Pressed on False Claims About Muslims, U.S. Ambassador Goes Silent
Posted January 11, 2018 3:53 p.m. EST
The new U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands refused on Wednesday to answer questions about his 2015 statement that politicians and cars had been burned by Muslims in the Netherlands, a claim he has not substantiated.
“Do you now reach the conclusion that you were wrong when you stated that politicians and cars were being burned?” a reporter asked the ambassador, Peter Hoekstra, in his first news conference with Dutch journalists. “Was that a wrong remark, was it false?”
“I issued a statement, I expressed my regrets and my apology for the comments that I made,” the ambassador replied. “And I am not revisiting the issue.”
The ambassador, a former Republican congressman from Michigan who was appointed to the position in The Hague by President Donald Trump, had referred in 2015 to “no-go zones,” erroneously suggesting there were Muslim-ruled enclaves in the Netherlands that are outside the government’s control.
Reporters seeking clarification on Wednesday asked him about a half-dozen follow-up questions.
“Are politicians being burned in the Netherlands in the past? Is that something you believe? Yes or no,” one asked.
The ambassador repeated that he did not want to revisit the remarks and that he had expressed his regrets. He then stopped replying, looking silently around the room as journalists continued to question him, according to a video of the event published by The Associated Press.
“Any example of a Dutch politician who is burned in recent years?” one reporter asked.
“This is the Netherlands, you have to answer questions,” another said, as Hoekstra remained silent.
“Please, this is not how it works,” another reporter said.
Hoekstra made the original remarks at a conference hosted by the David Horowitz Freedom Center, a conservative group, where he argued that the “Islamic movement” had plunged Europe into chaos.
“Chaos in the Netherlands. There are cars being burned. There are politicians that are being burned,” Hoekstra said. “And yes, there are no-go zones in the Netherlands.”
The comments were captured on video, but Hoekstra denied ever having made them in an interview last month with Wouter Zwart, a reporter with the Dutch news program Nieuwsuur.
“I didn’t say that. That is actually an incorrect statement,” Hoekstra told Zwart. “Yeah, we would call it fake news.” Shortly after that, in the same interview, Hoekstra denied having used the term “fake news.”
After the interview, Hoekstra, who was born in the Netherlands but moved to the United States as a child, said in a statement that he had “made certain remarks” in 2015 and expressed “regret” for the exchange with Zwart. “Please accept my apology,” he wrote.
Reached for comment Thursday, a State Department spokesman said, “Ambassador Hoekstra has addressed this issue twice. We refer you to his written statement and his press conference.”