Background Report a Specter is Haunting Switzerland
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Background Report a Specter is Haunting Switzerland

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A specter is beginning to haunt Switzerland, the specter of anti-Semitism. Its current expression takes the form of blistering attacks against Israel’s government and its policies in the Middle East, particularly its “Peace for Galilee” operation.

These attacks, couched in political terms, invariably spill over into attacks against Jews. For many Swiss, Israel and Jews are one entity, two sides of the same coin, and an attack against one is simultaneously an attack on the other; a criticism of Israel is also used as an excuse to criticize Jews in this country for any domestic problems.

Ironically, the Swiss were never known to be particularly anti-Jewish. One of the reasons is that the Swiss Jewish community is small and Swiss Jews maintain a very low profile. There are some 20,000 Jews in Switzerland of a total population of some 6.3 million. The largest Jewish communities are in Geneva and in Zurich.

But the war in Lebanon brought whatever unconscious anti-Semitism there was to the fore and made implicit anti-Semitism explicit. This development is across the board, from left to right, from politicians to the average citizen. Examples abound, according to a survey by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.


The largest agricultural cooperative in the country, Migros, none of whose directors are Jews, was recently under attack by some farmers for selling tomatoes at too low a price, thereby engaging in unfair competition with private farmers. At the same time, a soda water bottling factory which is owned by Migros was burned down under suspicious circumstances. How did this translate into anti-Jewish feelings?

A group of Swiss men discussing the war in Lebanon were overhead saying, “Look at what Jews are doing in Lebanon. They’re doing the same in this country, create trouble wherever they are. After all, Migros is in Jewish hands and look at the problems there.”

They continued to mention that all the large department stores in Geneva — the Grand Passage, Pharmacy Principal and Placets — are owned by Jews (which is true). But from this they concluded that Jews own or control the major enterprises in the country and thereby exploit the Christians.

The Socialist Party in Geneva joined forces with the Communist Party to collect signatures for a petition requesting that the Swiss government reconsider its deal to buy arms from Israel and to break diplomatic relations with the Jewish State. In addition, the Communist Party published an article attacking the president of the State of Israel Bonds and the United Jewish Appeal, saying that he was collecting money for Premier Menachem Begin and his government and there fore was acting against the best interests of Switzerland.

Gilbert Duboule, a Radical Party member of Parliament who is the president of the Swiss-Israel Friendship Association in Geneva, has been harassed by anonymous phone calls and threatening letters warning him to discontinue his pro-Israel activities.


Ruth Raeli, Israel’s consul in Bern, said that during the fighting in Lebanon the Embassy received letters every day denouncing Israel. Some were anonymous, while others were signed with epithets.

Some letters stated, “What a shame Hitler did not finish off all the Jews.” Others said, “It’s a pity that only five Jews were killed in Rue des Rosiers in Paris.” This was a reference to the terrorist attack on Jo Goldenberg’s restaurant in Paris Jewish quarter earlier this month where six people were killed and 22 wounded. None of the dead was Jewish. In Geneva, graffiti include hate messages such as “Begin-Hitler,” “Dirty Jews,” and “Jews-Murderers.”

Mrs. Raeli said that anti-Israeli editorials in the nation’s press and photographs claiming to show that the devastation in Lebanon was caused by Israel has provided legitimacy for anti-Israel and anti-Semites to come out of the closet and express their feelings publicly.

One example of what might be termed mediad incitement to hatred was a recent talk show on Swiss radio where the host of the program was reading from Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Each time he read a passage which contained the word “Jew” he substituted that with the word “Palestinian,” and for the original word “Jews” he said “Palestinian nation.” The Jewish weekly, Israelitische Wochenblatt, has demanded a public explanation of this from the director of the radio station and is planning legal action.


The war in Lebanon has also taken its toll among those who supported Israel. A woman phoned the Israeli delegation to the United Nations in Geneva and asked to speak to an Israeli official. She reportedly told the official: “I have always been a fervent supporter of Israel and have visited your country several times. But now I am totally opposed to Israel’s conduct in Lebanon and my feelings have turned against Israel. I am not the only one who feels that way Many of my friends feel exactly as I do. We no longer support Israel and will not again visit Israel.”

The harshest critics of Israel are Swiss youth between the ages of 15 and 20. Their criticism of Israel spills over into attacks against Jews. Not infrequently, Swiss youth can be overheard saying: “Maybe Hitler was right after all to want to exterminate the Jews when we see what they are doing in Lebanon.”

This mood and these sentiments are becoming more pervasive and open. A specter is indeed haunting Switzerland, a country which boasts of having, among other accomplishments, a policy of neutrality that has kept its troops from becoming involved in foreign wars since 1515, a balanced budget, almost full employment, religious tolerance, and a democratic political system in existence longer than in any other country in Europe.

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