Staatsssecretaris Ploeg luistert naar de vragen van Kamerleden over zijn opmerkingen over de Anne Frank Stichting.
Staatsssecretaris Ploeg luistert naar de vragen van Kamerleden over zijn opmerkingen over de Anne Frank Stichting.

The Ploeg Affair: moral panic in the shadow of Janmaat

In the blog series 'Walks through the Acts', researchers from the Centre for Parliamentary History (CPG) take you through their research into the Lubbers period. This time, Fons Meijer writes about the Ploeg affair.

Fons Meijer

In late 1984, Agriculture Secretary Ad Ploeg caused quite a stir with bold statements about the Anne Frank Foundation. The case eventually fizzled out, but the moral panic that broke out in the House of Representatives illustrates the fear that gripped the political debate on racism and discrimination during the 1980s.

Anti-racist consensus

Fighting racism and discrimination was high on the political agenda in the 1980s. This had everything to do with the growing support for radical and far-right ideas at the time, as evidenced by the seat won by Hans Janmaat's openly xenophobic Centrumpartij in the House of Representatives elections in September 1982, much to the dismay of many. Racist incidents against foreign workers and migrants from the (former) colonies increasingly attracted attention, with the murder of the Antillean boy Kerwin Lucas (called 'Duinmeijer' in the media at the time) in August 1983 as the most high-profile example.[1] In politics, an almost Chamber-wide anti-racist consensus emerged from parties that wanted to distance themselves from xenophobic ideas in general, and from Janmaat in particular.

'A cryptocommunist organisation'

In late 1984, this consensus was unexpectedly put under pressure from the political centre by VVD member Ad Ploeg. As a member of parliament in the 1970s, this moustached off-duty lieutenant became a prominent Member of Parliament as a supporter of a firm, anti-communist defence policy. Both in 1977 and 1982, he missed out on a state secretariat of defence because of his outspoken views on nuclear armament. To the surprise of many, he was appointed the new secretary of state for agriculture and fisheries in 1982. Jokingly, journalists at the time remarked that there was only one thing that made him suitable for the job, and that was his surname.

On 24 November 1984, Vrij Nederland published an extensive interview with Ploeg, for which journalists Joop van Tijn and Max van Weezel had spoken to him for a total of almost 12 hours at his pied-à-terre in Scheveningen. Some bold remarks at the end of the interview caused a stir. He was not very diplomatic about the resistance from orthodox Jewish circles to his plans to restrict ritual slaughter, for instance: "I'm not the person to say: what a Jewish area, but you would be amazed at the reactions we have received". He commented about the un-anaesthetised slaughter of animals by Turks, saying: "You have these little balconies over there that ooze blood."

When the conversation turned to the topic of the Oud-Strijders Legioen (Veterans Legion), a right-conservative, anti-communist club of former soldiers where Ploeg regularly made an appearance, Ploeg was ready to assert himself. He lashed out at left-wing groups that he felt placed the Legion too much in the extreme-right corner: "There are also a few figures in those anti-fascism committees and also in the Anne Frank Foundation who have a lot to say. The Anne Frank Foundation is in danger of becoming a cryptocommunist organisation.[2]

Ploeg struck a particularly sensitive chord with this last statement. The Anne Frank Foundation was established in 1957 to preserve the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, but it was also engaged in the fight against anti-Semitism and racism. For this work, the organisation was held in high esteem in The Hague. The cabinet even considered the organisation an important co-implementer of government policy on promoting tolerance between majorities and minorities. Ploeg's own party also held this view. Just days before the interview appeared, the VVD had tabled an amendment with the PvdA to ensure that an announced cutback on the foundation was reversed. It was also significant that similar suspicions about communist affiliations at the organisation had until then been formulated mainly by far-right people, for example by Joop Zwart, the press chief of the far-right widow Rost van Tonningen.[3]

State Secretary Ploeg listens to MPs' questions about his comments on the Anne Frank Foundation. Photo: Rob Bogaerts/Anefo
State Secretary Ploeg listens to MPs' questions about his comments on the Anne Frank Foundation. Photo: Rob Bogaerts/Anefo

An explanation in the House of Representatives

Ploeg was immediately called to explain the situation to the House of Representatives. During Question Time on Tuesday 27 November, the left-wing parties, as well as the CDA and D66, asked Ploeg to account for his statements in the interview. Ploeg wanted to acknowledge that his statements about Jews and Muslims were hurtful. He believed that these words were never intended for publication and had been put in his mouth by the interviewers, which was later denied by Van Tijn and Van Weezel.[4] In contrast, Ploeg did not want to take back his statements about the Anne Frank Foundation. He reiterated his opinion that he had heard from reliable sources that the foundation had degenerated into a 'politicised action group', which was too preoccupied with 'selective indignation'.

The House did not leave it here. A day later, during the Welfare, Public Health and Culture budget debate, CPN member Ernsting, together with PvdA, CDA, PPR and PSP, tabled a motion arguing that Ploeg's statements had "cast a stain on the reputation and activities" of the Anne Frank Foundation, while these were "of great importance for taking action against issues of racism and fascism and anti-Semitism". The motion was eventually supported by a large majority of the House. Of the major parties, only the VVD kept its distance. Although several Liberal MPs were in favour of the motion in principle, at the same time they did not want to attack their party colleague.

Under guardianship

Meanwhile, Ploeg continued to dig deeper. After an interview with the Algemeen Dagblad in which he once again repeated his suspicions, a broad parliamentary majority (PvdA, CDA, D66, PPR, PSP, GPV, EPP and the Scholten/Dijkman group) now turned to Prime Minister Ruud Lubbers. Could he not call his secretary of state to order? The Anne Frank Foundation had also had enough. In a statement, the board demanded full public compensation and invited the state secretary for a meeting.

However, it did not come to this as Lubbers responded to the House's request by placing Ploeg more or less under guardianship a day later. Ploeg would no longer comment on matters for which he was not responsible as minister. This meant that Lubbers and Elco Brinkman (the minister responsible for the Anne Frank Foundation's subsidies) entered into talks with the Anne Frank Foundation's board and management. During this meeting, the two let it be known on behalf of the cabinet - and therefore also on behalf of Ploeg - that they regretted and considered Ploeg's remarks wrong and expressed their appreciation for the foundation's work.

Prime Minister Lubbers and Minister Brinkman visiting the Anne Frank House. Photo: Rob Bogaerts/Anefo
Prime Minister Lubbers and Minister Brinkman visiting the Anne Frank House. Photo: Rob Bogaerts/Anefo

Moral panic

The riot surrounding State Secretary Ploeg cannot be seen separately from the anti-racist consensus that existed in The Hague in the 1980s. In those years, the Anne Frank Foundation was a visible exponent of the fight against discrimination and, moreover, openly confronted the racism of Janmaat and the Centre Party.[5] The suspicions Ploeg expressed towards the foundation aroused fears in the House of Representatives that he was violating norms and values by doing so. This moral panic manifested itself in the fact that MPs did not merely disagree with his remarks, but seemed particularly concerned that Ploeg was axing the political and social unity that evidently existed around the issue of anti-discrimination. Could this criticism, voiced from the centre of political power, perhaps play into Janmaat's thinking? The sentiment communicated by Ploeg therefore had to be quashed as soon as possible, which Lubbers eventually did.

Defending the foundation also had a symbolic function for the House, showing that they could express how much importance they attached to fighting intolerance. It was CDA spokesman Jan Krajenbrink who expressed this most clearly: "Combating racism is rightly an important issue in government policy. In that context, the Anne Frank Foundation plays an important role, valued by the House of Representatives, which we underline here once again."

Literature reference

[1] Rob Witte, Al eeuwenlang een gastvrij volk. Racistisch geweld en overheidsreacties in Nederland (Amsterdam 2010) p. 75-96.

[2] J. van Tijn en Max van Weezel, ‘Praten over snoekbaars, dromen van Defensie’, Vrij Nederland, 24 november 1984

[3] Anet Bleich, ‘Ploeg en de Anne Frankstichting: “Misschien een toastje kaviaar”’, Groene Amsterdammer, 5 december 1984.

[4] J. van Tijn en Max van Weezel, ‘Ploeg: de oudste smoes ter wereld’, Vrij Nederland, 1 december 1984.

[5] Jan de Vetten, In de ban van goed en fout. De bestrijding van de Centrumpartij en de Centrumdemocraten (1980-1998) (Amsterdam 2016) p. 183-186. 

Contact information

This blog was written by Fons Meijer as part of the research project on parliamentary history in the 1980s. Are you curious about the other blogs? Find an overview here.

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