BERN (Jun. 29)
Swiss lawmakers have sent a message to Holocaust survivors — do not expect a franc from a planned multimillion dollar humanitarian foundation.
The lower house of the Swiss Parliament voted 25-3 last week to recommend that Holocaust projects be excluded from the foundation’s beneficiaries.
Last year, Swiss President Arnold Koller proposed the establishment of the Swiss Foundation for Solidarity, which would be funded by some $5 billion of the Swiss National Bank’s gold reserves.
The foundation’s estimated $230 million in annual income would be used to provide help to victims of catastrophes in Switzerland and abroad, including organizations that aid Holocaust victims.
But Hans Danioth, the lawmaker who initiated Sunday’s vote, said the funds should be used exclusively for future catastrophes.
Holocaust survivors, he said, can benefit from the Holocaust Memorial Fund, which was established last year by Swiss banks, and has already begun making payments to individual survivors in Eastern Europe.
“We want to make sure that no money from the solidarity fund will go to the Jews in the United States,” said Danioth, referring to U.S.-based Jewish groups that have spearheaded the efforts to press the Swiss government and financial institutions to pay compensation for their wartime roles.
Last week’s parliamentary vote is not binding, but it indicated the growing anger among Swiss leaders over the bitter dispute between their country and Jewish groups abroad.
The vote came as American municipal and state public finance officers prepared to convene this week in New York to discuss whether to impose sanctions against Swiss banks. The renewed threat to penalize the financial institutions comes in the wake of an apparent breakdown last week in U.S.-mediated negotiations between Jewish representatives and three Swiss banks aimed at settling Holocaust-era claims.
The Swiss government went ahead last week with distributing a draft document to create the Solidarity Foundation. Local Swiss governments, churches and Swiss Jewish groups, among others, have been asked to comment on the draft.
The draft lists Holocaust survivor projects — such as social service programs — but not individuals, as potential beneficiaries of the foundation.
The Parliament is expected to vote later this year on creating the foundation, after which it will be subject to a national referendum, which may be held in the year 2000.
Sources at the Ministry of Finance said Sunday that payments from the foundation — if approved in the referendum — are not expected before the year 2003.