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Uproar over Swiss Officials’ Letter Condoning Suicide Attacks on Israel

March 20, 2003
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Swiss legislators are calling for the dismissal of a senior Foreign Ministry official who wrote a letter that appeared to sanction terrorist attacks against Israel.

In his letter to the Swiss-based group “Pro-PLO,” the head of the ministry’s Middle East department, Amb. Thomas Kupfer, described Palestinian suicide bombers as “resistance fighters” who did not “obtain the necessary success.”

Kupfer, who is Jewish, added in the letter to the Swiss-based group “Pro-PLO” that such “acts of resistance are counter-productive and only provoke Israeli acts of excessive force, from which only Palestinian civilians will suffer.”

Coming from such a high official, some wondered if the letter represented a change in Swiss government policy. Switzerland routinely condemns Israeli anti-terror actions because of their alleged violations of Palestinian human rights, but such criticism generally has been balanced with denunciations of Palestinian bombings as terrorism.

The Israeli Embassy in Bern is trying to clarify the matter through diplomatic channels, an embassy spokesman told JTA.

Simon Hubacher, spokesmen for Foreign Minister Michelle Calmy-Rey, confirmed that the letter, which was posted on the Palestinian group’s Internet site, was authentic. The minister will launch an investigation into the affair, Hubacher said.

Political observers in the Jewish community told JTA that the fact that a government official would write to the Palestinian group — which opposes Israel’s existence and praises attacks against it — is scandalous.

Some members of Parliament are recommending that Kupfer be dismissed from his post.

The uproar over the letter comes after a wave of recent anti-Semitic statements connected to the U.S.-led war on Iraq has rattled Swiss Jewry.

Some organizers of Carnival celebrations in Basel recently compared Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to Hitler. Others said that Jews in Switzerland fight for the right of kosher slaughter, while in Israel they simply slaughter Palestinians.

After an outcry from the Basel Jewish community, the city’s leading daily newspaper asked readers if the community’s complaints were justified. Over 80 percent said no, adding arguments such as, if the Nazis had succeeded, Swiss Jews wouldn’t be able to protest now.

One reader wrote that Swiss Jews should go to Israel; another wrote that Hitler war far less dangerous than Sharon; while a third wrote that the Jews should just keep quiet.

U.S. officials have noted a huge increase in anti-American rallies connected to the anticipated war against Iraq. One Israeli diplomat told JTA that recent anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic statements may be a sort of revenge for the pressure that American officials put on Switzerland and its banks in the 1990s to provide restitution for Holocaust victims.

While most Swiss Jews supported the U.S.-led alliance during the last war against Iraq in 1991, the situation this year is different. A significant segment of the community wishes the United States “good luck,” but prefers not to do so publicly for fear of an anti-Semitic backlash.

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