The Weekly Standard, February 2003
WIM DUISENBERG, THE president of the European Central Bank, is the most powerful man in Europe, at least among men without troops. His decisions determine the economic future of three hundred million Europeans; twenty 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 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. She has made this well known. On April 13, demonstrators in Amsterdam took to the street in support of the Palestinians. Carrying signs equating Ariel Sharon with Hitler, members of the mob — clad as Hamas militants — 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 explicitly independent and non-political, and this for very obvious and good reasons. “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 Jews,” American presidents, under the thrall of a powerful Jewish lobby, “have to do whatever the Jews want.” Upon learning of this, the Elders of Zion no doubt consulted the Protocols carefully and noted that they should be controlling the European Central Bank, not some goyische nimrod wed to a Jew-hating gargoyle. One imagines that an immediate action memo was sent to the executive committee.
Sadly, the memo seems to have slipped through the cracks. 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 fine joke. Subsequently, she denied the comment’s obvious implication: The number six million, she said, just popped unbidden into her head. In other words, despite her obvious fascination with the history of the state of Israel, the number “six million” seemed no more significant to her than any other; it did not immediately ring a bell, however dim. In that case, Mrs. Duisenberg, if not an incandescent anti-Semite, is simply the stupidest woman in Europe.
In fairness to Mrs. Duisenberg, the latter case can readily be made. Earlier this month, Mrs. Duisenberg 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 one another’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!” Mrs. Duisenberg had no comment about the Israeli army’s discovery of documents, signed by Arafat, authorizing cash payments to the families of suicide bombers, nor about the money systematically funnelled from the Palestinian Authority to groups such as the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, which plans and executes these attacks. She did not comment on Arafat’s regular encomiums to the suicide bombers — “Oh God, give me martyrdom like this!” As Mrs. Duisenberg surely knows, it is all too easy for innocent comments to be misinterpreted.
To enter the territories, Mrs. Duisenberg — “Her Excellency,” as Arafat obligingly refers to her — used the Dutch diplomatic passport granted to her through 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. By visiting Ramallah under diplomatic protection, she moved from incendiary speech to political action under the official auspices of the Dutch state, an obvious abuse of her accidental status as the wife of the chairman of the European Central Bank. She has dismissed this criticism as “ludicrous,” an attempt to deflect attention from the real issue, the Israeli cruelty that “knows no bounds.” The Israeli occupation, she subsequently remarked, was worse than the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands, exceeding in wickedness the most malevolent regimes in the history of humanity: 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 pathetically under Israeli rule than blacks under Apartheid.
As for her husband? Surely he is cringing in embarrassment, scrambling to distance himself at any cost from this millstone around his neck? Oddly, he is not. In a letter to the Dutch Foreign Minister, the face of Europe wrote that “[a]s my (ECB) position requires, I had stayed out of my wife’s affairs. But I can tell you I support her 100 percent.”
“If I want to speak to Europe,” Henry Kissinger once asked, “what number do I call?” These days, Wim Duisenberg’s number would be as good as any. It is therefore of more than passing concern that Duisenberg’s wife is either a bilious anti-Semite or a congenital idiot, and that the most powerful man in Europe has not only failed to repudiate her comments but has endorsed them. It is a dismaying sign that Mrs. Duisenberg’s remarks and her husband’s approval of them have scarcely been reported in the press, in Europe or the United States, let alone condemned with the vitriol they deserve; it is a sign that a kind of discourse that has been rightfully taboo in Europe since the Second World War is now accepted as a commonplace.
Wim Duisenberg cannot merely shrug his shoulders and intimate with a wink that women will be women: The nascent project of European integration is too important to be associated with this nasty, opportunistic little birdbrain. Mr. Euro must reach down and find a set. He must publicly disassociate himself from his wife. He must shut her up or resign.