Monday, October 19, 2009

Jews in a Multi-cultural society

Jewish High School Principal

On the website of the Global Institute for Jewish Affairs I found an interview with Henri Markens, a Dutch Jew and community representative. Mr. Markens is also the former principal of a Jewish High School in Amsterdam-South, the area in The Netherlands with the highest concentration of Jews. He was the principal of the Joods Lyceum Maimonides until 2006. In the interview he speaks rather candidly of the issues confronting the Jewish community in The Netherlands these days.

On Muslim immigration:
The immigration of Muslims and the rise of Islam in the Netherlands have created problems for the Jewish community and will continue to do so. There are about one million Muslims in the Netherlands. Their influence on the political system is increasing. This cannot be positive for the Jews. The more power the Muslim community gains, the more it will weaken the Jewish community's relations with a number of ministries.

The Jewish community faces increasing anti-Semitism. This has led to enhanced security measures. It also threatens to intensify attitudes based on fear.
On the encroachment on the constitutional right of citizens to have their confessional schools* by the state as a result of problems with Muslim integration:
I showed in particular to Verdonk, who was then integration minister, and Hirsi Ali that the Jewish community is fully integrated into Dutch society yet has still maintained its own identity. This contrasts with the integration problems of parts of the country's Muslim community.

When Hirsi Ali visited the school, the main discussion took place with the students. She claimed that the school only has the right to exist if it accepts non-Jewish students as well. The pupils disagreed strongly with this. They criticized her approach and said that they have the right to their own school and to live in their own culture, as long as they do not offend anyone else.

One of the reasons I invited Hirsi Ali to the school was to show her that the problems she knows from the Muslim world do not occur among Jews. The Muslim population in the Netherlands is only partly integrated into Dutch society. Muslim youth are a source of trouble in many cities, especially Amsterdam and Rotterdam.

I do not exclude the possibility that in the future there will be political attempts to abolish religious schools, or at least put major limitations on them. I wanted to preempt that by showing politicians how our school functions within the Jewish community and Dutch society.
The future of the Jewish community in The Netherlands:
I am not optimistic about the future of Dutch society. In 2003 we had visits at our school by Rob Oudkerk, then alderman of education from the Labor Party, and Lodewijk Asscher, who is now deputy mayor of Amsterdam representing the same party but at that time was the party's faction chairman.

We told them how our pupils experience the increasing anti-Semitism in Amsterdam. This trend still continues. In 2005, near the metro station in Amstelveen where many middle-class Jews live, one of our pupils was beaten up by three or four non-Western immigrants. He was wearing a Star of David. An incident of this kind at that place was unusual. It is much more common that such things happen in Amsterdam proper. The closer one comes to the center of the city, the more dangerous the situation becomes.

The phenomenon is more severe than the beating itself. I consider mental abuse to be more serious than physical harm. The consequences of the beating can be healed in an hour or at most a few months. The emotional abuse is frightening and one starts to behave accordingly. In the past a number of students wore kippot when traveling from school to the Amsterdam central station. Today this is no longer possible.
On Mayor Cohen, the ethnically Jewish Mayor of Amsterdam:
In 2003 our school celebrated its seventy-fifth year. The mayor of Amsterdam, Job Cohen, gave the opening speech at the festive ceremony. Although he is halachically Jewish, it was clear that he doesn't identify in any way with the Jewish community. He did not say ‘we as Jews' but ‘you, as a Jewish community.'

In that he differs greatly from one of his Jewish predecessors, Eduard van Thijn, who was mayor of Amsterdam from 1983 to 1994. On the occasion of a lecture on National Memorial Day on 4 May, he told of his experiences during World War II and in his school years. He mentioned that he had had little connection with Judaism, his parents having abandoned any Jewish practice and even concealed their identity as Jews. When he became mayor, however, he realized his true identity and started to take lessons in Judaism.

When Cohen visited our school we spoke about the problem of anti-Semitism, which preoccupies us. He knew that our pupils were beaten occasionally. I let pupils who had experienced this tell him about it. He gave the impression that he was not at all shocked. In this context he presents himself as a man with no emotions who says he is trying to keep a society together, when in reality it already has not been together for a long time.

This makes me think about the late Schelto Patijn, Cohen's predecessor, who was Amsterdam's mayor from 1994 to 2000. He was not only very pleasant but also showed a genuine interest in the Jewish community. As far as security was concerned he was always open to the specific needs of Jews as he knew that these were real. I once said to him-the only non-Jewish mayor Amsterdam has had for a long time-‘it almost seems that you are Jewish.'

His approach was totally different from Cohen's. In recent years there has been much more need for the security of Jewish buildings than in Patijn's time. As the mayor is head of the police, one must address him for extra protection. Cohen referred us to the education and interior ministries. They referred us back to the Amsterdam municipality. Ultimately both the municipality and the ministries helped us, but it took a very long time.
The rest of the interview with Henri Markens on Jews in Holland

* Article 23 of the Dutch Constitution

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