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Lambs to the Slaughter

Wilders, Kortenoeven.

Last week, the normally cautious Jewish community of Amsterdam took the unusual step of describing a member of the Dutch parliament as a "serious danger to Jews in the Netherlands and consequently Europe as a whole."

Relevant Links
Wilders’s War  Eldad Beck, Ynet. “Israel is a lighthouse and the only democracy in a dark and tyrannical region,” he declares. “It’s part of us, of our European identity. Israel is fighting our war.”
The PVV’s Animal Police  Mary Beth Warner, Spiegel. In collaboration with the Party for Animal Rights, the PVV, spearheaded by Dion Graus, has effected the establishment of a police force dedicated to animal welfare.
Slaughterhouse Rules  Elli Fischer, Jewish Ideas Daily. As Jewish ritual slaughter makes multiple provisions for the minimization of animal pain, it’s evident that those who seek to ban the practice often have something other than animal welfare in mind.

For anyone who follows the twists and turns of Jewish political fortunes in Europe, such warnings do not come as a huge surprise.  From the far-Right Jobbik Party in Hungary to the far-Left Respect Party in Britain, the list of Jew-baiters holding elected office is getting longer and longer.  But this time the member of parliament in question belongs to the Partij voor de Vrijheid (PVV), or Party for Freedom, which touts itself as the most passionate advocate for Israel in Europe.

The PVV's flamboyant leader, Geert Wilders, is no stranger to Jewish gatherings in Israel and the United States, where he has succeeded in raising both money and political support.  Until now, Wilders has made opposition to what he calls the "Islamization" of the Netherlands the centerpiece of his politics, and his bombastic message about the perils of Muslim immigration into Europe has struck a chord with the less nuanced sectors of the Jewish Right. (The nearest American equivalent to Wilders is his friend Pamela Geller, a blogger and activist who speaks in similarly apocalyptic terms about the "Islamization" of the United States.)

But Wilders’s appeal to Jews is on the verge of being irreparably damaged by his continuing endorsement of one of the PVV's parliamentarians, Dion Graus.  Two years ago, Graus championed a legal offensive in the Dutch parliament against sh'hitah, the Jewish ritual method of slaughtering animals for kosher consumption.  While the Dutch Senate threw out that bill, many Dutch Jews fear that a successful turnout for the PVV at next month’s general election will enable Graus to move on to his next target: circumcision.

The continuing influence of Graus over Wilders motivated Wim Kortenoeven, a Dutch parliamentarian who resigned from the PVV earlier this year, to visit New York at the beginning of August.  Kortenoeven believes that the pro-Israel groups and individuals in America who have backed Wilders—he names David Horowitz of FrontPage magazine and Professor Daniel Pipes as examples—are not sufficiently aware of the threat that Graus poses to Dutch Jews, largely because they find the PVV's pro-Israel positions so appealing.

Though not Jewish himself, Kortenoeven is well-known to Dutch Jews as a Middle East analyst whose sympathies lie solidly with Israel.  Between 2000 and 2010, Kortenoeven worked for the Dutch organization CIDI, the main provider of pro-Israel information and analysis in the Netherlands.  At the end of 2008, Wilders, keen to burnish his foreign policy credentials, invited Kortenoeven to join the PVV's parliamentary slate.

Over coffee at a Manhattan hotel during his visit, Kortenoeven told me that he hesitated for several months before accepting Wilders's offer.  The catalyst, he said, was a remark his youngest son made when the two vacationed together in Pennsylvania in the summer of 2009. Hearing his father grumbling about the state of Dutch politics as he read the news on his laptop, the younger Kortenoeven implored him to put up or shut up.

Kortenoeven duly accepted Wilders's offer, entering parliament for the PVV in 2010.  At the time, a bill to curb sh'hitah had been unveiled in the Dutch parliament, but Kortenoeven never thought that it would be a complicating factor in his relations with his new colleagues, since its sponsors came from a different party (to be specific, the Party for Animal Rights).

In the event, Graus turned out to be the most energetic backer of the bill.  In a televised debate with Benoit Wesly, the head of the Jewish community in Maastricht, Graus, who became notorious in Holland for allegations that he savagely beat his pregnant wife, accused Jews of engaging in the "ritual torture" of animals.  Wesly countered by reminding Graus that his mother had fled Nazi Germany for Holland in order to survive as a Jew, and that one of Hitler's first acts after he became Chancellor in 1933 was to ban sh'hitah.

Against this background, an open clash between Graus and Kortenoeven was inevitable.  During an April 2011 meeting of the PVV's parliamentarians, Kortenoeven challenged Graus on the sh'hitah issue, and encountered a furious response.  Sitting at the other end of a long table, Graus leapt to his feet, waving a huge sheaf of papers.  "I thought he was going to hit me," Kortenoeven recalled.  "Graus slammed the papers on the table.  'Here are all the arguments to support the legislation!' he screamed at me, two inches from my face."

As Kortenoeven tells the story, neither Wilders nor the other parliamentarians challenged Graus's outburst, shuffling nervously instead.  That reaction, Kortenoeven said, was consistent with Wilders's previous refusals to confront Graus.  On another occasion in 2011, when Kortenoeven told Wilders that Graus's attacks on sh'hitah were endangering relations with Dutch Jews, the PVV leader snapped back, "How can I stop him! He already said this 5 or 6 times!"  "He was enraged," Kortenoeven reflected.  "He'd lost control over Graus."

The question, therefore, is why Wilders continues to tolerate Graus.  Kortenoeven believes that Graus, who produced a television documentary about Wilders, may have come across sensitive information that could compromise the PVV leader.  The same blackmail theory is the subject of a forthcoming book by Marcial Hernandez, another PVV parliamentarian who resigned from the party at the same time as Kortenoeven.  Wilders Unmasked: From Messiah to Political Parasite—Kortenoeven explains that the title refers to Wilders raising money from American Jews while betraying Dutch Jews—will hit the stores a week before the Dutch elections.

Beyond Graus himself, how can the apparent crisis of identity within the PVV—supporting Israel on the one hand, backing anti-Jewish measures on the other—be explained?  I asked Kortenoeven whether the real targets of the PVV on the issues of ritual slaughter and circumcision were Dutch Muslims, who number one million, rather than Jews, who total just 30,000.  Kortenoeven was adamant that Jews were the primary targets, pointing out that Muslims permit the stunning of animals in the production of halal meat, a method that the opponents of sh'hitah agree to.  On the issue of circumcision, he argued that Muslim males can be circumcised until the age of 13, by which time they are capable of voicing an objection.  No such objection is possible when it comes to Jews, because of the halakhic requirement that circumcision be carried out on a male child eight days after his birth.

Kortenoeven believes that the PVV's focus is shifting away from European Muslims toward a rejection of the European Union—a long-favored theme of European nationalists, including Dion Graus.  Following 9/11, there was something of a realignment on the European Right.  Writers and politicians opposed to Islamism as a political movement found themselves alongside more traditional right-wing nationalists, many of them propagators of anti-Semitic credos.  That, he concludes, bodes ill for Jews in Holland and elsewhere in Europe, but the message will only register if the American Jews enthused by Wilders and the PVV pay heed.

Ben Cohen, a former BBC producer, is a writer based in New York.

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Raoul Machal on August 22, 2012 at 3:00 am (Reply)
Dear Ben; the nuances in this article suggest you shared more than just one cup of coffee with Mr Kortenoeven. It appears you've been long enough in the game to understand what is really the matter in the PVV. For those who don't: Wilders seeks to move the PVV away from a largely single-issue party towards a broader basis. This change does not sit well with everyone, and it is only natural when more narrowly-focused companions leave, while new associates with broader vistas take the opportunity to join Team Wilders. Nothing too spectacular, happens often when political movements change tack. What makes this such a nasty storm in the tea cup is the unpleasant attitude and back-stabbing Mr Kortenoeven displays towards Mr Wilders, and how he seeks to publicly discredit his former colleagues. It's one thing to disagree, have a fall-out perhaps and take your hat and leave. But it is a very different matter when you try hardest to poison the well from which you drank. This shows a character one should perhaps be careful to associate with.
Sid on August 22, 2012 at 4:31 am (Reply)
Don't believe Kortenoeven. Wilders has stood and always will stand solidly behind Israel. The target of Shechita/halal ban are not the Jews. Jews can import their meat from Argentina or Israel. Frozen Kosher meat from Argentina costs less than fresh Kosher meat from a store in Amsterdan or Antwerp. The problem are 52 million hostile Muslims in Europe, and they will be the majority in most Western European countries within 40 years. The ban on circumcision and shechita is to create a difficult atmosphere for them.
eliezer sokolka on August 22, 2012 at 7:34 am (Reply)
There were always enemies to the Jewish people coming from within. They are the worst. Graus is one. Becoming an enemy of your own people is insane, and one day it will turn around against him.
Mike on August 22, 2012 at 8:37 am (Reply)
Really? So now non-Muslims/Christians are a bigger threat to Jews? Tripe!
Archie1954 on August 22, 2012 at 2:47 pm (Reply)
I saw a video on the Kosher slaughter of steers and it was horrible and grotesque. If they could make it more humane there wouldn't be opposition to it. As for circumcision, it should not be done until the person being circumcised has the ability to choose to undergo the procedure.
Raoul Machal on August 23, 2012 at 1:52 am (Reply)
@ Archie: Of course killing a living breathing thing is never nice. Whether first smashing it's skull with a stunning bolt or fizzing it's brain with electro prods is better, you will probably find seven expert opinions on any side of the argument.
As long as it is done properly, I think you will find shechita is still a very humane way to get that steak on your plate. But too often in an industrial abattoir and processing plant, the good intentions remain on paper -- while the need to pay bills determines realities on the killing floor. I'd be interested to know whether a Rabbinical Council could come to an agreement that putting an animal gently to sleep by - say - a dose of chloroform before applying the cut, also follows G-d's command to be gentle, to not make an animal suffer and to not eat treif meat. After all a sleeping cow still lives, the heart still pumps and it is not torn in any other physical way. Maybe this can be a way forward while acknowledging growing sensibilities of the greater community towards ritual slaughtering?

Keep in mind the operators of the halal certification schemes will agree to anything and everything, as long as the certification dollar keeps on rolling in. They went from 'no stunning ever!' to what they call 'reversible' stunning in no time flat. For Jack and Jill Citizen, who only feed off 20 second sound bites, it is not possible to understand the difference between halal killing and proper shechita. If public pressure grows further towards stunning, some of these Islamic halal 'authorities' will find an imam to write out a fatwa confirming full stunning is halal as it is most merciful to Allah; just to protect their income source.

This may soon leave the observant Jewish communities in Europe, North America and Australia in a PR storm. Wouldn't it be wise to be pro-active and think of ways to gently put an animal to sleep before the cut - without harming it in any way? After all, have Jewish communities not survived over the millennia by thinking more practical and further ahead than most?

Is it wise to nillywilly pull the Nazi-card on anyone who dares to think out loud about alternatives for the 21st century? Is not he the real anti-Jew, who refuses to consider viable alternatives? Instead of leading the community blindly to a likely slaughter on the PR killing fields, it may indeed be the greater good to find an agreeable alternative - before animals rights activists and the Islamic halal lobby seemingly join ranks, and the MSM starts hurling insults at the Jooos. The Islamists have a lot to loose if their halal certification rackets become unpalatable for Western consumers. Worth keeping this in mind.

As to circumcision, isn't it a reality that parents make many more serious decisions on behalf and for their children? What food to eat; taking out the tonsils now - or maybe later, removing an appendix; getting that strange tooth pulled out; having a nasty dark birthmark on the back removed, which school to go to etc. Should we wait with all that until the child can have an educated say?
Shlomo on August 23, 2012 at 7:57 am (Reply)
Wilders has courageously stood for Israel. He has correctly raised the issue of Islam's role in European society. He must live under police protection because of predictable threats from Muslims. It is unfortunate that he has not been able to authoritatively parse the issues of shehita and circumcision for his party.

Is there enough halakhic flexibility to permit the stunning of animals before slaughter? As for circumcision, I think that Europeans have lost their reason.
S W on August 23, 2012 at 11:46 am (Reply)
One notes in Bayern the legal action taken against a rabbi for conducting circumcision as seen in the press this week. The complaint as with the law under which it is being pursued were sponsored by the German left. Rabbi Cooper is quoted in the Jerusalem Post: "The Jewish world had better wake up to growing trends in Europe that denigrate our core religious rites of mila and shechita [ritual slaughter]. And frankly, the very notion that German authorities are even mulling over whether they would bring charges against a rabbi for performing the mitzva of mila should send a shiver down the spine of every Jew." I have seen the arguments in Germany as well as in sister states in Europe, and the targeting of Jewish as well as Muslim ritual is being led by the secularists, most of the from left-leaning parties with too many names to list them all here. The purpose? To again make criminal Jewish life in Europe. Some from the far-right join many on the Left in pursuing this, because they are joined in resentment of Jews.
Raoul. Machal on August 23, 2012 at 5:41 pm (Reply)
@ SW - indeed many punters and anointed academicos today seem to have forgotten Herr Hitler was ideologically of the Left. Not only was his movement/party the National SOCIALIST German workers party, but he deeply despised the traditional right in both military and civilian circles. Nazis invented the people's car, nationalized many industries and institutions and their concept of the one union as national workers front is not exactly orthodox right-wing either.Those who tried to kill him were what most would call today militaristic right-wing groups. You will find he's likewise on record to have spoken with disdain of the "rotten bourgeoisie" and had no qualms to sign a pact with Stalin to divvy up Poland. To then re-brand the Nazis as a right-wing outfit is a massive PR success of the Left. Just as the Galynski-types now seek to smear anyone opposing their new world order as "extreme right-wing racist xenophobic "etc etc. As Thomas Soll has put it: "If you have always believed that everyone should play by the same rules and be judged by the same standards, that would have gotten you labeled a radical 60 years ago, a liberal 30 years ago and a racist today." Labels change, values not.
S W on August 24, 2012 at 11:03 am (Reply)
Thankfully the awareness that National Socialism is part and parcel of the totalitarian political stream is growing. Yes, the "far-right" is in fact leftist, and the false distinction between left and right as a model has plagued the last decades in history. Now we learn that after the "legal" atttack on religious rites of mila and shechita in Germany, a court in Berlin begins to consider ear-piercing as illegal. The pre-WWII socialists wanted a "pure" society, and that is as true today as was then. All the apologists who would hand over individual choices to the state for the supposedly best reasons they can concoct fail to realize that the totalitarian state is the antithesis of liberty, be it of the Marxist sort, the caliphate, or even the old feudal societies of Europe. Liberty raised its head in the last few centuries, and has been attacked ever since. We Jews should study Torah but also the history of our own persecution -- by so many governments across so many centuries. Where there is greater freedom for all, there is greater freedom for Jews. Truly and was noted above, "labels change, values do not." Am Yisraeil chai.
Philly on August 26, 2012 at 7:49 am (Reply)
Would you like to explain to me please how Muslim power in Holland could be undermined by banning circumcision of Muslims males only? Given the Muslim exaggerated hair-trigger sense of grievance how might they react to a ban on Muslim circumcision while Jewish people are allowed to continue to circumscise their male children?

For heaven's sake take the long view! If Islam is a danger to the West (and I believe that it is) how better to undermine it?

Jews are always in danger from politicians who wish to use them as pawns. Speaking for myself only (unlike you who seems to generalise) I would still throw in my lot with Wilders, who at least has the courage to stand up to the excesses of Islam.

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