Dr. Manfred GerstenfeldThe writer has been a long-term adviser on strategy issues to the boards of several major multinational corporations in Europe and North America.He is board member and former chairman of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and recipient of the LIfetime Achievement Award (2012) of the Journal for the Study of Anti-Semitism.
“My parents raised me as a Christian, yet already as a child I had developed an interest in Judaism. When I decided to convert later on, my mother surprisingly revealed to me that her mother told her that she had a Jewish background. There was no proof of this, however.
“In 2005 while vacationing in Israel, I fell ill and was treated by a doctor in an Orthodox school – the Diaspora Yeshiva. Afterwards I decided to stay and learn there for a while, even though I wasn’t officially recognized as Jewish.”
Netanel S. is a young man who was born in Arnhem in the Netherlands. He grew up in a village nearby. He is now a hareidi-religious Jew and has lived in Israel since 2009. He prefers that his last name be kept hidden.
“As a high school junior in Arnhem, I started wearing a skull cap. This caused me problems immediately. When I came into class, some of the students made hissing noises, imitating the gas of the Nazi extermination camps. They also often used the word ‘Jew’ pejoratively in discussions. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict was brought into conversations on many issues. It was mainly Moroccan students who did this, but also Turks and Iraqis.
“Afterwards, I attended a trade school for legal and administrative studies in the nearby town of Velp. I was harassed again, but less than in high school. I was the only Jewish student there. Whenever Israel was mentioned negatively in the news, I was blamed for it. Non-Western immigrant youth called me a ‘Cancer Jew’ and a ‘Cancer Zionist.’ There was no physical violence. However, someone spit in my face at the Arnhem train station when no one was around.
“When I still lived with my parents, I became fed up with being stared at and called names on the street. I decided to change my attire for a few days. I wore a short coat, put the threads of my four-cornered garment into my pockets, hid my sidelocks in my skullcap and I wore a cap. I could hardly believe how normal it felt to walk in the streets when I hid my identity. No one called me names. A few days later, I returned to my regular clothing and the name-calling started again. Later on, I worked at a call center in the town of Amersfoort. The employees were almost all native Dutchmen and I encountered no problems. I was treated very nicely by the management. They gave me days off for all Jewish holidays. In the streets however, I was harassed again.
“In December 2008, I moved to Rotterdam where I was unemployed. Almost every time I went out, I was called names, sometimes even by elderly Arab couples, who looked very much like Muslims. On Saturdays I walked with friends to the synagogue. Every week we were called names at least twice, and always by non-Western immigrants. One heard all imaginable insults added to the word ‘Jew,’ and remarks about our mothers. We also heard some people shout that ‘Hitler did good work.’
“At the beginning of 2009, I started keeping a diary of insults. I wrote for instance, ‘On the first day of Passover 2009, I walked with a friend by a park. Tens of Moroccans called us ‘Jews,’ ‘Cancer Jews’ and ‘Zionists.’ They also shouted ‘Free Palestine.’ Several native Dutchmen just looked on. I sent what I wrote to the Dutch Jewish defense organization CIDI. They published parts of it. Upon re-reading my diary, I see that the harassment was almost always carried out by Moroccans. The only two areas in the Netherlands where a recognizable Jew can walk freely nowadays without name-calling are the Buitenveldert neighborhood in Amsterdam and in the suburb Amstelveen.
“In 2009, I moved to Antwerp. I was only called names there once. At the train station, a group of native Dutchmen shouted, ‘Cancer Jew’ at me.
“In December 2009, I left for Israel. At the end of 2010, I visited my parents. I flew first to Belgium and then took the train to the Netherlands. At the Dutch border station Roosendaal, I changed trains. I had barely touched the platform when a native Dutchman of about 30 years shouted to me in English with a heavy Dutch accent, ‘You killed Jesus.’
“At my parents’ house, I rarely walked outside. Upon my departure they drove me to the Arnhem train station. When we got out of the car, Dutch Moroccans in a passing car shouted something ugly about Jews at us. Up until then, whenever I told my mother about the harassment I encountered, she thought, ‘Perhaps he’s exaggerating.’ Now she herself was confronted with it.
“Sometimes native Dutchmen make anti-Semitic remarks to me. What disturbs me most is that many Dutchmen claim that they are not anti-Semitic. Yet if there is an anti-Semitic incident, they look away and don’t say anything. Nowadays, they just consider it acceptable behavior.”