After drubbing by media, ambassador to the Netherlands apologizes for anti-Muslim remarks
By ELI ROSENBERG AND AMAR NADHIR | The Washington Post | Published: January 13, 2018
Embattled U.S. Ambassador to the Netherlands Peter Hoekstra apologized Friday for making unsubstantiated anti-Muslim claims at a conference in 2015, comments that have clouded his early days in his post after reporters confronted him about them.
Hoekstra, a former Republican congressman from Michigan and recent political appointee, made the apology during an interview Friday with De Telegraaf, one of the largest Dutch newspapers, at the end of a particularly rough week for the new ambassador.
"Looking back, I am shocked I said that," he told the newspaper Friday. "It was a wrong statement. It was wrong."
Hoekstra made the remarks in question in 2015 during a conference on terrorism, talking about the supposed "chaos" brought to Europe by immigrants from Islamic countries and repeating a baseless nostrum about so-called "no-go zones" that is popular in right-wing media.
"Chaos in the Netherlands. There are cars being burned. There are politicians that are being burned," Hoekstra said at the time. "With the influx of the Islamic community - and yes, there are no-go zones in the Netherlands. All right? There are no-go zones in France."
Hoekstra said that he couldn't recall what his remark was based on.
"I mixed up countries. I was wrong. I can't recall how that could happen. I know: I was wrong," he said.
It wasn't immediately clear whether Hoekstra's apology extended to the other instances where he had repeated the no-go zone theory during appearances in conservative media, or other baseless remarks he had made about Muslims, such as speculating that 10 to 15 percent of the Muslims in the world - potentially hundreds of millions of people - were radical Islamist militants.
The State Department distanced itself from Hoekstra's remarks Thursday during a briefing in Washington but had declined to call them inaccurate.
"The ambassador made mistakes in 2015," Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Steve Goldstein told reporters. "Those comments were not the position of the State Department, and you will never hear those words from this podium."
The remarks have clouded Hoekstra's early days in the Netherlands, bringing criticism and controversy to the otherwise routine ritual of installing a new ambassador in a closely allied country. The Dutch media in particular has homed in on them, repeatedly questioning Hoekstra to provide the names of the politicians he said were being burned in their country, or retract the statements.
Before Hoekstra's arrival in The Hague in January, he told a Dutch journalist who questioned him that he had never made the statements and that they were "fake news." He later apologized. And during his first news conference with Dutch media at his new residence on Wednesday, his refusal to answer basic questions about the remarks - and the Dutch press corps' tenaciousness as they continued asking about it - drew a strong reaction in the United States.
"This is the Netherlands - you have to answer questions," one reporter said during the tense meeting.
The State Department announced the interview with De Telegraaf on Thursday after it, too, faced questions about Hoekstra's comments.
Hoekstra talked to the newspaper about his performance during the news conference, saying he felt like he had already apologized.
"How many times do I have to say sorry?" he said. The newspaper will publish the full interview Saturday, it said.
Goldstein, also a political appointee of President Donald Trump, had said during a Washington briefing that it was his belief that the ambassador should answer reporters' questions in the future.
"I have advised, as I've advised most people, that when reporters are in front of you, just as you are in front of me, that it's always good to answer questions," he said.