(JTA) – On a warm night in August, a 33-year-old woman arrived on the doorstep of the ex-wife of her former lover, a well-known left-wing Swiss politician both reviled and revered for his support of the Palestinians and his ties to Hamas.
The woman, identified in Swiss media only as N.W., came to speak to the ex-wife of Geri Muller, the mayor of the town of Baden, northwest of Zurich. But she never made it inside.
After ringing the doorbell, the woman was detained and questioned for four hours following a complaint to police alleging that she had threatened to kill herself and publicize nude photos that Muller reportedly sent to her from the mayor’s office.
The photos, which have not been published but were seen by Swiss journalists, reportedly included a shot of the mayor’s penis along with an invitation to “make use” of it. He also wrote N.W.: “At the office. I am already excited. Wearing only a T-shirt.”
The scandal, dubbed Gerigate, has generated enormous media attention in Switzerland not only because of its salacious elements, but also because leading figures in the Swiss Jewish community were in contact with N.W. prior to the scandal’s revelation.
According to media reports, Baden Jewish community President Josef Bollag and his childhood friend, public relations professional Sacha Wigdorovits, were behind the exposure of Muller’s affair with N.W., supposedly to discredit Muller as payback for his embrace of Hamas. Bollag and Wigdorovits have acknowledged being in contact with N.W. and referring her to third parties, but deny taking any further action.
In an interview with JTA last week, Wigdorovits said he had referred N.W. to Bollag and another attorney for legal advice — as well as “two or three trustworthy editors-in-chief of leading newspapers.”
Wigdorovits had denied earlier that he had any contact with N.W., a claim he later said had been a “mistake.” Still, he insisted to JTA that his involvement with N.W. did not constitute pushing to have the story published.
“She asked me whether I could approach more people on her behalf, but I didn’t want to get involved and I made it clear to her,” Wigdorovits told JTA. “I did not initiate any media campaign against Muller.”
Bollag declined JTA’s request for comment. He also has acknowledged speaking to N.W. in April and advising her to find another attorney, but he denies having done anything with the information provided by N.W.
Jewish antipathy toward Muller goes back to at least 2010, when the mayor — a tall, smiley Green Party member known for his frequent gesticulations and colorful language — visited the Gaza Strip and posed for a photo with Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. Two years later, Muller invited Hamas spokesman Mushir al-Masri and two associates to the parliament in Bern, where he posed for a photo while receiving a wooden carving of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem as a gift.
Muller, who reportedly is banned from entering Israel, is a member of the Council for European Palestinian Relations, a Belgium-based group that Israel alleges is a Hamas front.
Bollag has sparred with Muller over statements by the mayor that were interpreted as comparing Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians to the Nazis. In 2012, a local paper quoted an unnamed Jewish representative from Baden as warning that Muller’s mayorship would turn the town into a haven for Islamists and anti-Semites — quotes that many believe came from Bollag.
Given this history, some Swiss media have claimed that Gerigate is the work of a “network of Geri-critics” and a “political cabal.” The Les Temps daily even revived earlier discredited claims that Muller had been under Israeli surveillance.
“It created the unmistakable impression of some secret Jewish conspiracy,” Wigdorovits told JTA.
A spokeswoman for Bollag, Beatrice Tschanz, said the scandal has led to death threats and forced Bollag to leave for a mountain retreat in the Alps. The Jewish community also has distanced itself from the affair, saying Bollag’s relationship with Muller is a “private political struggle” that does not concern the community.
In an editorial published in the Tachles Jewish weekly, the paper’s editor in chief, Yves Kugelmann, wrote that Gerigate had “mutated at once into a platform for conspiracy theories on Jews.” Still, the affair risked casting a negative light on the Jewish community of Baden.
“It showed how the [political] actions of players from the Jewish community have little if anything to do with that community and its wishes,” Kugelmann wrote.
If those players wanted Muller to account for his support for Hamas, he added, then “there were plenty of ways in a parliamentary democracy to bring such activities to public scrutiny.”