Peter Hoekstra, the newly minted U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands, held his first news conference with the Dutch media at his new residence in The Hague on Wednesday.
Dutch journalists peppered Hoekstra with questions on unsubstantiated claims he made in 2015 about chaos that the “Islamic movement” had allegedly brought to the Netherlands.
“There are cars being burned. There are politicians that are being burned,” he said then, at a conference hosted by a conservative group. “And yes, there are no-go zones in the Netherlands.”
The comments have widely been described as inaccurate, and seem to reflect certain conspiracy theories about sharia law that crop up in some circles of the far-right in the West. When pressed by the Dutch reporters, Hoekstra declined to retract the comments or give specific examples to back them up.
In fact, after saying that he would not be “revisiting the issue,” he simply refused to answer the question at all.
But the reporters were not done with the line of questioning. Instead of moving on, another reporter would simply ask a variation of the query again.
“Everybody there had one question: That crazy statement you made, are you going to withdraw it?” Roel Geeraedts, a political reporter at the Dutch television station RTL Nieuws, said in a phone interview about the event. “We were not getting answers, so we all kept asking it.”
Geeraedts published a segment with video of the remarkable exchange on social media.
After at least one person had already asked the question, Geeraedts followed up to ask Hoekstra about a John Adams quote — Adams was America’s first ambassador to Holland — that was mounted right behind the new ambassador.
Hoekstra said he had read the quote, which expresses Adams’s hope that only “honest and wise men ever rule under this roof.”
“If you’re truly an honest and wise man, could you please take back the remark about burned politicians or name the politician that was burned in the Netherlands?” Geeraedts asked.
An uncomfortable silence followed the question.
“Thank you,” Hoekstra said, before trying to call on someone else over the clamor of the reporters in the room.
“Excuse me, I asked you a question,” Geeraedts said.
Another journalist jumped in.
“Mr. Ambassador, can you mention any example of a Dutch politician who was burned in recent years?”
Again, silence, as Hoekstra stared around the room.
“This is the Netherlands — you have to answer questions,” another reporter said.
Sherry Keneson-Hall, an embassy counselor who was helping to run the news conference, pushed back, asserting that Hoekstra was answering the questions.
At least one more journalist repeated the question. Reporters asked it at least five times.
“We were all astonished that he didn’t want to take back the comment. It was simply untrue, so why not take it back?” Geeraedts said. “It was awkward, to be honest.”[Netanyahu’s son brags about prostitutes, $20 billion deal for friend’s dad in strip club rant]
Hoekstra was tapped by Trump for the ambassadorship after 18 years as a Republican congressman from Michigan and was confirmed by the Senate in November.
He has been in hot water in the Netherlands since he was confronted by a Dutch journalist, Wouter Zwart, about the remarks in December. Hoekstra falsely claimed to Zwart that he had never made the remarks and called them “fake news.” Moments later, he denied that he had called them fake news.
Video of the exchange, juxtaposed with his “no-go zone” remarks, went viral, and the episode drew a slew of critical headlines in the United States and the Netherlands.