Subproject 2: The Moroccan-Dutch community

Remco Ensel

The first decade of the 21st century has seen numerous anti-Jewish incidents involving Moroccan - second generation - migrants in the Netherlands. Some incidents have received ample attention in the public media, others would have been ignored were it not for the antisemitism monitors.

Incidents and trends

Most widespread are the derogatory uses of the word ‘Jew’ on the internet, the verbal or physical harassment of individuals perceived as Jews in the public domain, and, to a lesser extent, the disturbance of commemorations for the victims of the Holocaust. Included in the incidents are the dissemination of a rap that held a call to kill Jews, the distribution of a booklet on Islamic education which depicted Jews as conspirators, and the utterance on camera of antisemitic slurs because of the killing of ‘our Islamic brothers’ in Palestine. Relatively little attention was devoted to the antisemitic content of the ‘open letter’ that was left behind by the Moroccan-Dutch murderer of Theo van Gogh.

Public debate

Along with the prolongation of incidents, antisemitism involving Moroccan youngsters was  such a hot topic on the political agenda in 2010-2011 that one former politician even went so far as to advise Dutch Jews to leave the country. The incidents and the media attention provoke the question as to whether we are facing an ever more urgent social problem or a surge of moral panic.

A history of Moroccan-Dutch / Jewish relations

To tackle this delicate question, Ensel locates the incidents in a history of Moroccan/Dutch-Jewish relations in the Netherlands from the 1960s to the 21st century. This allows for an understanding of antisemitism that includes incidents and trends as well as similarities and variations over time. As a provisional deduction of a work-in-progress the incidents seem to suggest three frames that invite the expression of antisemitic remarks, stereotypes and the revamping of conspiracy theories.

Leftwing anti-Zionism

From the 1970s onward, secular left-wing migrants from Morocco got involved in collective actions concerning the conflict in the Middle East. Their expressions of solidarity with the Palestinian struggle and their anti-Zionist position coalesced with a growing solidarity movement in the Netherlands. Subsequently Palestinian solidarity was articulated during  the struggle for migrant rights and antiracist activism. The war of 1967 and the first and second intifadas are the main focal points for investigating when and how Israel criticism, anti-Zionism and antisemitism first intersected.

Outsiders and insiders

Second generation adolescents began to gain notoriety in the 1990’s, but it seems that newspapers began to evoke the image of Moroccan young males uttering antisemitic slogans in the streets of Amsterdam only as late as 2000. The stereotype of the Moroccan anti-Jewish ruffian was born. The first of these incidents took place during the second intifada. Further research should disclose whether the incidents, though triggered by events in the Middle East, were also brought about by a collective wish to bring to the foreground a self-image of migrants as deprived outsiders (and Jews as the established privileged).


In the course of the 1990’s, a Muslim faith community emerged in the Dutch public sphere. On the one hand in the media, and through state intervention a discursive category of citizens with an alleged shared set of beliefs and practices materialized. On the other hand, at an earlier stage, adherents of the Islamic faith had begun to establish their own institutions and organizations. There are indications that within these faith communities, long-established anti-Jewish ideas and feelings were transmitted. In the course of the 21st century the global emergence of a radical Islamic antisemitic eschatology affected Dutch antisemitism.

The Holocaust as trope

A recurring trope in acts of antisemitism is the Holocaust, which seems to be in agreement with a more general tendency in the Netherlands to employ imagery and terminology of the Second World War and the Holocaust to comment upon contemporary society.

Conflict Resolution

This project of Moroccan/Dutch-Jewish relations also includes attention for conflict management and reconciliatory frames of mind – such as a nostalgic perspective on the peaceful coexistence of Jews and Muslims in Morocco – and initiatives for conflict regulation – such as the foundation of a Jewish-Moroccan Network in Amsterdam. As another strategy in avoiding essentialising religious and ethnic identities across the Moroccan/Jewish divide, Ensel takes a specific interest in the experiences of Jewish-Moroccans in the Netherlands.


The study is built up from an inventory of incidents involving Moroccan migrants. Further research will be based on archival documentation, audiovisual sources, interviews, observations at meetings and demonstrations, and classroom investigations.