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Op-Ed: Jewish and Cautious in Amsterdam

Manfred Gerstenfeld interviews 'Carla', who worked as a nurse in a Dutch hospital. "I clearly see that Jews are the outsiders".
Published: Monday, February 24, 2014 11:05 AM



Muslim women wear headscarves. They display their religion that way, or by saying that they keep Ramadan. As a Jew in the Netherlands, I do just the opposite.
“At the Amsterdam hospital where I worked as a nurse until recently, remarks were made about Jews such as: ‘You Jews have acquaintances everywhere,’ or, ‘You Jews are rich.’ As I publicly expressed my Jewish beliefs, I was seen by many as ‘stereotypically Jewish.’

“I worked at that hospital for more than ten years. My co-workers knew that my son had served in the Israeli army. I sometimes heard remarks like: ‘They only kill Palestinians there.’ Doctors and psychologists often said this too. The head of a medical department frequently and casually discussed ‘the suffering of the Palestinians.’ He always attacked me directly when something was published on Israeli politics.”

Carla has been a nurse for several decades. In view of the situation in the Netherlands today, she requested a pseudonym for this interview.

“Whenever the Dutch media wrote something about Israel, people would start a political discussion with me. They behaved as if I shaped Israeli politics. No one would ever say to someone with family in Italy: ‘What crazy thing has Berlusconi done again?’

“Before elections people asked me who I voted for. I answered, ‘I vote for a party that supports Israel. There are not many parties which do, therefore Jews should support them.’ Their reply was, ‘There are far more important issues.’ They said this while a significant number of Dutch people vote according to a party’s platform concerning animal welfare.

“In most cases, I avoided entering into discussions. It makes no sense to debate with ‘ordinary Dutchmen.’ There are many examples of their attitude. A few years ago I visited Israel with two colleagues. A department head remarked to them, ‘Why would you go there? That’s not a country to visit on vacation.’ He would never say that about Thailand or Indonesia. Regarding Israel and Jews however, anything goes.

“Sometimes I got fed up with his attitude. Not wanting to continually remain passive, I took initiative. After the Gaza flotilla affair, I showed him pictures on the internet of the slingshots, knives etc. found on that boat. That department head’s reaction was that this was normal. He always approved of everything Israel’s enemies did, however absurd.

“I often said what I thought at work. I don’t know whether that harmed me professionally. One can never prove that. Sometimes, I just let things pass because I felt alone in the discussion. One thinks, ‘I have to continue working with these people, so I should be more careful.’

“As a Jew in the Netherlands today, one has to be cautious about what one says. In my environment, I clearly see that Jews are the outsiders. If I say, ‘I might move to Israel if my children remain there,’ I have to find a delicate way to say it. Everyone is usually nice to your face. A Dutchman will rarely say ‘dirty Jew’ out loud. Yet one doesn’t know what is said behind one’s back.

"There is also substantial discrimination in the Netherlands against homosexuals and non-Western immigrants. However, one shouldn’t confront hypocritical Dutch people about it.

“Many Moroccan, Turkish and other immigrant patients came to our hospital. I was always careful to hide my religion from them. Muslim women wear headscarves. They display their religion that way, or by saying that they keep Ramadan. As a Jew in the Netherlands, I do just the opposite. In general, patients don’t know that I’m Jewish. You can’t tell it from my looks. Sometimes I wore a small Star of David. It depended on the mood I was in.

“If Muslims discover that you are Jewish, some have racist reactions. A Moroccan man whose child I took care of went to his general practitioner. The father said that he did not want his child to be treated by a Jewish nurse. So his doctor sent him to another hospital. I found that doctor’s response very problematic.

“I mentioned this experience with the Moroccan father to my own team which also included two physicians and a psychologist. I said to them, ‘It is one thing if the father does this. But that the physician complied is another issue altogether.’ My colleagues just laughed at me. Thereafter, I felt that I had to be more careful with those people.

“I reported the case with the Moroccan father and his physician’s response to CIDI, a Dutch organization which deals with anti-Semitism. They said they would write a letter to medical journals. I have not heard anything further from them.

“In the meantime, I have gotten another job. I do not speak about my religion there and give minimal information about my background. For Jews in the Netherlands, it has become increasingly difficult to openly reveal our religion. There are several factors at play: the increase in the Muslim population, the right-wing turn in society and increasing intolerance in the Netherlands. Other factors are the decline in knowledge of history and the erosion of Dutch norms and values.”