Like bees swarming to a honey pot, Europe's extremist parties have wasted no time in seizing upon the Eurozone crisis to garner an electoral boost. In Greece, back in June, an assortment of unreconstructed communist and neo-Nazi parties won 101 out of 300 possible seats in the election. Next week, it's the turn of the comparatively sensible (and far more prosperous) Dutch to decide whether they want a government based on prudence, or one based on protest.
Although a small majority of Greeks opted, at the very last moment, for a center-right coalition, political debate in the run-up to their election was dominated by talk of an extremist victory. That has also been the case in The Netherlands. For weeks, the Dutch press has been ruminating on the likelihood that the far left Socialist Party will triumph on September 12.
It's certainly been a heady period. Just a year ago, Emile Roemer, the leader of the Socialist Party, would have been pleased with a mention of his name in the media, never mind the following encomium from the pages of The Economist, whose correspondent described him as an "eternally smiling man who casually shrugs off euro-zone rules on budget deficits and promises to preserve the generous Dutch welfare system."
However jolly Roemer may seem — some Dutch journalists have affectionately nicknamed him "Fozzie Bear" — it needs to be remembered that his party is rooted in an ideology of misery and terror. Before becoming the Socialist Party, the party's name was the distinctly chilling Communist Party of the Netherlands – Marxist-Leninist. The "Marxist-Leninist" suffix was the "scientifically" acceptable euphemism for Maoism, an especially brutal form of totalitarianism that caused the deaths of at least 60 million people. Members of Marxist-Leninist groups regarded China, rather than the Soviet Union, as the cradle of socialist hopes — and when China's market reforms propelled the country onto the dreaded path of "revisionism," the more zealous of these zealots transferred their loyalties to Enver Hoxha's Albania, a country where the communists ruled in a manner similar to North Korea.
Though Holland's Socialist Party no longer talks about Marxism-Leninism, it hasn't totally abandoned its associated symbols, just tried to make them a little easier on the eye. The party's logo resembles an overripe tomato crowned by a communist star. As for its policies, these are a throwback to the days of the New Left, along with a more recently acquired enmity towards the European Union.
Most worrying of all, the likely Foreign Minister in a Socialist Party government is an ardent anti-Zionist named Harry van Bommel. Van Bommel's hatred of Israel is not a mere footnote in his career; in common with other European leftists, opposition to "Zionism" is one of his defining characteristics as a politician. In January 2009, he led a protest in the center of Amsterdam against Israel's defensive military operation in Gaza. As van Bommel bellowed his support for a renewed intifada against Israel, his fellow protestors began chanting a charming ditty that is sometimes heard at Dutch soccer matches: "Hamas, Hamas, Joden aan het gas" ("Hamas, Hamas, Jews to the gas.")
Bram Moskowicz, a prominent Dutch attorney, promptly filed a complaint with the Dutch justice ministry, accusing van Bommel of inciting violence and promoting discrimination against Jews. Responding to Moskowicz, van Bommel denied that he'd heard the anti-Semitic chant. That was a naked lie, as demonstrated by this clip on YouTube. At about 1:25, you can clearly hear the mainly Islamist demonstrators behind van Bommel chanting about gassing the Jews with real vigor.
It's reasonable to assume that a Dutch Foreign Ministry under van Bommel would exercise similar vigor in undoing the policies of the previous incumbent, the academic Uri Rosenthal. The son of Holocaust survivors, and the husband of an Israeli citizen, Rosenthal turned The Netherlands into the most pro-Israel and pro-American member state of the European Union. In January 2011, he confronted a liberal church organization, ICCO — described by one leading member of the Dutch Jewish community as behaving like a "state within a state" – over its use of public funds to support the US-based website, Electronic Intifada, as well as a speaking tour by the site's editor, Ali Abunimah, who, like van Bommel, favors the destruction of the state of Israel.
Are we really faced with the prospect of a Dutch government whose policies will include withdrawal from NATO, a boycott of Israel, and support for the anti-austerity movements which have mushroomed in opposition to the EU (an outcome which, incidentally, Margaret Thatcher predicted long ago?) Until last week, the answer was yes. However, the Socialist Party's fortunes have since taken a dive. As Reuters reports from Amsterdam, there is a general consensus that the two victors in a series of televised debates were Marc Rutte, the caretaker prime minister who leads the center-right VVD party, and Diederik Samsom, the leader of the moderate Labor Party, the PvdA. Like the Greeks, the Dutch may have realized that however attractive the politics of opposition may be in times of strife, these cannot be sustained in government.
If the Socialist Party crashes next week, it will be another sign that Europe's leftists have failed to capitalize on the wave of protest that coalesced around the Iraq war a decade ago. At the same time, the key word is "if." On Wednesday night, we'll know whether we can breathe easy.