Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
October 14, 2015

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Executive SummaryShare    

The constitution protects freedom of religion, including the freedom to change religious beliefs. It is a crime to engage in public speech inciting religious hatred. A February decision by parliament eliminated the blasphemy law without replacement. Following an increase in anti-Semitic incidents during the conflict in Gaza, the government issued a statement rejecting anti-Semitism and met with the Jewish community to discuss additional measures and programs to counter anti-Semitism. Local governments provided supplemental security resources to protect Jewish institutions.

In July during the conflict in Gaza, the government-sponsored Independent Registration Center for Discrimination on the Internet (MDI) recorded the highest spike in anti-Semitic incidents in its history. Anti-Semitic expressions by certain groups continued at public rallies and events. According to the most recent data available from the Netherlands Institute for Social Research (NISR), at least two out of every three Muslims experienced discrimination. A parliamentary opposition leader continued to speak out against Islam and was under investigation for reportedly violating hate speech laws. A variety of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) conducted programs to counter prejudice against Jews and other minorities.

The U.S. embassy and consulate general pursued public outreach to youth, academics, and women to increase interfaith understanding. The Ambassador discussed incidents of anti-Semitism with Jewish leaders and continued to work with groups combating discrimination, including The Anne Frank House. The U.S. special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism and the special representative to Muslim communities each held meetings with community leaders to support religious tolerance.

Section I. Religious DemographyShare    

The U.S. government estimates the population at 16.9 million (July 2014 estimate).

In a 2014 survey of Statistics Netherlands (CBS), 48 percent of the population declared no church affiliation, 25 percent self-identified as Roman Catholic, 16 percent as Protestant, 5 percent as Muslim, and 6 percent as “other,” including Hindu, Jewish, and Buddhist.

A 2009 CBS report (the latest survey available) estimated the number of Muslims at approximately 850,000. Most Muslims live in urban areas and are of Turkish, Moroccan, or Surinamese background. The Muslim population also includes immigrants and asylum seekers from Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Syria, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Stephen Roth Institute and the Council of Europe estimate the number of Jews at approximately 30,000. A 2008 report of the Scientific Council for Government Policy identified a Hindu population of between 100,000 and 215,000, of whom approximately 85 percent are of Surinamese and 10 percent of Indian descent. The Buddhist community has approximately 17,000 members, according to a 2007 report by the NISR, the latest estimate available.

Section II. Status of Government Respect for Religious FreedomShare    

Legal Framework

The constitution protects freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, including the freedom to change religious beliefs or convictions, as well as the freedom to practice religion or convictions publicly. The constitution allows the government to restrict the exercise of religious beliefs on specific grounds, such as concern for health hazards, traffic safety, or risk of public disorder.

The constitution states all citizens shall be treated equally and discrimination on the grounds of religion is not permitted. It is a crime to engage in public speech that incites religious hatred. The government regularly prosecutes cases falling under this statute. The legal statute requires offensive statements to be directed at a group of people; statements targeted at a philosophy or religion, such as “Islam” as opposed to “Muslims,” are not criminal hate speech under the law.

The law permits employees to refuse to work on Sundays for religious reasons, but employers may deny employees such an exception, depending on the nature of the work, such as employment in the health sector. Believers of other religions may apply for similar exemptions.

A February decision by parliament eliminated and did not replace the blasphemy law, which had been on the books since the 1930s.

Religious groups are not required to register with the government, but the government recognizes religious groups and grants them certain rights and privileges, including tax exemptions, if they meet specific criteria. For example, under the tax law, institutions must be “of a philosophical or religious nature,” contribute to the general welfare of society, and be non-profit and non-violent to qualify for tax exemptions.

Government Practices

The government responded to an increase in anti-Semitic incidents during the conflict in Gaza by issuing public statements rejecting anti-Semitism and taking additional measures to protect Jewish institutions. The government prosecuted cases involving hate speech, urged individuals to report cases of discrimination based on religion, and limited efforts to restrict the wearing of headscarves.

Following an increase in anti-Semitic incidents during the conflict in Gaza, the government issued a statement saying it rejected “anti-Semitism and any form of discrimination” in the Netherlands. It pledged to “take all available measures to counter anti-Semitism and to protect minorities.” Local governments provided supplemental security resources to protect Jewish institutions. On May 27, Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans condemned the rise of anti-Semitism and xenophobia in Europe, calling anti-Semitism “one of the darkest corners of the European soul.”

Government ministers met with the Jewish community to discuss supplemental measures to counter anti-Semitism. The government organized several roundtables at the regional and local level, including in Amsterdam and Rotterdam, focusing on combating prejudice and anti-Semitism among youth. The government also continued to sponsor the Jewish Moroccan Network Amsterdam, which sought to reduce tensions between Jews and Muslims of Moroccan descent. The MDI started a “counter-speech” campaign on the internet to repudiate online anti-Semitic allegations and Holocaust denial.

The government prosecuted cases involving public speech that incited religious hatred. On December 3, a man stood trial in Amsterdam for placing discriminatory statements about Jews and inciting hatred on his website and on social media. He was later acquitted for reasons of mental defect.

On July 14, the Amsterdam Appellate Court convicted a man for painting anti-Muslim discriminatory texts on an apartment building and sentenced him to 50 hours of community service.

The public prosecutor’s National Discrimination Expertise Center registered 88 new offenses in 2013, the latest year for which data was available. Of these, 39 percent were related to religion (all of those against Jews). In 2013, officials resolved 89 newly registered or previously registered offenses, brought 48 indictments, obtained 64 convictions, and settled four cases out of court.

A number of official institutions reviewed possible religious discrimination, including the Council of State and the Netherlands Institute for Human Rights (NIHR), both national-level bodies. The Council of State provided non-binding, advisory opinions on draft government legislation before submission to parliament. The NIHR provided periodic advice to the government on issues involving religious discrimination.

Anti-discrimination boards worked independently at the municipal level, under the auspices of the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations. These local boards provided information on how to register and report complaints. They mediated disputes and worked with synagogues and mosques to provide additional security, if needed. The government used newspaper advertisements, internet outreach, and public service announcements to encourage victims to report religious discrimination. Local authorities engaged with local NGOs as they implemented a Ministry of the Interior national action plan to combat discrimination, particularly anti-Semitism.

The NIHR and municipal antidiscrimination boards addressed the question of wearing headscarves in schools and places of employment, ruling on individual complaints. The rulings generally held that any restriction on wearing headscarves should be limited and based on security or other carefully delineated grounds pertaining to the nature of the work. In practice, headscarves were permitted almost everywhere, including in schools.

The government provided funding to religious schools, other religious educational institutions, and religious healthcare facilities. To qualify for funding, institutions had to meet government educational standards and minimum class size and healthcare requirements.

The government reiterated the importance of Holocaust education, mandating its inclusion in curricula, but allowed schools to design their own approach to the subject, which critics felt resulted in insufficient coverage. The social affairs ministry conducted a pilot program to better prepare teachers to teach about the Holocaust following reports from NGOs that teachers in some Muslim school districts felt too afraid to cover the Holocaust curriculum.

The government subsidized universities that provided training for those interested in becoming imams. The government required all imams and other spiritual leaders recruited in Islamic countries to complete a year-long integration course before practicing. The government permitted the Diyanet, Turkey’s religious affairs directorate, to appoint imams for most of the approximately 200 Turkish Muslim mosques.

The government is a member of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.

Section III. Status of Societal Respect for Religious FreedomShare    

Anti-Semitic incidents increased during the year, particularly in July following the conflict in Gaza. These incidents included an attack on a rabbi’s house in Amersfoort, a Molotov cocktail thrown at an apartment showing an Israeli flag, and an assault on a Jewish woman in Amsterdam.

A January report by the NISR said an overwhelming number of Muslims experienced discrimination, with at least two of every three Muslims reporting at least one incident in 2013, the most recent year for which data was available. Twenty-two percent said they were harassed in the street and seven percent were confronted with threats and violence. Incidents involved intimidation, brawls, and job discrimination. On April 9, in Eindhoven, two men tore a niqab off a veiled woman and reportedly physically assaulted her. Justice Minister Opstelten called this incident “unacceptable.”

The leader of the populist Freedom Party (PVV), opposition parliamentarian Geert Wilders, continued to speak out against Islam in public speeches and on social media. In April Wilders, who said he wanted to “free people from the yoke of Islam,” distributed stickers showing the Saudi flag on which the creed was substituted by a text in Arabic that said: "Islam is a lie. Mohammed is a scoundrel. The Quran is poison.” Wilders also made an anti-Islamic and anti-immigrant speech at a March election event and incited his supporters to chant in favor of “Fewer, Fewer, Fewer” Moroccans. On December 18, the Hague Prosecutor’s Office announced it would prosecute Wilders for his March statements against Moroccans that violated hate speech laws.

The government distanced itself from Wilders’ anti-Islamic statements, with Deputy Prime Minister Lodewijk Asscher saying Wilders’ Saudi flag sticker campaign was a “repulsive campaign with the sole aim of offending.” On November 28, Asscher rejected the PVV’s call in parliament for the closure of all mosques in the country as contrary to the constitution, and said the PVV was suggesting denying Muslims the same rights granted to other citizens.

Public expressions of anti-Semitism continued. During two rallies in The Hague, protestors carried black flags representing the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant and shouted anti-Jewish statements in Arabic including “Death to the Jews.”

At soccer matches involving the Amsterdam-based Ajax soccer team, whose fans had previously adopted “Jewish” symbols, fans of opposing teams used anti-Jewish slurs during games. The Combat Anti-Semitism Foundation tried, but failed, in June to obtain a court order against the Royal Netherlands Soccer Association (KNVB) to stop matches when anti-Jewish chanting occurred. The court suggested the foundation and KNVB work out a settlement to counter undesired chanting.

During the first two weeks of the Gaza conflict, the MDI received 122 complaints with 412 expressions of anti-Semitism, the highest number of reports of anti-Semitism recorded in MDI’s 17-year history. In the past, MDI typically received four to five complaints a week. Incidents rose on both right-wing and mainstream websites. The Center for Information and Documentation on Israel (CIDI) registered 105 incidents between June 15 and September 20, including physical confrontations with unknown persons and incidents on Twitter. CIDI indicated individuals of Middle Eastern descent made up most of the perpetrators of anti-Semitic incidents. This differed from statistics in past years, when the majority of the perpetrators were “native Dutch.”

One online video showed a young, Hague-based Muslim shooting a gun while stating Jews should be shot; Jewish leaders saw it as a precursor to a real shooting. Jewish community members reported hiding their religious identity due to fear of physical violence. Some said they removed symbols from their homes identifying them as Jewish. The man in the video was convicted November 19 and sentenced to 60 days imprisonment, of which 44 days were suspended.

Following the conflict in Gaza, approximately 100 leading figures from the media, society, academia, culture, and civil society, including many political party members and former government officials, signed a full-page announcement in the Telegraaf newspaper that said, “No Excuses for Hatred of Jews.”

CIDI statistics for 2013, the latest available year, indicated a rise in anti-Semitic statements on social media by teenagers, some of whom were Muslim immigrant youth, but the majority of whom were ethnic Dutch. Anti-Semitic statements constituted 27 percent (the highest number) of the internet hate speech incidents recorded by MDI during the same period. MDI referred two cases to the prosecutor’s office. MDI recorded 74 cases involving Holocaust denial.

The MDI recorded 233 incidents of anti-Muslim hate speech on the internet in 2013, the latest year for which data was available, the second highest category of complaints after anti-Semitic comments.

In October the Liberal Jewish Community (LJG) and some church members said a photo exhibition in the Utrecht Dom Church showing Palestinian children in Israeli prisons could incite anti-Semitism. The LJG asked the church board to remove the photos but the request was denied. The board said it believed visitors were capable of distinguishing between the state of Israel and the Jewish people.

According to a report from the justice ministry, two-thirds of mosques in the country had experienced arson, threats, smashed windows, or vandalism. In some cases, remains of pigs or sheep were deposited on doorsteps.

CIDI continued to conduct programs to counter prejudice against Jews and other minorities in schools. The Intercultural Alliance Foundation, which includes Muslim and Jewish groups, continued to develop programs for use in schools highlighting religious belief and diversity. These included the “Classroom of Difference” program to train teachers in handling discrimination, and the peer training program to train participants to engage students in debates on tolerance. CIDI worked closely with the police and organized workshops to help police recognize anti-Semitism.

The LJG of Amsterdam continued to reach out to youth in the “Get to Know Your Neighbors” project, which brought students into its synagogue to show what a temple looked like and explained Jewish practices. On September 10, Deputy Prime Minister Asscher announced the Ministry of Social Affairs would help sponsor the expansion of the program to synagogues in three other municipalities. Statistics gathered by the Liberal Jewish Synagogue showed the program positively increased tolerance and understanding of the Jewish culture by participants, most significantly among Muslims and immigrant youth.

Other NGO initiatives included the Shabbat-Shalom program in Amsterdam to connect Muslims and Jews, and the Mo-Moos initiative (short for Mohammed and Moshe) which brought 20 professional Muslims and Jews together to encourage leadership on interfaith issues.

Section IV. U.S. Government PolicyShare    

The U.S. Ambassador and embassy officers emphasized in conversations with government officials the value of embracing diversity. The embassy and consulate general pursued outreach to youth, academics, and women, highlighting the need for religious tolerance and interfaith understanding.

The Ambassador held an interfaith lunch with representatives from the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim faiths to discuss religious issues, including the increase of anti-Semitic incidents. Prior to this he had a separate lunch with Jewish leaders to discuss anti-Semitic incidents, their causes, and ways in which the situation could be improved. At a summer event for Humanity in Action fellows, a program dedicated to reducing discrimination, the Ambassador spoke on the importance of teaching tolerance between various religious and ethnic groups. The Consul General hosted a Thanksgiving service that focused on interfaith understanding and dialogue. The Ambassador and the Consul General continued to work with groups active in anti-discrimination work in the country, including The Anne Frank House.

Representatives from the embassy and consulate general met with a wide range of religious leaders during the year in an effort to highlight U.S. support for religious freedom. These meetings included discussions with Jewish, Muslim, and Christian leaders about their perception of religion freedom within the country, issues of religious discrimination, and possible solutions. The meetings included representatives from different denominations within the three faiths. The consulate general staff frequently met with an Amsterdam-based, youth-focused program run by both a Muslim and a rabbi that helped young Muslims expand their knowledge about the Jewish experience in an effort to reduce discrimination.

The U.S. special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism visited the country twice, speaking with a wide range of interlocutors, including Jewish leaders, government officials, and NGOs to discuss the surge in anti-Semitism, the government’s response, and possible solutions. The U.S. special representative to Muslim communities also visited and met with Muslim leaders to discuss religious tolerance as well as the challenges facing young Muslims due to unemployment and discrimination.