In face of labeling push, Dutch Christians hawking Israeli settlement goods

As a boy, Pieter van Oordt would often accompany his father, Karel, on the elder van Oordt’s weekly shopping excursions specifically seeking out products made in Israel.

A Christian Zionist businessman in Amersfoort, some 25 miles east of Amsterdam, Karel van Oordt sought to strengthen the Jewish state economically by purchasing its exports to feed his family of eight. But it wasn’t easy.

“At the greengrocer, my father asked for Jaffa oranges, but they didn’t offer those,” Pieter van Oordt recalled. “Then at the liquor store, dad asked for Israeli wines. Same reply.”

Four decades later, those Israeli goods and thousands more are available across the Netherlands thanks to the international advocacy group founded by Karel van Oordt in 1979. Pieter and his brother, Roger, have run Christians for Israel since their father’s death in 2013.

Through its own import agency, the Israel Products Center, or IPC, the organization brings in 120,000 bottles of Israeli wine each year, as well as many tons of Dead Sea cosmetics and other merchandise. Most of the products are sold in IPC’s own store, on its website or by a corps of 200 volunteer door-to-door sales agents, a majority of them women.

The effort is unique in Europe, and not only because IPC profits are distributed annually among a small group of shareholders who reinvest the money back into the business. Also because IPC openly promotes the sale of settlement goods, part of a conscious effort to bolster the settler movement and push back against European efforts to distinguish them from goods produced in Israel proper.

Last month, in a letter in the company’s new catalog, Pieter van Oordt, who runs IPC, specifically urged his customers to purchase two brands of wine, dates and olive products produced in the West Bank.

“Now the government wants to say on our products that they’re not from Israel,” said Pieter van Oordt, referring to the adoption in November of EU regulations mandating that goods produced in Israeli settlements are labeled as originating in Palestinian territory. “So we must tell our customers that it’s not true.”

Most IPC customers probably agree with van Oordt. The company’s most dedicated patrons are ideological supporters of the Christians for Israel movement, which is popular among European Protestants who believe it is their religious and moral duty to help Jews return to their ancestral lands.

It was that obligation that led 300 donors to front the money for IPC’s creation by Karel van Oordt in 1980. Since then, the business has grown from something resembling a souvenir stand to a corporation with annual revenues of several million dollars and substantial profits, according to Pieter van Oordt, who declined to provide exact figures.

Those original donors are shareholders now, and the company’s profits flow to them. They “always re-invest in the business or the movement, though they’re free to use the money as they wish,” Pieter van Oordt said.

IPC imports fill an underground storage room the size of three tennis courts in Nijkerk, a sleepy suburb of Amersfoort. The room is stocked with everything from cleaning detergents from Haifa to iconic Israeli foods like Osem soup nuts and exotic merchandise like avocado oil and zaatar spice mix.

IPC’s newest addition is a fully furnished training facility for beauticians, where the only products used come from the Dead Sea. Approximately 500 beauticians train there each year.

Other parts of the Christians for Israel movement have also grown far beyond their humble origins. The group now includes independently run affiliate groups in 30 countries that advocate for Israel and, in some cases, collect money to help with Jewish causes identified by the Dutch headquarters. One of the international offices, in Uganda, doubles as an Israeli embassy whenever the non-resident ambassador needs an office in Kampala.

Still, the movement’s beating heart remains in Holland, Belgium and Germany — the cradle of Protestant Christianity, with its emphasis on the Hebrew Bible. The movement’s Dutch branch has a $6 million annual budget, not including IPC. It is here that hundreds of thousands of dollars are collected for Israeli children at risk from Hamas rockets and needy Israeli Holocaust survivors. In total, the movement and its subdivisions have approximately 30 employees.

The group’s headquarters overlooking a major traffic artery here is housed in a large blue-and-white building with a huge Israeli flag at the entrance and a 36-foot menorah built in 2013 as a symbol of friendship with Dutch Jews.

That friendship is especially strong with Dutch Chief Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs, who is a personal friend of the van Oordts. When Jacobs’ house was attacked for the fifth time in 2014, the rabbi told Roger van Oordt, who immediately brought his family to help clean up the mess. Later this month, the two are leaving for Ukraine, where Christians for Israel is providing assistance to needy Jews.

In Holland’s ultra-secular society, many regard Christians for Israel as fundamentalist for its mix of ardent religiosity and Zionism. Still, Christians for Israel regularly partners with major organs of Dutch Jewry, though these relations are often complicated by disagreements with the community’s liberal-minded leaders.

In 2011, Dutch Jewry’s main pro-Israel advocacy group, CIDI, sat out a major Christians for Israel rally at the parliament building because its banner was “keep Jerusalem united.” CIDI does not rule out a possible territorial compromise in the Israeli capital.

Last year, CIDI and Christians for Israel did cooperate on a rally outside parliament to protest Palestinian incitement during a visit by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. But the following day, CIDI led a delegation of Jewish leaders to speak with Abbas, a move the van Oordts opposed.

“It cuts like a sword in our souls that he is received here with pomp while he oversees a system that incites his countrymen to kill Jews,” Roger van Oordt said of the P.A. leader.

Back at the shop, Pieter van Oordt focuses on a pain that is easier to cure: On his latest trip to Israel, he has discovered a boutique factory near the capital that makes leather shoe inserts “that actually work,” he says.

“The first clients say it’s like walking on a cloud,” Pieter said, “with the added benefit of having Jerusalem at your feet.”

Mideast Solution: A Confederation

The Palestinians and the Israelis seem to agree on one thing: that the other is at fault. Each side wants recognition by the other that they are innocent victims, that the other side
is wrong. Each side demands that the other relinquish crucial aspects of its identity.

In such a situation, the best solution is to concentrate on a pragmatic approach that will benefit both peoples, yet not impinge on the sovereignty of either the Jewish state or its Palestinian counterpart. Such an approach may lay the groundwork for peace, by focusing on joint decision making on non-politically charged issues.

For some time now, the Israel-Palestinian Confederation (IPC) has pursued this option. It believes that one possible solution involves electing a confederation government comprised of Israelis (both Jewish and Arab) and Palestinians.
How exactly would such a confederation work? Approximately 10 million people live in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza: 6 million are Jews, and 4 million are Arabs. Dividing the entire region into 300 districts apportioned by population should result in a legislature divided approximately 60/40 in favor of the Israelis. However, if the relative birth rates of Palestinians to Israelis maintain its current ratio, in the not too distant future, Palestinians will outnumber Israelis.

The legislature will tackle issues that the Israeli and Palestinian governments, for internal political reasons, find difficult to address. The legislature will also deal with the day-to-day quality of life issues where cooperation is required including, but certainly not limited to, locating public facilities such as water lines, highways, schools and hospitals.

To encourage consensus and to prevent the majority from riding roughshod over the minority, confederation legislation requires a supermajority of 60 percent of the 300 delegates and at least 25 percent of the minority on any given vote. The Israeli and Palestinian governments will be given a veto power. To illustrate this point: in a 300-seat legislature, 180 votes are necessary to pass anything. However, if the balance between Israelis and Palestinians is 180 Israelis and 120 Palestinians, if Israeli sponsored legislation is enacted, it would require that of the 180 votes at least 30 came from Palestinians.

This supermajority voting requirement coupled with protections for the minority as well a veto power for the Israeli and Palestinian governments will foster cooperation, since any legislation promoting the national aspirations of one side at the expense of the other will easily be blocked. As a consequence, the representatives will concentrate on initiatives that improve their constituents’ lives.

The IPC believes that confederation legislation reached by consensus will discourage the governments from exercising their vetoes. If legislation has wide popular support among the two peoples, it may be untenable for the one government to veto the legislation without undermining its own legitimacy.

In this sense, a confederation will serve as a bridge between the Palestinian and Israeli governments
Because neither the Israeli government nor the Palestinian Authority is likely to willingly relinquish its monopoly on governance, initially, the Israeli-Palestinian Confederation will have to hold a private election. This also will establish the independence of the body showing that it is not a tool of either the Israelis or the Palestinians.

Direct representation elections for Gaza, Israel and the West Bank is nothing new. Israel has been a functioning parliamentary democracy throughout its existence, and the recent Palestinian elections have been recognized as honest, open and free.

The 300 representatives will not be targets for an extreme or violent group, because members of those groups are motivated by antagonism against their own or the other’s government. These elements believe they can derail the peace process by forcing their respective governments to act aggressively toward the other. A confederation legislature comprised of representatives who do not represent the entire nation will not be considered a threat and any attack on it will not lead to the desired reaction of causing the Israeli or Palestinian governments to lash out.

While there is now no mechanism for the Palestinians and Israelis to solve daily and long term issues for the benefit of both sides, and there are no rules to resolve conflicts when they erupt, the confederation, once effective in demonstrating that Israelis and Palestinians can govern together, will become the de facto authority to establish rules to settle issues, solve problems, and enhance working and living relations between and among the peoples of the region.

At a UCLA symposium held Feb. 26, 2006, Alan Dershowitz surprised many guests with a general approval of a, “Loose confederation, based on the kind that now exists in parts of Europe with economic and other forms of cooperation involving natural resources and water.”

Dershowitz stated that “The Confederation idea is worthy of consideration as long as it does not mean a one state solution.”

He went on to say, “any kind of a Confederation would require that Israel retains its sovereignty, its ability to defend itself, its ability to reflect Jewish culture and history.”

Former President Bill Clinton in a personal letter to this writer was very encouraging of the Confederation idea, perhaps reflecting on his own experience with Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat,
The European Union is a multinational union of independent states. It is an intergovernmental union of 25 states, each maintaining its own government and identity. Ever since its establishment in 1992 the EU conduct an election every five years for the Common European Parliament. The EU manages to maintain a separate common government for all of the 25 states but yet each one of them has its own separate government.

Switzerland has two chambers in the Legislative Branch. The National Council representing the people and the Council of States representing the cantons.

The Swiss National Council has 200 seats with each canton contributing representatives in proportion to its size. The Council of States has two members for each canton and one member for half canton. The Swiss system is meant to create a balance where the small cantons will be protected from the large.

Indeed, the United States and Canada have a similar formula which combines a federal government overlapping with separate state governments. Each of the 50 states has its own constitution and legislative body. However, each state sends two senators and a proportionate number of congressmen depending on its population size to a common federal government.
The idea of a confederation is widely accepted around the world. It is designed to achieve a mechanism of cooperation while preserving the identity and special needs of its states.