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|Gretta Duisenberg's Mideast tour causes a
|Gregory Crouch The New York
Friday, January 10, 2003
NIJMEGEN, the Netherlands Here and abroad,
some Palestinians treat Gretta Duisenberg like a queen. Yasser
Arafat refers to Duisenberg as Her Excellency.
She is not a
queen and her husband, Wim Duisenberg, is not a king or a prince. He
is president of the European Central Bank and the political activism
of his wife for Palestinian causes has created a royal problem for
him and for their country, the Netherlands.
and her husband were taken to task this week by the center-right
coalition government after it was learned that she used a Dutch
diplomatic passport to enter Israel and the West Bank on a tour that
included a meeting on Wednesday with Arafat.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs said diplomatic passports issued to
civil servants and their spouses should be used only on official
business. One Dutch politician has called on the government to
rescind the wife's diplomatic privileges. Asked to comment, she
dismissed the suggestion as "ludicrous" nitpicking.
passport flap is just the latest episode in Duisenberg's highly
publicized, pro-Palestinian campaign as chairwoman of a private
Dutch group called Stop the Occupation.
death threats aimed at the couple and accusations of anti-Semitism
made against her, Duisenberg's efforts have raised questions about
whether she is compromising her husband's political
"It happens to be that I'm the wife of Mr.
Duisenberg and I have been for 17 years," she said. "Why should I
pretend to be someone else? Should I suddenly change my
Duisenberg has steadfastly defended his wife's right
to her own opinion, including this week in an e-mail message to the
Ministry of Foreign Affairs in reference to the passport fracas. "I
stand 100 percent behind her," he wrote. Manfred Koerber, a
spokesman at the European Central Bank, said the phrase should not
be misconstrued as an endorsement of the wife's politics. Duisenberg
has neither advocated nor condoned his wife's stances, Koerber
"I am not her property," Duisenberg said in a
television interview, "and she is not my property."
first drew attention last April after she draped a Palestinian flag
over a balcony outside the couple's Amsterdam home. "That came
straight from my heart because I wanted to show what my feelings
were," she said. That display in turn led to a speech at a rally and
petitions along with contributions to a pro-Palestinian Web
Some Jewish groups were outraged several months ago
after a radio interview she gave. The reporter asked her how many
signatures she intended to collect for a pro-Palestinian petition.
She paused, laughed and then responded, "Six million?"
saw this a reference to Jewish Holocaust victims and she was taken
to court, accused of making an anti-Semitic remark. The Dutch public
prosecutor's office refused last month to take on the
Duisenberg said Wednesday that she and her associates
had already collected 6,000 signatures when the reporter asked her
how many more she would like to get.
"The 6,000 were still in
my head and I said, 'Well, six million.' We laughed because it was a
ridiculous amount of signatures," she said.
"I'm not an
anti-Semite," she added. "If I were that, I'd be against Jews in
general and I'm not.
"I'm against Sharon and what his
government is doing," she added, referring to Prime Minister Ariel
Sharon of Israel. "That's all."
Her opinions have provoked
strong reactions in some quarters: a Dutch television personality
draped an Israeli flag the size of a football field over the
This week, Duisenberg generated controversy
again when a few comments she made were perceived by some as
supporting Palestinian suicide bombers, a charge she denied. Prime
Minister Jan Peter Balkenende called her comments a completely false
signal, coming as they did so quickly after another suicide bombing
attack. But in her meeting with Arafat on Wednesday, Duisenberg said
she had been the first to broach the subject of suicide bombers. "I
asked him," she said, "how he felt about suicide bombings. I
condemned them and so did he.
"We want peace for both
countries," she added, referring to Israel and a possible future
© 2003 The International Herald Tribune