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Swiss Panel Charges Politicians Made Anti-semitism ‘acceptable’

November 9, 1998
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The debate about Switzerland’s wartime dealings with the Nazis has fueled a wave of anti-Semitism in the Alpine nation, the country’s human rights watchdog panel said.

The Federal Commission Against Racism said in a report issued Nov. 5 that “latent anti-Semitism is again being increasingly expressed in public by word and by deed.”

The panel added, “Comments from politicians helped make anti-Semitism socially acceptable.”

The Federation of Jewish Communities in Switzerland, the umbrella group representing the country’s 20,000 Jews, welcomed the panel’s report.

“The commission’s findings show that there is a significant need in Switzerland to improve education so that there is better knowledge of and communication with the Jewish minority,” the federation said in a statement.

Thomas Lyssy, the federation’s vice president, said in an interview on Swiss Television that the community is expecting the government to be “more outspoken” in condemning all manifestations of anti-Semitism.

In New York, the Anti-Defamation League also welcomed the report, calling it “honest, hardhitting and realistic.”

The report recognizes that recent manifestations of anti-Semitism are a “classical response of a society in crisis which blames Jews for problems it is unwilling to face,” the ADL said.

For months, there have been reports of Swiss anti-Semitism in reaction to pressure from the World Jewish Congress and other groups for the nation’s banks to settle Holocaust-era claims. Resentment against the Jewish-led calls grew further after the nation’s leading banks agreed in August to pay $1.25 billion to settle the claims.

The anti-Semitic backlash also surfaced in the wake of recent, well-publicized cases in which Holocaust refugees sued the Swiss government for turning back Jewish refugees during the war.

In August, Switzerland’s president used the commemoration of Swiss National Day to issue a call against anti-Semitism.

Flavio Cotti called on the Swiss to reject anti-Semitism, despite what he called “unjustified” attacks against Switzerland for its dealings with Nazi Germany.

Swiss anger over what its citizens consider efforts to tarnish the country’s image recently spilled over against a new target — a member of the nation’s Parliament.

Jean Ziegler, who is also a professor at the University of Geneva, called on Switzerland’s banks to honestly confront their wartime actions in his book “The Swiss, the Gold and the Dead.”

A group of Swiss financiers and businessmen recently filed criminal charges against Ziegler, saying he was “an accomplice to blackmail” of the nation’s banking system.

A parliamentary committee is expected to determine soon whether Ziegler will be stripped of his parliamentary immunity so he can be tried on the charges.

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