Developments in the Middle East in 2002 contributed to deterioration in
the climate toward Israel and toward Jews in general. A few
antisemitic incidents were recorded and there was an increase in the number of
pro-Palestinian rallies, street stands distributing anti-Israel materials,
calls to boycott Israel and antisemitic statements. Extremists on the right and
left joined forces in denouncing “imperialist Zionism” and “the Jewish lobby.”
Another national debate that triggered a strong wave of anti-Jewish sentiment
was the government’s proposed lifting of the 100-year-old ban on ritual
slaughter. The year 2002 saw the completion of inquiries by most of the
commissions set up to investigate Switzerland’s attitude during and after World
The Jewish Community
The Jewish community remained stable at
about 18,000, or 0.25 percent of Switzerland’s population of 7 million. In
August 2002 the Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities (Schweizerischer
Israelitischer Gemeindebund/Fédération Suisse des
Communautés Israélites – SIG/FSCI), the umbrella organization of
Swiss Jewry, set up a Jewish Forum of the Swiss Media (Jüdisches
Medienforum Schweiz) to monitor and analyze Swiss media coverage of issues
related to Israel and the Jews, and to counter antisemitic statements and
attempts to delegitimize the State of Israel. It began working in the
German-speaking part of the country under Theology Professor Ekkehard W.
Stegemann, of the University of Basel.
The community is served by a
Jewish primary co-junior high school in Geneva, as well as by three newspapers:
the Swiss German Tachles, the French Jewish Revue Juive, and the
reform community’s Hayom.
2002, Minister of Interior Ruth Dreifuss resigned from the Swiss government, a
position she had held since 1993. She was the first woman and the first Jew to
become president of Switzerland in 1999. Her biography, Dreifuss ist unser
Name (Dreifuss Is Our Name), by Isabella Maria Fischli, was published following
her departure from office.
political parties and
The refugee issue was a
dominant theme in the political discourse in 2002. In an October referendum the
Swiss people rejected, by a narrow margin (3,422 votes), an initiative of the Swiss
People’s Party (Schweizerische
Volkspartei/Union Démocratique du Centre – SVP/UDC) which would
have prevented refugees sheltering in bordering countries (France, Germany,
Italy and Austria) from requesting asylum in Switzerland.
course of a debate over ritual slaughter (see below), two initiatives were
launched in order to ban the import of kosher meat into Switzerland. One of
them was proposed by Erwin Kessler, president of Verein gegen Tierfabrik
(Association against Animal Factories), who has close contacts with Holocaust
deniers and openly supports the far right. He has several convictions for racial offenses, including
the comparison of Jewish ritual slaughter of animals with the Nazi treatment of
slaughter was one of the themes addressed by far right leaders in their
publications, among other traditional antisemitic themes (see below). The most
active group was Vérité & Justice (Truth &
Justice), headed by Jürgen Graf (who escaped to Iran to avoid a prison
sentence in Switzerland), Philippe Brennenstuhl and René-Louis Berclaz.
In 2002, the latter two were sentenced to prison terms for racial discrimination
(publishing Holocaust denying articles in their bulletin), and the organization
was disbanded by a court decision (see ASW 2001/2).
the Swiss federal police, there are about 1,000 skinheads, and their number is
growing. They have become more active in recent years, holding more concerts
and gatherings, publishing and distributing more propaganda (CDs, films, insignia,
clothes and magazines) and accumulating weapons. They still lack a charismatic
leader to unify the various groups scattered throughout the country and give
cohesion to the movement. On 18 March 2002, 120 skinheads attended a meeting
organized by the neo-Nazi Partei
National Orientierter Schweiz
(PNOS), which has ties to the German NPD. Access to the press was denied and
police protection was provided.
lawyer Pascal Junod, leader of the New Right, continued to organize private
lectures with far right figures from France, such as Roger Garaudy or Pierre
Vial. Like the skinhead events, Junod’s evenings are by personal invitation
only, so that he can not be sued for racist statements. Swiss law is only
applicable when racism is expressed in public.
Violence, Harassment and Vandalism
Several incidents of a violent nature were
recorded in 2002. In early April a Jew wearing a scull cap suffered minor
injuries after being attacked in Lausanne. During a Jewish community evening in
a hall in Zurich in November, local thugs shouted curses and abuse at the
participants and threw firecrackers at the security personnel. Further, during
the Jewish New Year services in Geneva (September 2002), Arab passengers
sitting in three cars cursed a group of Jews, made obscene gestures and shouted
“Death to the Jews.” An 18 mm shell was discovered at the entrance to the
Beit-Ya’akov (Great) Synagogue in Geneva on 20 April (Hitler’s birthday).
Swastikas and graffiti
reading “Nazi” were smeared on a monument to Holocaust victims near the Beit-Ya’akov
Synagogue in Geneva in February and bottles and other objects were thrown at
the wall of the synagogue. Antisemitic graffiti also appeared on the walls of other
synagogues in Geneva, while on the wall of a Zurich synagogue a message by the
PLO called for the murder of Jews. Antisemitic graffiti also appeared on Jewish
school buildings and on the wall of the Ittinger Jewish recreation home in
and anti-globalization activists placed antisemitic and racist texts on a page
of the Swiss Indymedia website during a debate on the Middle East conflict.
Following protests, the site managers moved the messages to another page.
Aktion der Kinder des Holocaust (Switzerland), which fights dissemination of
hate on the Internet, has demanded that the site be banned from the web. Bern
police are investigating.
Anti-Israel/Antisemitic Propaganda and the
Middle East Conflict
Developments in the
Middle East caused deterioration in the climate toward Israel. Media programs
throughout the country, featuring Palestinian journalists, Israeli film makers
and human rights activists, presented a unilaterally
pro-Palestinian/anti-Israel stance on the conflict, with Israel as the
aggressor and the Palestinians as the victims. Antisemitic manifestations were sometimes part
of the anti-Israel campaign.
There was an
increase in the number of pro-Palestinian rallies, street stands distributing
anti-Israel material, calls to boycott Israel and antisemitic statements. Pro-Palestinian
organizations such as Urgence Palestine were active in leading weekly
demonstrations and vigils mostly attended by Muslims, but also by left-wing
supporters and a handful of anti-Zionist Jews. The banners read “Stop
repression in Palestine,” “Stop the massacre” or “Against Imperialism and
Zionism.” Following such demonstrations, graffiti was frequently sprayed on
Jewish buildings and sites, including on Geneva’s Holocaust memorial and on the
entrance of the main synagogue, where the word “Nazis” or swastikas appeared more
than once. A growing amount of similar graffiti, equating Israel, Ariel Sharon
or the Star of David with Nazism, fascism or bloodshed, was found in school
classrooms, on public buildings and on sidewalks.
calling for a boycott of Israel goods multiplied in 2002: street stands for
this purpose were set up on market days or in front of shopping malls and leaflets
were handed out to help customers identify the bar code of goods of Israeli
origin. The Swiss media joined in these calls and attempted to investigate
whether some produce was grown in the Occupied Territories and labeled “Made in
Israel.” Voices calling for a boycott were also heard at the official level (Ministry
of Defense and Ministry of Foreign Affairs), but as of April 2002 they seemed
to have died down.
extremists both on the right and the left joined forces in denouncing “imperialist
Zionism” and “the Jewish lobby,” which was allegedly manipulating the US
government in its unconditional support of Israel. Muslim representatives in
Switzerland were especially outspoken, among others, Tariq and Hani Ramadan,
grandsons and followers of Hassan al-Bana, Egyptian founder of the
fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood. While Tariq uses a sophisticated and seemingly
moderate language to defend Islamic opinions, Hani, head of the Islamic Center
of Geneva, promotes strict application of the shari‘a and propagates
anti-Zionist ideas tinged with antisemitism. He compares Israel to a Nazi state
and justifies suicide attacks against Israelis. Following an op-ed piece
published in the French daily Le Monde (Sept. 2002) in which he stated that
if the world followed Islamic principles there would be no AIDS epidemic, and advocated
the stoning of two Nigerian women accused of adultery, he was suspended by the Geneva
Minister of Education from his teaching position (French) in a Geneva junior
high school. He appealed and in early 2003, the Geneva government confirmed that
the positions he held of imam and high school teacher were incompatible and
that Hani Ramadan should be fired from his teaching post.
Antisemitic Propaganda in Other Contexts
Another national debate that
triggered a strong wave of anti-Jewish sentiment was the government’s proposed
lifting of the 100-year-old ban on ritual slaughter. Since 1893, Jews (and
Muslims) have been forbidden to slaughter animals in accordance with their
religious laws. The ban, which was antisemitically motivated, was aimed at
limiting Jewish immigration into Switzerland in the 19th century. Since then,
kosher and hallal meat has been imported from France and Germany.
2001, the Swiss government decided to lift the ban as a sign of religious
tolerance. The popular reaction was unexpectedly violent, especially from animal
protection societies, whose spokespersons often lapsed into antisemitic and
racist speech. Jews and Muslims were accused of following bloodthirsty customs
from an uncivilized age that were not acceptable in Switzerland. It was
suggested that religious people “either become vegetarian or leave the country.”
The media gave comprehensive coverage to these opponents, while the government
largely remained silent. Hundreds of hate letters (“Jews, kill the cows in your
kibbutz,” “Nazis”) were sent to Jewish leaders. One leader who received death
threats filed a suit in Geneva. However, the prosecutor dismissed the case,
claiming that the author of the threats “never had the intention to kill,” and
merely expressed strong feelings.
2002, Jürg Scherrer, elected official from the city of Biel, gave an
interview to Swiss national radio in which he supported French far right leader
Jean-Marie Le Pen’s statement that “the gas chambers are a detail of history”
1997/8). A complaint was filed against him by local antiracist groups,
but in the judge’s opinion, the wording was too vague for Scherrer to be
Gaston-Armand Amaudruz began serving a three-month prison term in January 2003.
Until then and despite his conviction in 2000, he continued to publish his
monthly Courrier du Continent, a 12-page bulletin promoting racist,
antisemitic and Holocaust denying ideas and publications.
circulation, extremist publications with antisemitic content include Genevieve
Aubry’s L’Atout, Ernst Indlekofer’s Recht+Freiheit and Claude
and Mariette Paschoud’s Le Pamphlet.
attitudes toward the holocaust
and the nazi era
The year 2002 saw the
completion of inquiries by most commissions set up at the peak of the crisis
surrounding Switzerland’s attitude during and after World War II. The
historical commission headed by Professor Jean-François Bergier
published in March the last studies of its 25-volume (14,000-page) research,
covering all aspects of Switzerland’s stance during World War II (see ASW 2001/2).
In its conclusions the commission recommended that Switzerland come to terms
with its history and that the five-year research be the beginning rather than
the end of discussions, debates and further study. The commission was dissolved
on 31 March 2002.
Fund for needy Holocaust victims ended the distribution of $175 million (SF298
million) donated for humanitarian purposes by Swiss banks and industries. The fund,
headed by Rolf Bloch, identified beneficiaries around the world – Jews,
political prisoners, gypsies, Christians of Jewish descent, Jehova Witnesses,
homosexuals and Gentiles who had helped Jews. The commission managing the fund was
dissolved in December 2002 and the remaining $8 million will go to a Jewish
organization in Switzerland to help needy Holocaust survivors and to the Swiss
Red Cross Fund for victims of war and torture.
Solidarity Foundation, proposed by President Kaspar Villiger in 1997, was
intended to disperse SF7 billion, interest from the sale of national gold
reserves, for humanitarian projects. Originally, Holocaust victims were also on
the list of beneficiaries, but were later removed under political and popular
pressure. In a referendum held in September 2002, the foundation was rejected
by 51.1 percent of the Swiss people. The nationalist Swiss People’s Party had
proposed that the money go to social security, but this idea, too, was rejected
by popular vote. To date, there have been no further suggestions for using the
global settlement reached in August 1998 between Swiss banks and lawyers of
class actions representing Holocaust victims or their heirs, a very small part
of the $1.25 billion settlement has been distributed, of which $800 million went
to heirs of dormant accounts holders, the rest to other victims of the Nazis.
By the end of 2002 it was expected that 32,000 requests would be honored.
former US Under Secretary of Commerce Stuart Eizenstat published a book, Imperfect
Justice, about his personal experience as a negotiator under the Clinton Administration
dealing with restitution of assets to Holocaust victims in Europe. Before the
book was published and its content discussed, its cover created a major controversy
in Switzerland, since it showed a Swiss flag (white cross on red background)
covered with a swastika made of gold bars. Swiss reactions were extremely
violent, from antisemitic e-mails sent to the World Economic Forum, which had
invited Eizenstat to speak at its annual meeting in Davos in January 2003, to
official complaints by historians, political figures and editorialists. The
Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities stated it was shocked by the cover and
offended by the association of Jews and money, which it had had to combat
during the dormant accounts crisis. Two lawyers filed suits against Eizenstat
for defaming the Swiss emblem. Einzenstat gave numerous interviews to the Swiss
press stating that he regretted if the cover had shocked some people, but that
it reflected historical facts regarding Switzerland’s wartime attitude. He
added that the content of the book gave a balanced and fair analysis of what
RESPONSES TO ANTISEMITISM
In a poll of 540 Jews
conducted by the Swiss Jewish weekly Tachles in early September 2003, 58
percent said the situation in Switzerland had worsened for the country’s Jews,
40 percent saw no change and 2 percent claimed an improvement. In the
German-speaking part, the first figure was 66 percent and in the Romansh
Canton, 49 percent. Personally heard antisemitic remarks rose from 11 percent
in 1997 to 18 percent in 2002. Eighty-four percent noted hostility in the press
toward Israel, 74 percent on TV and 56 percent on radio.
As a result
of the deterioration of the Swiss attitude toward Israel and toward Jews in
general, the Jewish community has adopted a higher profile, responding more
often and more strongly. For example, Swiss Jews conducted a media campaign to
denounce the biased coverage of the events in Jenin (see ASW 2001/2),
writing dozens of letters to editors questioning journalistic ethics, buying
advertising space in newspapers to have their opinion heard, and meeting with
editors-in-chief and reporters to discuss concrete examples of ethical and
professional breaches in published stories. In April 2002 over 200 students of
the Jewish Students Association in Zurich demonstrated against increasing
manifestations of racism and antisemitism in Europe.
annual meeting of the Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities, the president, Alfred
Donath, accused Switzerland of indirectly funding Palestinian textbooks with
anti-Zionist and antisemitic content. He was immediately attacked by the press
and the public, and received scores of hate mail and threats. Swiss radio tried
to investigate the issue further, but was unable to clarify the final
destination of Swiss humanitarian aid to the Palestinians through UNRWA.
website designed to coordinate data on Internet crimes was set up in
Switzerland on 1 January 2003 in all cantons except Zurich. The definition of these
crimes includes specific reference to antisemitic and other hate propaganda.