NEW YORK (JTA) – Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey’s visit to Tehran was billed as an opportunity to deliver a stern message about the need for Iran to end its human rights violations and its threats to destroy Israel. This was according to the government’s official announcement of her March 17 diplomatic visit.
As a secondary matter, the announcement noted, Calmy-Rey would attend the signing of a gas deal between Iran and a Swiss energy company.
But Calmy-Rey herself inadvertently exposed the flimsy human rights pretext when she acknowledged on the day of her departure that she was traveling to Tehran in response to Iran’s invitation.
It is highly unlikely that Iran invited Switzerland’s foreign minister to chat about Iran’s bleak record on human rights or its belligerent statements about Israel. The real purpose of the visit, which included photo ops with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was to raise the profile of a $28 billion energy deal, one that has consequences for Iran’s continued pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability.
The Swiss are not alone in signing gas contracts with Iran, but the size of the deal and its timing so soon after the latest round of United Nations sanctions will surely encourage Iran on its march toward nuclear weapons and in its defiance of international demands to stop enriching uranium.
If Switzerland were committed to ending the Iranian nuclear threat, it would join with other responsible countries to reinforce the isolation of the ayatollahs’ regime. If Switzerland were serious about supporting an effective strategy, it would join the movement to target Iran’s energy industry.
This gas deal is just the latest example of Swiss actions that are out of step with the West’s determination to confront Iran and commitment to the security of Israel.
Switzerland joined Saudi Arabia, Cuba and other dictatorships in support of the U.N. Human Rights Council resolution that condemned Israel’s reaction to the rockets from Gaza while ignoring the actions of Iran’s terrorist client, Hamas. The resolution was so biased that Canada, an international leader in human rights promotion, voted against it, and every European Union member of the council abstained.
The Swiss ambassador feebly explained that the importance of condemning Israel’s alleged wrongdoing outweighed all other considerations.
That decision logically followed from Switzerland’s apparent policy of censuring all Israeli military operations, no matter how justified. In their condemnations, the Swiss invariably invoke international humanitarian law, with which they are closely associated as the depository for the four Geneva Conventions. Missing, though, is evidence of understanding the proper application of those laws of war.
In one egregious example, Israel’s 2006 raid on a Palestinian prison in Jericho was denounced for “violat[ing] the principle of proportionality.” In that incident, Israeli soldiers had surrounded the prison, in which armed terrorists, including the assassins of an Israeli government minister, were granted free reign and permitted to communicate with the outside world.
One prisoner and one prison guard were killed in an exchange of fire, but the terrorists and other Palestinian prisoners were convinced to surrender without any further hostilities. Even that successful operation the Swiss condemned as a disproportionate use of force.
Switzerland hasn’t been content to undermine Israel’s right to self-defense. Calmy-Rey has also tried to undercut Israel’s diplomacy. Brazenly disregarding Israel’s sovereignty and democratically elected government, Switzerland sponsored negotiations between private Israeli and Palestinian individuals, known as the Geneva Accord.
Unlike the Oslo negotiations, which were backed by the Israeli government after the first couple of private meetings, the Swiss project was officially rejected by Israel and the Swiss ambassador summoned to receive a protest.
Regardless of the content of the resulting document, the Swiss action represented an inexcusable intrusion by a foreign government in the peace process and an end run around the “road map” that reflected the will of the international community and demanded an end to Palestinian terrorism as a condition of further Israeli steps.
Some of the above examples of unfriendly behavior toward Israel could be explained away as soft-headed do-goodism. But one incident in particular punctures that theory.
In December 2006, Tehran hosted its infamous Holocaust denial conference, which responsible nations condemned unequivocally. Switzerland’s reaction was different. A week after the Tehran conference, Calmy-Rey met with Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Said Jalili in Switzerland.
According to the Swiss government’s minutes of the meeting, subsequently leaked to the Swiss press, she proposed that “a seminar about different perceptions of the Holocaust could be organized in one of the Geneva centers.” Public outrage killed that idea, but the fact that Calmy-Rey made the proposal provided encouragement to the Holocaust deniers in Iran and elsewhere.
In the battles against the Nazi regime during World War II and communism during the Cold War, Switzerland pursued its narrow self-interest by professing neutrality.
Today the Swiss appear to be taking the same approach in the current global war against the radical Islamist threat, spearheaded by Iran, which menaces Israel’s existence and the security of the West. But neutrality isn’t an option. And for Switzerland, a country that takes pride in its liberal democracy and claims to have learned from its history, it shouldn’t even be considered.
(Abraham H. Foxman is the national director of the Anti-Defamation League and author of “The Deadliest Lies: The Israel Lobby and the Myth of Jewish Control.”)