Swiss vote banning minarets draws criticism


JERUSALEM (JTA) — A vote in Switzerland banning the construction of minarets on new mosques is drawing criticism from Jewish groups.

The national referendum Nov. 29 passed with 57.5 percent of the vote. The extreme right-wing Swiss People’s Party, the largest party in the Swiss Parliament, strongly promoted the measure.

“The referendum result amounts to an attack on the fundamental values of mutual respect,” American Jewish Committee Executive Director David Harris said Tuesday. “While there are certainly understandable concerns in Europe over Islamist extremism, these cannot be legitimately addressed through a blanket assault on Muslim communities and their religious symbols.”

The Anti-Defamation League in a statement Tuesday urged the Swiss government to be vigilant in its commitment to ensuring freedom of religion.

"This is not the first time a Swiss popular vote has been used to promote religious intolerance," Robert Sugarman, ADL national chair, and Abraham Foxman, its national director said in a released statement.  "A century ago, a Swiss referendum banned Jewish ritual slaughter in an attempt to drive out its Jewish population."

U.S. Sen. Benjamin Cardin, chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) and his co-chairman, Rep. Alcee Hastings, expressed concern over the minaret ban.

"The Swiss vote to ban minarets is worrying for a number of reasons, including the fact the Swiss people have seen fit to limit the religious practice of one particular group," Cardin said. "I trust the Swiss government will work swiftly to be sure the Swiss are not viewed as an intolerant people.”

“I hope the Swiss courts will overturn this referendum, and that the Swiss government will double its efforts to implement anti-discrimination laws and have an open and honest dialogue about religious and ethnic tolerance," Hastings said.

The Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities opposed the measure.

Muslims make up about 5 percent of the Swiss population.

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