The Magazine

Mrs. Euro's Mideast Adventure

The "face of Europe" is awfully unattractive.

Feb 3, 2003, Vol. 8, No. 20 • By CLAIRE BERLINSKI
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WIM DUISENBERG, the president of the European Central Bank, is the most powerful man in Europe, at least among men without troops. His decisions affect the economic future of 300 million Europeans; 20 percent of the world's goods and services are produced in the currency zone over which he presides. He is responsible for the success or failure of Europe's monetary union, a project that is at once the essence and the emblem of Europe's renunciation of fratricide and its reinvention as a continent united in peaceful cooperation. A pillar of the European establishment, he is the public face of the euro and, by virtue of this role, the public face of Europe. His nickname, in fact, is Mr. Euro.

Wim Duisenberg's wife, Gretta, is a woman of profound conviction, especially where Israel and the Jews are concerned. On April 13, 2001, demonstrators in Amsterdam took to the streets in support of the Palestinians. Carrying signs equating Ariel Sharon with Hitler, members of the mob--clad as Hamas militants--brandished swastikas, burned Israeli flags, beat a Jewish bystander, and howled for the return of the gas chambers. After marching in the demonstration, Mrs. Euro hung a PLO flag from the balcony of her house in Amsterdam. This elicited concern; the European Central Bank is independent and non-political. "You must hold me responsible for the flag and not Wim," she told journalists. Wim may be the most powerful man in Europe, but it seems he is not the master of his own house.

The Duisenbergs' neighbor, a Jewish physician and member of the city council, asked her to remove the banner. Mrs. Duisenberg refused. The neighbor reports that Mrs. Euro harangued her with a lecture: Israel victimizes the Palestinians because it receives support from "rich American Jews." American presidents, under the thrall of a powerful Jewish lobby, "have to do whatever the Jews want."

In June, Mrs. Duisenberg founded "Stop the Occupation," an organization that calls for the imposition of economic sanctions on Israel. A Dutch radio interviewer asked Mrs. Duisenberg how many signatures she hoped to collect on a petition of support for the group. "Six million," she replied, chuckling heartily at her own joke. Subsequently, she denied the comment's obvious implication: The number six million, she said, just popped unbidden into her head.

In January, she toured the West Bank and Gaza, beginning her trip on the very day 23 people were killed in simultaneous suicide bombings in Tel Aviv. She had "understanding" for the action, she told Dutch television. She placed responsibility for the attack firmly on Ariel Sharon: He has to "stop all that violence." In Ramallah, she met Yasser Arafat. Photographs depict them staring dreamily into each other's eyes; they are holding hands. They appear to be rapturously in love. Mrs. Duisenberg announced to the attendant press corps that Arafat "hates killing"; the Palestinian leader is "absolutely against" suicide bombings: "He even told me that yesterday he prevented two attempts!"

To enter the territories, Mrs. Duisenberg--"Her Excellency," as Arafat obligingly refers to her--used the Dutch diplomatic passport granted to her thanks to her husband's position, provoking a rebuke from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, since diplomatic passports issued to civil servants and their spouses are to be used only on official business. She has dismissed criticism of this abuse of her status as "ludicrous," an attempt to deflect attention from the real issue, Israeli cruelty that "knows no bounds." Speaking in Jenin, she remarked that "this wall that Israel is building, is many times worse than the Berlin wall. It is terrible. It is much higher and goes over land that was taken from the Palestinians." For good measure she added that the Palestinians suffer more under Israeli rule than blacks under Apartheid. Indeed, "with the exception of the Holocaust," she told a Dutch paper, the Israeli occupation "is worse than the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands."