Netherlands reportedly bent pension laws to pay citizens living in Israeli settlements

AMSTERDAM (JTA) – The Dutch government made an exception to its pension laws in order to keep paying its citizens living in the West Bank, a Dutch newspaper reported.

The practice, which applies to several dozen Dutch citizens, was revealed in a 4,000-word expose published June 18 in NRC Handelsblad, a prominent daily in the Netherlands. 

The exception is to a 2006 law that limits eligibility to a full, untaxed Dutch state pension to residents of countries with a social security agreement with the Netherlands. Israel has one, but the Dutch government does not recognize the agreement as applying to territory beyond Israel’s pre-1967 borders: the West Bank, Golan Heights and eastern Jerusalem.

Residents of those areas who receive Dutch pensions registered with the Netherlands as living in Israel, but many of them have been informed in recent years that their state pensions will be cut. The cut, however, has not been applied because of intervention by politicians, according to the newspaper.

The Dutch government has taxed or limited pensions paid to residents of other areas internationally viewed as occupied, including Western Sahara and eastern Cyprus.

Lodewijk Ascher, a deputy prime minister and minister of social affairs and employment, in 2013 instructed the SVB, the organization that implements national insurance plans in the Netherlands, to keep paying state pensions to Jewish West Bank residents who applied for them before 2015.

He has said the exception was made because the legal status of pension recipients in the West Bank was unclear and the Dutch state did not do enough to explain its position. Attempts by his office to broaden the language of the pension agreement with Israel to areas controlled by the nation were met with resistance by the Foreign Affairs Ministry, where one member said it could only apply to the area’s “original population,” meaning the Palestinians, NRC reported.

The SVB published a notice on its website advertising the slashing of state pensions for West Bank residents as of 2015.

But last year, Ascher instructed authorities to restore the pension benefits of a 90-year-old Holocaust survivor from the West Bank, who moved there after 2015 and had her state pension cut, NRC reported. He again cited lack of clarity amid the intensive media coverage of her case. The SVB subsequently pulled the notice offline.

Following the NRC publication, several lawmakers said they wanted Ascher to explain the current policy on state pension recipients in the West Bank.

“Everything connected to Israel is sensitive in the Netherlands,” according to the article’s authors, Derk Stokmans and Leonie van Nierop. “Shame about the Holocaust plays a role here and discomfort with Israel’s actions against Palestinians in occupied territory. In addition, a majority in parliament supports Israel unconditionally, while support for Israel decreases in the population.”

Three-quarters of Dutch Jewry died in the Holocaust.

Last week, a motion opposing separate labelling for West Bank products failed in the Dutch parliament, with only 69 out of 150 Dutch lawmakers voting for it. A majority of lawmakers voted in favor of a nonbinding motion urging their government to deny public funding to organizations calling for a boycott against Israel.

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