As Swiss Face Anti-semitism, a Jew Takes Office As President

A Jewish woman is scheduled to record a double first in Switzerland this week.

Ruth Dreifuss is expected to become the first Jew — and the first woman — to be named president of Switzerland, where women only earned the right to vote in 1971.

Dreifuss, who formally becomes head of state on Jan. 1, will inherit a country that is attempting to cope with an anti-Semitic backlash after a stream of embarrassing disclosures in recent years about the financial ties that existed between the country’s leading banks and Nazi Germany.

After months of international pressure, two of the banks agreed earlier this year to pay a $1.25 billion settlement of Holocaust-era claims.

Dreifuss, 58, was born in an eastern Swiss canton. As the Nazis approached the Swiss border, she moved with her parents to Geneva.

She spent her early career as a secretary in a hotel and as a journalist with a weekly newspaper in Basel, the site of the First Zionist Congress in 1897. In 1965, she joined the Socialist Party.

In 1970, she graduated from Geneva University with a degree in mathematics and was then appointed an assistant in the Faculty of Economic and Social Sciences at Geneva University.

She served in the Swiss Development Corporation at the Swiss Foreign Ministry from 1972 to 1981, when she was elected secretary of the Federation of Swiss Trade Unions.

Dreifuss was a member of the Berne Municipal Council from 1989 to 1992, and was appointed home affairs minister in 1993.

She is fluent in French, German, English, Spanish and Italian.

The presidency of Switzerland is a largely ceremonial post. The president is not elected by popular vote. The office rotates among the seven Cabinet ministers of the Swiss federal government.

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