Jewish mayor competes to serve as the next Dutch prime minister

JERUSALEM– As the Dutch headed to the polls Wednesday, the possibility of a Jewish prime minister loomed tantalizingly close. If Job Cohen, Amsterdam's Jewish mayor, were to win, he would be the only Jewish head of state outside Israel.

The last polls taken just before general elections showed a slight edge for the Labor Party, headed by Cohen, over the Christian Democrats. However, at press time the results were too close to call.

The election was called early after the government fell in October after only 87 days in office.

The Netherlands has been entangled in political turmoil for nearly a year now. In the months preceding the last elections, the campaign was dominated by the popular and rightist Pim Fortuyn, who was expected to win a landslide victory last May before being assassinated by a left-wing activist, Vokert van der G.

Nevertheless his party, the List Pim Fortuyn, was elected into the parliament with 26 seats. In July, the party took office in the right-wing government together with the Liberals and Christian Democrats. Infighting in the late Fortuyn's party brought down the government in October, and new elections were called for Jan. 22.

At the time the Liberals and Christian Democrats were favored to win. However in January the tide turned, and Labor, under 39-year-old Wouter Bos, a highly articulate and good-looking man, grew popular.

But Bos does not want to be in government, and on Sunday he announced that Cohen, 55, had been asked to become the party's prime minister if Labor wins on Wednesday.

Cohen, originally from the Dutch academic world, has served as deputy minister of education and deputy minister of justice in former cabinets.

He is known for his involvment in a controversial law aimed at restricting asylum seekers and immigrants to the Netherlands.

Bos explained he choose Cohen for the job because of the successful implementation of his immigration law as well as Cohen's experience with integration problems within the country's immigrant community, particularly with Muslims.

Ironically, Amsterdam has had a tradition since 1945 to be led by Jewish mayors, all of whom are known for crusading against racism and discrimination.