Tuesday, 11 June 2019

The shtetl Jews of Amsterdam

"The 'Nieuw Israƫlietisch Weekblad' (Dutch for New Israelite Weekly), in short NIW, is the only Jewish weekly and the oldest functioning news magazine in the Netherlands.
Founded on August 4, 1865, it has tried to inform the Jewish community on issues concerning Jews and Judaism in the Netherlands and in the world."

It is also quite good, much better than English-language Jewish newspapers like The Forward and the Jewish Chronicle.
The NIW journalists can actually write.

The NIW was a newspaper of and for progressive "shtetl" Jews in the progressive city of Amsterdam. Most Dutch Jews live there.
"Shtetl" in the sense that they kept their heads down and relied on their contacts with people in power to resolve problems for the Jewish community.

Amsterdam used to be a fine city for Jews. The Dutch Labour party, where Jews often held prominent positions, had been in power there since the end of the Second World War.
Amsterdam mayors, who always came from this party, were usually Jewish. 

However, from the 1980s onward, Amsterdam began to change demographically.
The indigenous Dutch workers started moving to the small towns outside the city.
The guest workers from Morocco and Turkey stayed. They sent for their families. Waves of new immigrants came after them. 

Most of the immigrants were Muslims. The progressive Jews welcomed them enthusiastically.
There were those who warned that many of these migrants had been fed a diet of Jew and Israel hatred in the countries they came from.
This was dismissed as right-wing bigotry.
Job Cohen, one of Amsterdam's Jewish mayors, invoked the history of his family in the Holocaust to justify his identification with the Muslim immigrants.

The demographic changes led to changes in institutions of the city, like the political parties, civil service and police.
The city was no longer pro-Jewish and pro-Israel.
Instead, virulent hatred of Israel and anybody who supported Israel was growing at an alarming rate.
The shtetl leaders did not seem to notice.

Small antisemitic demonstrations started appearing regularly on Dam Square in the center of Amsterdam.
A group of Jewish activists who had no connection to the shtetl dignitaries staged counter demonstrations.
The NIW was furious.
The Jewish weekly demonized the activists in acrimonious articles. They framed the activists as irresponsible and right-wing.

Eventually the prominent Jews of Amsterdam did realize what was going on, in June 2015.
The mayor of Amsterdam had proposed a twinning agreement with Tel Aviv.
This was greeted with an enormous negative backlash on social media and from the "new" citizens of Amsterdam. The majority of the city council opposed the agreement and the mayor rescinded his proposal.

Jewish dignitaries took to Facebook, Twitter and articles in newspapers to express their shock at what had happened.
Their greatest shock was at the betrayal of the Labour party, who had also voted against the twinning.

There are now many more and much larger antisemitic demonstrations on Dam Square. The police only intervene to arrest people who protest the antisemitism.
The new mayor from the Green Left party and the new city council are not interested in the Jewish entreaties.

However, the Jewish activists do still turn up to protest.
The NIW now supports the activists (it used to demonize).
Unfortunately, it is too little, too late.

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