Amsterdam’s’S city hall, built in the 1980s, sits amid what were once the dense slums of the city’s old Jewish neighbourhood, just off the Jodenbreestraat (“Jew Broad Street”) and across from the stately Portuguese synagogue (pictured). Jews began moving to Amsterdam in the 16th and 17th centuries, fleeing persecution in Iberia and Poland, and they played a crucial role in developing the city’s culture of religious tolerance and political liberalism.
By 1941 they numbered 79,000, a bit under 10% of the population. The city’s Jewish heritage is still heard in its Yiddish-influenced slang, its nickname (Mokum, from the Hebrew “makom”, or place), and the chants of its football fans: the local team, Ajax, is popularly known as “the Jews”. But when Amsterdam holds its city-council election on March 21st, the Jewish vote will be a negligible factor. Three-quarters of the city’s Jews were murdered in the Holocaust, and by 2013 the community had shrunk to under 6,000, less than 1% of the population.
Nevertheless, on March 6th Amsterdam’s Jews scored a big political gain. In a ceremony at the city’s Jewish Cultural Centre, candidates representing all ten significant parties running in the local elections signed an accord promising to honour the concerns of the Jewish community. The parties pledged to respond decisively to anti-Semitic incidents, provide security to Jewish residents and institutions, and ensure that every student in the city is taught the evils of anti-Semitism and the history of the Holocaust. “Nothing like this agreement has been done anywhere else in Europe,” said Ruben Vis, secretary of the NIK, the Dutch umbrella organisation of Jewish communities, which negotiated the accord.