Far-Right Dutch Demagogue Geert Wilders Gains Influence in Elections with U.S. Pro-Israel Backing
The Netherlands has its own Donald Trump — in fact, he is even more extreme, and he has carved out a large role in mainstream Dutch politics.
Geert Wilders has in just a few years established himself as one of his country's most influential politicians. In the general election on Wednesday, March 15, Wilders' far-right Party for Freedom came in second place.
The extreme right-wing demagogue insists the white West is at "war" not just with Islamist extremists, but with Islam itself — the world's second-largest religion, with more than 1.6 billion adherents.
He refers to immigrants as "scum," rejects refugees (writing "refugees" in scare quotes, to cast aspersions on their plight), and declares that the only way to save "Western civilization" is not just to deport Muslims, but also to "de-Islamize."
As leader of the Party for Freedom, Wilders openly campaigned on a call for the end to the world's second-largest religion. "Islam and freedom are incompatible," he insisted, writing things like, "The Islamic god is not the greatest but the most develish. No more takbir, no more islam. We choose freedom."
Wilders is part of a larger wave of far-right, anti-Muslim forces rising across the West. And Wilders does not just share their politics; he even shares their looks. Like his other allies in the Western far right — from Donald Trump to Milo Yiannopoulos, from France's Marine Le Pen to her niece Marion MarÃ©chal-Le Pen — Wilders dyes his hair bright blond, in an "Aryan" style.
While Wilders was compared to fascist leaders Benito Mussolini and Adolph Hitler, he enjoyed the glowing support of major pro-Israel donors from the United States and close ties to the Israeli government. In the run up to the Netherlands' election, Wilders' campaign war chest was overflowing with U.S.-based donations.
Leading the center-right Prime Minister Mark Rutte in opinion polls for much of the race, Wilders and his party wound up finishing in a distant second, with 20 seats compared to Rutte's 32.
Though Wilders did not fare as well as he had hoped, he will continue as a key voice in the government's opposition, pushing the country further to the right. Immediately after the election, Wilders declared, "Rutte has not seen the last of me yet!"
As Rob Riemen, a cultural philosopher who has conducted extensive studies of the history of fascism at the Dutch-based Nexis Institute, told AlterNet, "All the hallelujah-mood that Wilders is not the biggest party is just nonsense. No he isn't, but he is now the leading opposition party and will have all the money, space and power that comes with it."
"Next to that," Riemen added, "the center-right parties only won by incorporating most of the agenda and rhetoric of Wilders."
Indeed, the incumbent Dutch prime minister channeled Wilders' anti-immigrant politics into a full page letter published in newspapers and promoted on social media by his right-wing VVD party. “I understand the people who think that if you so fundamentally reject our land, I prefer that you leave,” the letter said. “As it happens I have that feeling too. Act normal or go away.”
Though the left-wing, pro-refugee GreenLeft party nearly quadrupled its seats, the Dutch election results represented a total collapse of the country's center-left, with the social-democratic party losing a whopping 29 seats.
Meanwhile, leaders in the far-right U.S. Islamophobia industry — from which Wilders has long enjoyed support — rejoiced that Wilders "is actually stronger than ever."
The will to power
Wilders had campaigned on a promise to halt all non-Western immigration to the Netherlands and to prevent the building of a single mosque. In a rhetorical wink to his far-right fellow travelers in the U.S., Wilders called on his supporters to "make the Netherlands ours again." At a campaign event in February, he referred to Moroccan migrants as "scum."
Wilders formed the Party for Freedom in 2006. Back then, he tried to tone down his rhetoric to garner mainstream appeal. Pressed in a 2008 interview on BBC's Hardtalk, Wilders conceded that the problem was not Islam as a whole religion, but just Islamist extremists. Yet he cited grossly inflated figures of the number of Islamist extremists based on the writings of Daniel Pipes, a key figure in the U.S. Islamophobia industry.
In the Hardtalk interview, Wilders insisted that Dutch society was built on Christianity and Judaism, which must remain "dominant." He called for Muslim citizens accused of crimes to be stripped of their citizenship and deported, and justified a policy of arresting and deporting Muslim "criminals" without trial by citing the Israeli government's policy of "administrative detention," in which Palestinians are imprisoned for months at a time without any due process.
Since this interview nearly a decade ago, Wilders' already far-right views have gotten even more extreme. And his racism has gotten more and more explicit.
In 2014, we published a guide to the far-right groups that were on the rise in Europe. These extreme-right groups have exploded in popularity since.
In March 2014, prominent members of the Party for Freedom had resigned after Wilders led an anti-Moroccan chant at a rally. "Do you want more or fewer Moroccans in this city and in the Netherlands?" he had asked supporters, who replied by chanting "Fewer! Fewer! Fewer!" Wilders then promised, "We'll take care of that."
Members left the party after the scandal that ensued. But Wilders remained unapologetic. "I have said nothing wrong, I have no regrets, and will apologize for nothing and to nobody," he told local media.
A classical fascist in "populist" clothing?
In 2010, the Dutch philosopher Riemen made waves in his country when he published a polemic called, The Eternal Return of Fascism.
"Geert Wilders and his political Party for Freedom (PVV) are much more than populists," Riemen wrote. "They are prototypes of contemporary fascism. Of course they will never admit that, and they won't wear brown suits or go about saluting. But the fascist mind can be recognised by its vision of society and its political techniques."
In an interview with former Netherlands state broadcaster RNW, Riemen explained, "I don't mean [fascist] as a term of abuse, it's an objective historical judgment. There are numerous parallels between fascism then and now. History is there to learn from and, if we don't, we will make the same mistakes."
Wilders' demagogic tactics recall those used by fascists in the 1920s and 1930s, Riemen noted: "Societal unease is blamed on a single scapegoat: Muslims. He is also an authoritarian, charismatic leader who has little time for democracy."
Wilders and his Party for Freedom differ from classical fascism in several ways. Like many far-right movements in the West today, he adopts right-wing libertarian rhetoric. Yet at the root of this ideology is a glaring double standard: In order to save (white, native) Dutch citizens' freedoms, the freedoms of other (brown, Muslim) residents must be curtailed, even taken away.
Like many far-right figures in the West today, Wilders distances himself from the anti-Semitism of fascism a century ago. He uses similar rhetoric, but demonizes Muslims instead of Jews, blaming Islam for all of the globe's problems. Wilders has likened the Quran to Hitler's manifesto Mein Kampf, and openly insists that "Islam threatens the whole world."
Pro-Israel support from America
Wilders has long had close ties to Israel. He is a staunch supporter of the Israeli government, which he has declared to be "the West's first line of defense" against Islam. "If Jerusalem falls into the hands of the Muslims, Athens and Rome will be next," Wilders insisted in 2010. "Thus, Jerusalem is the main front protecting the West. It is not a conflict over territory but rather an ideological battle, between the mentality of the liberated West and the ideology of Islamic barbarism."
Wilders claims to have formed his views about Muslims during the time he worked on an Israeli cooperative farm in the 1980s. He has, he says, visited the country more than 40 times since, and has met with rightist political allies like Aryeh Eldad, a member of the Israeli Knesset and leader of the far right Hatikvah faction of the National Union Party.
Echoing Israel's far right, Wilders has called for forcibly transferring the Palestinians living in Israel and the occupied West Bank to Jordan and Egypt. On December 5, for instance, Wilders traveled to Israel for a “friendly” meeting with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, then declared at a press conference that Israel should annex the West Bank and set up a Palestinian state in Jordan.
He hopes for the Dutch government to officially name Jordan as Palestine, and seeks to move its Israeli embassy to Jerusalem, in contravention of international law.
Wilders touts his ardent commitment to the Zionist cause during fundraising trips in the U.S. "Mothers in the West can sleep safely because Israeli mothers at night worry about their sons in the army,” he told an audience at an April 2012 fundraiser in New York City. “Their fight is our fight. We should support it.”
The $10,000-per-person event was hosted by the pro-Israel donor that has helped sustain Wilders' political fortunes with her generosity. She is Nina Rosenwald, the founder of the Gatestone Institute, an anti-Muslim outlet that publicizes the writings of figures ranging from pro-Israel super-lawyer Alan Dershowitz to “counter-jihad” propagandist Robert Spencer. A former board member of AIPAC and major backer of Daniel Pipes, Rosenwald is an heir to the Sears Roebuck fortune, which she has plowed into her Rosenwald Family Foundation and disbursed to a who's who of Islamophobic crusaders.
This March, the New York Times reported that the Gatestone Institute had paid for Wilders' flights to and from the U.S. to hold court with Trump and rustle up funds from wealthy donors.
As the Electronic Intifada reported, Wilders' Party for Freedom has also received funding from the David Horowitz Freedom Center, a pass through for far-right donors overseen by the eponymous right-wing provocateur. In 2015, Horowitz's organization contributed $120,000 to Wilders' war chest, a substantial sum for a European political contest. Robert Shillman, another pro-Israel Wilders funder from the US, has previously used Horowitz's foundation to dump money into Islamophobic causes.
Wilders is optimistic. In Trump, he sees hope for a far-right future. During a private event at the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio — a pro-Trump, anti-Muslim, pro-LGBT party organized by then-Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos and featuring Pamela Geller, another key figure in the U.S. Islamophobia industry, as a fellow speaker — Wilders unleashed an anti-Muslim tirade.
"We are at war. Get rid of your political correctness. Islam is the problem," he declared to sustained applause. Claiming migration from the Middle East had turned Europe into "Eurabia," he likened multiculturalism to "suicide."
Before his rapt audience, Wilders concluded, "We have no alternative... We will win this war."
Portrayed in Western media as the big loser in Dutch elections, Wilders has been granted unprecedented power. And if what appears to be an unusually tenuous government coalition collapses, which is considered a likely scenario, Wilders' comic book villain-style vow may come true -- "Rutte has not seen the last of me yet!"