Swiss Jews worried by pre-Durban II anti-Semitism spike

Leaders of the Jewish community claim little reprieve from "unresponsive" Swiss authorities.

By MAYA SPITZER
March 12, 2009 21:58
4 minute read.
Swiss Jews worried by pre-Durban II anti-Semitism spike

durban anti-israel 248 88. (photo credit: AP [file])

 
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Leaders of the Jewish community of Switzerland are deeply concerned about the sharp rise in anti-Semitic acts there, with little reprieve from "unresponsive" Swiss authorities, according to the general secretary of the Swiss Anti-Defamation League (CICAD), Johanne Gurfinkiel. With the United Nations Durban Review Conference to be held April 20-24 in Geneva - during the same week as Holocaust Remembrance Day - Jews there are concerned about security. According to the soon-to-be-released CICAD annual report, anti-Semitic acts have spiked in the country, with 38 attacks in 2007 and 96 occurring just last year in French-speaking Switzerland. CICAD held an urgent meeting in January with the heads of the Jewish communities of Switzerland to discuss their current bleak situation. "It's worse than [it's been] in a very long time. This is the first time I was confronted with this sort of anti-Semitism in Switzerland," said Gurfinkiel, who used to work for the Anti-Defamation League in France. At the Durban conference, Gurfinkiel fears a repeat of the original Durban World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, which spiraled into a forum of anti-Semitic, anti-Israel sentiment. "We have no specific information to back that up," he conceded, but the climate in Geneva is not clement for Jews. Eliane Meyer, secretary of the Zahal Disabled Veterans Association (ZDVO) in Geneva, said she knew of Jewish demonstrations planned on Holocaust Remembrance Day, and "we need to make sure we have lots of security." However, Brandt Jean Philippe, a spokesman for the Geneva police, said that "as of now, there is no threat we know of and no evidence to tell us otherwise. Geneva really is a safe, peaceful place." The Swiss police, along with Swiss federal security, plan to reassess the situation in the coming weeks. The latest anti-Semitic incident was on March 2 at the ZDVO annual fundraiser, held at the famed Teatre du Leman in the Kempinski Hotel in Geneva. It was the target of "violent protests" by pro-Palestinian demonstrators, according to Meyer, lead coordinator of the event. Pro-Palestinian group the Collectif Urgance Palestine (CUP), clad in black masks, threw stones, made Nazi salutes, verbally assaulted the event participants and videotaped and photographed the entrance, yelling, "We're going to find each of you!" Police apprehended the stone-throwers, but those taking videos were left alone - even though according to Swiss law, it is illegal to film people without their consent. Prior to the event, the CUP posted the invitation to the ZDVO's event on its Web site, along with a page of intimidating calls to protest the event for "Jewish army murderers," recounted Meyer. The lead entertainer for the event, French-Jewish comedian Anne Roumanoff, received a flurry of threatening letters from French Muslims, according to Meyer, including one stating that there were 1,200 dead in Gaza due to Operation Cast Lead and 1,200 seats in the theater. As a result of the letters, Roumanoff decided to cancel her performance at the last minute, since, Meyer said, the "atmosphere was not suitable for her to appear at the event." The Friday before the fundraiser, according to Meyer, the police received information about on-line calls from the mosque in neighboring Lyons, France, to go protest alongside the CUP at the event. In Meyer's opinion, the situation "went way beyond our event. It turned into something between French Muslims and Geneva's Jews." Meyer said the ZDVO had decided to reimburse all who had bought tickets, but asked that everyone come and show support for their Jewish community. "We had a solidarity movement - the Jews of Geneva were united in standing up to this," said Meyer. In the end, some 900 Jews attended the event - a huge part of Geneva's Jewish population of approximately 5,000. Although there was no all-out outbreak of violence at the fundraiser, Jewish community leaders, including Meyer and Gurfinkiel, saw the demonstrators and their letters as a genuine threat to their community's further activities. "We are not protected, we are not taken care of by the police. There is a general feeling in Geneva, this image of being perfectly peaceful. I hope Swiss authorities wake up to the threat and protect their citizens," Meyer said. According to Philippe, "there was no incident at the Kempinski. Two little stones were thrown, not even big ones. There was a lot of crying and harsh words, but it was a non-event." Meyer cited another incident earlier this year in which the windows of Geneva's kollel were smashed in with baseball bats - an incident she said the Jewish community regarded as anti-Semitic, but the Swiss police claimed was just vandalism. "It depends on the point of view," said Philippe. Aside from that, he noted, it was "an isolated event." In 2007, Hekhal Ha-Nes, the main synagogue of Geneva, burned down after a fire started at the front entrance. According to Meyer, the police played it down. Since the culprit has not been found, said Philippe, "we can not conclude anything." Regarding the purported threatening letters ahead of the ZDVO fundraiser, Philippe admitted, "I have heard that rumor, but it hasn't been investigated. We judged it was not useful to investigate because we arrived at the conclusion that it was a false rumor." CICAD met this past week with Laurent Moutinop, Geneva's regional minister for interior affairs, along with a Swiss human rights official, to discuss the ZDVO event and the growing anti-Semitism in the province. "They were very open to our thoughts," said Gurfinkiel. However, "the government said it does not focus on anti-Semitism, but on global intolerance. They were unresponsive [on] this issue." Gurfinkiel said the Swiss government claimed it did not receive information on the anti-Semitic acts taking place, but "they choose [whether] to discover or not discover this information." Echoing Meyer's sentiment, Gurfinkiel explained that "there is a Swiss attitude that everything is all right and wonderful. I am optimistic they are on our side; it's just a question of information and communication. I hope that CICAD's upcoming report will make a difference in their attitude. They must face the situation and the reality."

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