From Dutch situation room, pro-Israel volunteers defend Jewish state on social media
Israeli Ambassador to the Netherlands Haim Divon nodded approvingly as he surveyed the small army of 50 men and women fighting for Israel.
Around a conference table in an office in the Amsterdam suburb of Buitenveldert, 30 volunteers were writing and collecting pro-Israel materials and transferring them to an editor who posted them on social networks.
Nearby, the graphics department churned out glossy logos and catchy memes that compared weather forecasts from London — partly cloudy with a chance of light showers — to that of Tel Aviv: Rocket volley with a chance of death.
This was not Divon’s operation. In fact, he and other embassy staff were making only their first visit to the situation room set up by Jewish and Christian volunteers to counter anti-Israel rhetoric online. Community leaders say the effort is unparalleled in Europe and a testament to the vibrancy of Dutch Jewry.
“What you have done here is amazing,” Divon told the group. “I think this is unique in Europe and this is exactly what we need to give us enough time to accomplish what we need in order to ensure the safety of the people of Israel.”
The volunteers at the Buitenveldert situation room began working last week out of the the cafeteria of the local Jewish Cultural Center, which they converted into a space where 80 people can work in two 14-hour shifts each day. The volunteers have created hundreds of posts and articles on Israel, which they disseminate through the Holland4Israel Facebook group and on Twitter, among other social networks.
“The idea is to empower pro-Israel advocates who used to work out of their student apartments by giving them a community framework, interaction and facilities,” said Ron Eisenmann, a former community leader from Amsterdam who spearheaded the project with Rabbi Yanki Jacobs, director of the Dutch branch of the Chabad on Campus network, and Christians for Israel, an international network of Christian Zionists.
For some participants, the situation room is the only place outside their homes where they can express support of Israel without rebuke. After one of her classmates posted on Facebook that “f—–g Zionists are something that every Jew should be ashamed of,” one Jewish student decided she needed to be more discreet about her views.
“Most of my friends are left-wing non-Jews, so I knew they were no big fans of Israel,” said Naomi, a student in her 20s from an eastern Holland city with few Jews, who asked to be identified only by her first name. “But I was shocked by their attacks on me because of my comments online about Israel’s right to defend itself.”
Support for the Palestinian cause is strong in the Netherlands, which has seen a string of efforts to divest from Israel over its policies in the West Bank and Gaza. Earlier this month, Muslim demonstrators twice chanted menacing calls about Jews at rallies in The Hague. Separately, unidentified individuals smashed the windows of the home of a chief rabbi, the fifth attack on his residence in recent years.
But the kingdom is also home to one of Europe’s most active pro-Israel communities, led by the Center for Information and Documentation on Israel, or CIDI. The 40-year-old organization with 10 professional staffers, an online television channel and two research departments has given the Netherlands’ small Jewish community of 40,000 an outsized voice on Israel affairs unequaled by similarly sized communities elsewhere in Europe.
But it is the support of Christian Zionists that gives Holland’s well-organized Jewish community an extra push in its public diplomacy efforts, according to Binyomin Jacobs, the rabbi whose home was attacked.
“The supporters of Israel from Christians for Israel are an enormous help and an important element to the Jewish story here,” said Jacobs.
Representing hundreds of thousands of people in dozens of countries, Christians for Israel was founded in the Netherlands in 1979. Its international headquarters is still located in the town of Nijkerk, near Amsterdam.
Recently, the group launched several campaigns against PGGM, a major pension firm that divested from Israeli companies, and against several supermarket chains that reportedly agreed to boycott settlement goods. The markets denied they had made such a decision amid protests led predominantly by Christians.
Christians for Israel’s contribution to the pro-Israel effort during the current Gaza crisis was evident at a July 19 demonstration, where approximately 1,000 people — many draped in Israeli flags — packed Amsterdam’s Dam Square.
“I was surprised at how many Jews showed up,” said Sergiusz Licpyz, an Israeli living in Amsterdam. “They sang Hebrew songs and completely dwarfed the counter-demonstration of 30 pro-Palestinians, who ended up looking quite pathetic. I think they were also surprised.”
About 75 percent of the participants were Christians, according to David Serphos, a former Jewish community leader who helped set up the situation room with Eisenmann.
“Thank God for Christians for Israel because without them, that demonstration would have been different,” Serphos said.
Back at the situation room, Timo Erkelens of Christians for Israel’s youth group, Israelity, describes his involvement as a form of compensation for “all the horrible things” that befell Dutch Jewry. The Holocaust wiped out 75 percent of the community, the highest death rate in all of Nazi-occupied Western Europe.
“We are here to change the record,” Erkelens said.