on the fire started when Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal attacked Dutch donor organization ICCO for its support to The Electronic Intifada last November.
In Jerusalem, the parliamentarians were briefed on Dutch subsidies to human rights and development organizations by the Israeli extreme right organization NGO Monitor, which was behind the attack on The Electronic Intifada.
This report shocked Kees Van der Staaij, an MP from the SGP (Reformed Political Party), which states on its website that its positions are based on the Bible. Van der Staaij said he would approach Rosenthal for “clarification” about the financial support from Dutch civil society groups ICCO, Oxfam Novib, Cordaid and the Dutch representation in Ramallah to organizations that “act against the State of Israel” (“Nederlands geld ingezet tegen Israel,” Reformatisch Dagblad, 25 February 2011).
Citing the NGO Monitor report, Van der Staaij tweeted that organizations that characterized Israel as an “apartheid colonial regime” should receive no funding.
Meanwhile, all four opposition parties held the opinion that a trip to the Middle East without stops in Egypt and Gaza is unbalanced. Alexander Pechtold of Democrats 66 said of the right-wing MPs, “Let them justify their decision to the voters and taxpayers. The trip could have been easily postponed by half a year.” Harry van Bommel of the Socialist Party characterized the decision as “undesirable and anti-social.” Labor Party representative Nebahat Albayrak, chair of the Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs, announced her intention to take up the issue with the chair of parliament, Gerdi Verbeet (“Oppositie boycot Kamerreis naar Midden-Oosten,” de Volkskrant, 17 February 2011).
By pushing through the delegation against the long-standing tradition of decision-making by consensus, Dutch far-right parliamentarians have turned the visit into a private outing that was paid with public funds.
Adri Nieuwhof is a consultant and human rights advocate.