AMSTERDAM – Jewish groups in the Netherlands called Wednesday for swifter punishment for Holocaust deniers as parliament debated how to combat rising anti-Semitism.
Among other measures, a Jewish umbrella organization said it wants Holocaust deniers punished under rules usually reserved for drunk drivers, shoplifters, and football hooligans.
Under the "snelrecht," or "fast justice" policy, police and prosecutors offer offenders a choice immediately after their arrest between a fine or a court appearance within two months.
"I don't understand why it should be difficult for policeman to give a fine directly to perpetrators of these remarks," said Ronny Naftaniel of The Center for Information and Documentation on Israel, or CIDI, in a telephone interview.
He added that he would support the same measure for anti-Moroccan discrimination, which is also on the rise in the Netherlands.
Anti-Semitism has become a hot-button issue as many native Dutch blame anti-Semitism on the country's Muslim minority, while Muslims say there is a double standard and discrimination against those of Moroccan and Turkish ancestry goes unpunished.
A national police report in September found a 48 percent rise in anti-Semitic incidents to 209 in 2009. The same report found that anti-Moroccan incidents rose 17 percent to 103.
After a wave of immigration in the 1990s Muslims make up around 1 million of the country's 16 million population. After being decimated during World War II, the Dutch Jewish population is estimated at 40,000-50,000.
Rising anti-Semitism "can be attributed to the rise of influence of Islam in the Netherlands," said Freedom party member of parliament Joram van Klaveren during the debate. "The more Islam, the more anti-Semitism."
Cora van Nieuwenhuizen, whose VVD party leads the country's ruling conservative coalition, was among several MPs who rejected those remarks.
"It's not your belief that counts, but your behavior," she said.
The exchange reflects the state of politics in the Netherlands.
A popular backlash against Muslim immigrants intensified in 2004 when filmmaker Theo van Gogh was murdered by an Islamic radical of Moroccan descent, over perceived religious insults.
The 2008 European Commission against Racism and Intolerance found that there has been a "dramatic increase in 'Islamophobia' in the Netherlands" since 2001.
In national elections last year, the explicitly anti-Islam Freedom Party finished in third place. It is not part of the country's minority government, but props up the administration by supporting it on key votes in parliament.
Naftaniel of CIDI said his research showed Moroccan youth are disproportionately involved in anti-Semitic incidents targeting "visible" Orthodox Jews. However, he said anti-Jewish remarks on the Internet or in the workplace were usually made by Dutch Christians.
"We have the idea the taboo on anti-Semitism is diminishing," he said.
In one recent high-profile case a Moroccan minor was interviewed by a shock news website saying he thought Jews should be "exterminated."
The Utrecht District Court sentenced him to 40 hours of community service, including 16 at the Anne Frank House.
Last April the same court acquitted Abdoulmouthalib Bouzerda, chairman of the Arab European League, of hate speech charges for publishing a cartoon on its website questioning the reality of the Holocaust.
The group had intended to spur a public discussion about a perceived double standard: that European media are willing to publish cartoons mocking Islam's prophet Muhammad, while cartoons about the Holocaust are taboo.
Van Klaveren of the Freedom party was skeptical about the proposal of "fast justice" for anti-Semitic remarks: His party's leader Geert Wilders is on trial for alleged discriminatory remarks — including some equating Islam with fascism and calling for a ban on the Quran. His trial resumes Monday after a two-month pause.
Holocaust deniers "should be directed to psychiatrists, not judges," Van Klaveren said.
Wednesday's debate frequently referenced remarks by one of the country's most prominent conservative thinkers, Frits Bolkestein, who was quoted in December as having said that "visible" Jews should consider emigrating to Israel or the United States because they have no future in the Netherlands.
He later clarified that those remarks were intended as a warning about the failures of Dutch integration policies to date, not literal advice to Jews.
After the debate, Interior Minister Piet Hein Donner promised to return to parliament later this year with concrete policy proposals.