THE HAGUE – Geert Wilders’ umpteenth visit to Israel on Sunday will offer him refuge not only from the cold gripping Holland, but also from the worst political storm to hit this famous and controversial Dutch politician so far.
For Wilders, this will be the first visit to Israel since reaching real power for the first time. And it will also be the first time he is greeted in Israel with protests by people who oppose his views.
Over the past month, reports about the questionable practices of some of the members of his Party for Freedom have dominated Dutch media, which seemed to relish breaking one scandal after another about the rightist, anti-Islam, anti-crime PVV party.
The latest scandal concerned Marcial Hernandez, who settled last week out of court for assault. Earlier, Eric Lucassen was found to have been convicted of sexual abuse in the army and to have reportedly threatened his neighbors. Yet another allegedly head-butted a waiter in a bar, and another was caught lying on his CV.
“We made mistakes, I made mistakes,” said an apologetic Wilders, who joined the coalition for the first time as a shadow partner in October after his party came out third largest in the June elections. His party received nine seats out of 150 in 2006.
He did not deny that a party with a law-and-order agenda such as his own is more exposed to attacks on this issue. Wilders said he “doesn’t blame the media” for his mistakes, but nonetheless said they mounted a “witch-hunt focused on the PVV.“
Before the elections, Wilders produced a controversial 14-minute film against Islam, which was condemned by the government, socialites and prominent media figures.
“I apologize for what happened not only to my voters but also to all the parliamentarians,” said Wilders, who promised to improve the vetting process for members. “Part of the problem is that we are a new party with new people.”
According to recent polls, the party – which has 24 seats in parliament – has lost some seats after the scandals but is still third strongest, with 94 percent of PVV voters saying they still trust Wilders. “We’re not an opposition party anymore without any ties or responsibilities,” he commented.
But his party is not governing, supporting instead the coalition from outside the government. This, according to Wilders, is because of his views on Islam. Wilders has called to ban the Koran – which he described as comparable to Mein Kampf – and outlaw the building of new mosques.
“We are not in the center of power, but we are in the center of influence,” he said. “Our insistence on our principles is the only reason we’re out of the government and that I’m not the vice premier now, and this gives the freedom to say what I want wherever I want to.”
And that, apparently, is in Israel. On Sunday, Wilders will deliver a speech in which he will outline his vision for Jordan as the Palestinian state.
“In my speech I will show how Jordanian officials themselves called Jordan Palestine, until the 1970s,” he said.
In 2008, Jordanian authorities prosecuted Wilders over his anti-Islam statements for with “blasphemy and contempt of Muslims,” and have summoned the Dutch ambassador to protest Wilders’ policies.
“The Dutch government will have to explain that I am not a part of it and do not represent its policies,” Wilders said when asked if he’s not concerned his statements are damaging his country’s relations with Arab nations. “The Jordanians can learn something about democracy from it.”
Unlike his frequent visits to Israel in the past, he will this time be formally received as a guest of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Wilders has said he was proud to be compared with Lieberman.
A group of left-wing, Dutch-born Israelis are planning to greet Wilders with a
demonstration against “the hate-monger from Holland,” as they describe him. A number of “human rights observers from the West Bank” are also planning to demonstrate near Ganei Yehoshua in Tel Aviv, where Wilders will speak.
Upon Wilders’ insistence, Israel became the only foreign country mentioned in the Dutch government’s coalition agreement. Wilders – who lived for two years in Kibbutz Tomer in his youth – demanded that the agreement declare support for Israel.
He said this is changing the Dutch government’s attitude to Israel. He cited the rebuke by the Dutch foreign minister last week of ICCO – a large humanitarian organization which spent public funds on the anti-Israel site The Electronic Intifada.
He also supports closer scrutiny and possible rebuke of the Dutch embassy in Israel. Wilders said he has received reports that the Dutch embassy played a key role in causing the dis-invitation in September of Israeli mayors who planned to visit Holland, because some were from West Bank settlements.
“Foreign Minister Uri Ronsenthal will have to look at what’s happening in the Dutch embassy in Israel,” Wilders said. “Diplomats often make one doubt whether they are promoting Dutch interests or the country where they are posted, or, as in this case, maybe an entity nearby.”
Earlier this year, Haaretz reported the Dutch embassy in Tel Aviv was funding the organization “Breaking the Silence” – which strives to expose and publicize Israeli human rights violations – to the tune of 19,950 euros. Any funding over 20,000 euros requires authorization from the foreign ministry in the Hague, known for its pro-Israel stance.