Swiss Government Neglects Security of Country’s Jews

March 5, 2018

After the recent terrorist murders of Jews in France, Belgium and Denmark, other Western European governments are beginning to understand that it is their legal and moral duty to protect the institutions of their Jewish minority.
Yet on this issue, Switzerland lags far behind other countries. This is particularly worrying in light of the deadly shooting in 2001 in a Zurich street, where an Israeli rabbi (recognizable as a Jew by his clothing) was murdered. The case has never been solved.
Switzerland has a population of 8.4 million; less than 18,000 are Jews.
The largest Jewish organization is the nominally orthodox Federation of Jewish communities (SIG). It has, at most, 12,000 members. Assessments by Swiss intelligence agencies and police over the past two years have shown that there are substantial threats against Jewish institutions there.
Because Switzerland is a federal state, it is sometimes unclear when security is the responsibility of the national government, the canton (province), or the municipality in which an institution is located. Overall, Jewish community security costs are estimated to be from $5 -7 million dollars a year, a large amount for such a small group.
The discussion on who is responsible for security (and paying for it) has been going on for several years. Only in October 2017 did the Swiss government admit for the first time that it has a duty to protect the Jewish minority –without saying how it would provide or pay for this security.
At the end of 2016, for example, it was scandalously suggested that Jews should create a fund with their own money in order to take care of their security. Some funds have been made available for one Jewish community in Zurich by the cantonthough these are not destined for security. For the other communities and synagogues in the town, no funds are provided.
The situation is particularly problematic in the third largest — and 212 year old — Jewish community of Basel, which faces a huge deficit and ultimately perhaps bankruptcy. It currently has the choice between reducing activities or having less security. First the government of the canton — and then the parliament (Grosser Rat) — voted down subsidizing security measures. The parliament has also refused to increase financing of the police force, despite the general terror threat in Europe and Switzerland.
But after the lethal Christmas market attack by a Muslim terrorist in Berlin in December 2016, measures were taken in Switzerland last year to protect Christmas markets. A heavily armed police presence was introduced, and several Christmas markets were fortified. Funding for these security measures was provided by the state.
One might recall some other elements of the unfriendly past attitudes of Switzerland to its Jews.
Switzerland only reluctantly granted its Jews full emancipation under US and French economic pressure. Switzerland was also the first European country to outlaw Jewish ritual slaughter in 1894; this was part of a desire to stop Jewish immigration from Eastern Europe.
During the Second World War, some of the Jews who fled from the Nazis were allowed in, but many others were returned to Nazi-occupied countries, where they faced lethal risks. After the war, a concentrated effort was made to force almost all of the 22,500 refugee Jews in the country to leave.
In the 1990s, it became known that Swiss banks had been systematically stalling efforts of Holocaust survivors to obtain money that their murdered relatives had placed there. In 1997, a case where a leading Swiss bank was caught destroying documents on dormant Jewish accounts shook the country to the core.
Ultimately the World Jewish Congress brought two American political adversaries together — US President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, and New York Republican Senator Al D’Amato. They took an interest in the dormant bank accounts issue, which led to pressure on Switzerland.
A commission led by the former Chairman of the US Federal Reserve, Paul Volcker, investigated the dormant bank accounts issue. One scandal it discovered was that the deposits in many such accounts had been eaten away by annual bank fees and service charges — or had simply been transferred to the banks’ profits.
The then-president of Switzerland, Jean-Pascal Delamuraz, claimed that Jewish organizations were trying to “blackmail Switzerland into paying them large sums of money to destabilize Switzerland and destroy its banking industry.” This made the scandal even bigger. His apology was considered insufficient.
In recent months, several American Jewish organizations and even US politicians have started to take an interest in Switzerland’s discriminatory attitude toward the security of Jewish institutions. If the Swiss authorities do not act in the near future in a substantial way on this issue, they may risk yet another scandal abroad.
But it would be far worse if a terrorist attack on a Jewish institution would happen before then.
The article was published in The Algemeiner

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The EJA firmly stands behind MP Michael Freilich’s call to cancel Belgium’s attendance at the 2021 Durban Conference, an action which dozens of other states have already undertaken. The Conference, which is a supposed anti-racism event, fails to address mounting antisemitism.

In the past, the conference has even been a platform for Jew-hatred to be spread. Antisemitic flyers and books, such as the ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion’, have frequently appeared. Moreover, in the latest event, flyers were distributed of Hitler allegedly saying “What if I had won? The good things; There would be NO Israel and NO Palestinian’s blood shed- The rest is your guess.” According to UN Watch, the UN’s Durban conference has repeatedly exclusively targeted Israel and basic rights of the Jewish people whilst permitting the voices of the hateful to be amplified. U.S. Congressman & Holocaust Survivor Tom Lantos comments: “It was the most sickening display of hate for Jews I have seen since the Nazi period.”

Such an event can not be legitimized through the attendance of national representatives and participation is to be cancelled immediately. The focus on inclusive and pro-active measures to rid society of all types of hate is not to be undermined and should be continued under effective conferences and events.

Stunning religious practice in Europe

If the European Union wants to welcome Jews and Muslims, it needs to make their legitimate religious practices welcome as well.
Last week, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), the EU’s highest court, dealt a serious blow to ritual Jewish and Muslim methods of animal slaughter. The court upheld a Belgian law that requires that animals must be stunned before they are killed. Neither Jewish nor Muslim law allows for stunning in the slaughter process.
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Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, president of the Conference of European Rabbis, urged reconsideration. “Europe needs to reflect on the type of continent it wants to be. If values like freedom of religion and true diversity are integral, then the current system of law does not reflect that and needs to be urgently reviewed,” he said.
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Two distinct elements in European society are promoting the ban on ritual slaughter. Opponents on the left are concerned about animal welfare, and see ritual slaughter as inhumane. Opponents on the far right are ultranationalists, who see Jewish and Muslim practices as alien imports to Christian Europe. Strange bedfellows, indeed. But through their issue alliance, opposition to ritual slaughter has taken on a life of its own, without regard to the sensibilities of Jews and Muslims.
According to Rabbi Menachem Margolin, the head of the Brussels-based European Jewish Association, had Belgium’s parliament “engaged properly with Jewish community officials before banning the practice, some satisfactory solutions could have been found, as has been the case in the Netherlands and elsewhere, because the method of slaughter is not crueler or [more] painful to animals than other methods.” But no such effort was made.
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Which European countries are best for Jews? A new study offers unexpected answers.

BUDAPEST (JTA) — Antisemitic sentiment is especially prevalent in Italy and Hungary, according to multiple surveys. But a first-of-its-kind index combining different measures of Jewish experience found that they are also the best countries in Europe for Jews to live in.

The index, unveiled Monday, is based on a study that combines polling data and policy information to create a single quality-of-life metric for Jews in the 12 European Union countries with sizable Jewish communities, according to Daniel Staetsky, a statistician with the London-based Institute for Jewish Policy Research who wrote the report for the European Jewish Association in Brussels.

“The goal with this report is to take the excellent data we already have about how Jews feel, about how prevalent antisemitism is, and combine it with government policy measurables,” Staetsky said during a conference held by the European Jewish Association in Budapest.

He said the results may challenge preconceptions about which EU countries are most hospitable to Jews. For example, Germany scored high when it came to government policies relating to Jews. But Jews there report a weak sense of security, leading to an overall middling score.

The index is primarily a tool “to demand concrete action from European leaders,” Rabbi Menachem Margolin, head of the European Jewish Association. “We welcome statements against antisemitism by European leaders. But more than statements is needed.”

The European Jewish Association will make individual recommendations to each country surveyed, Margolin added at the press event. It was part of a two-day event sponsored by multiple Jewish organizations, including the Consistoire in France, the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Israeli government, about how European Jewish communities can aid the one in Ukraine.

Titled “Europe and Jews, a country index of respect and tolerance towards Jews,” the study gives Belgium, Poland and France the lowest scores with 60, 66, and 68 points out of 100, respectively. The three top countries have 79, 76 and 75 points, followed by Britain and Austria (75), the Netherlands, Sweden, Germany and Spain (74, 73, 72, 70.)

To come up with the ranking, Staetsky gave each surveyed country grades on multiple subjects, including the Jewish sense of security, public attitudes to Jews and the number of Jews who said they’d expereinced antisemitism. The grades were based on major opinion polls in recent years, including those conducted by the Action and Protection League, a group that monitors hate crimes against Jews in several European countries, and the European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency.

The study combined those scores with scores the author gave to countries’ government policies, including their funding for Jewish communities, whether they had adopted a definition of antisemitism, and the status of Holocaust education and freedom of worship.

Under that scoring system, Germany received an overall score of 72 despite having the best score (89) on government performance on issues related to Jews and a solid 92 when it came to the prevalence of antisemitism. But a relatively low score on Jewish sense of security (46) hurt its overall score, among other factors.

In the case of Hungary, “the score it received reflects the reality on the ground,” according to Shlomo Koves, the head of the Chabad-affiliated EMIH umbrella group of Jewish communities in Hungary. “Jews can walk around here, go to synagogue, without the slightest fear of harassment,” he said.

But the prevalence of antisemitic sentiments in Hungarian society — an Anti-Defamation League survey from 2015 found that about 30% of the population hold them — “shows there is work to be done here, too, in education and outreach,” Koves said.

This article originally appeared on JTA.org.

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