Swiss man cleared of treason after trial for volunteering for IDF

André Mottet, a Swiss national, was tried in a Swiss military court for treason owing to a Swiss law banning serving in foreign armies.

Sar-El 248.88  (photo credit: Courtesy of Ron Feinberg)
Sar-El 248.88
(photo credit: Courtesy of Ron Feinberg)
A Swiss citizen who has been active in volunteering for the Sar-El IDF assistance program, as well as coordinating other volunteers, has been acquitted by a military court in Switzerland after being charged with treason.
Switzerland has mandatory military service for men, while Swiss law prohibits its citizens from serving in foreign armies – and a charge of treason can be leveled at anyone who does so.
Sar-El is a nonprofit organization which runs programs, primarily for non-Israelis, where volunteers provide logistical support on army bases, although volunteers are not drafted into the IDF and are not formal IDF service personnel.
Three years ago, one Sar-El volunteer gave an interview about his service for the IDF to a local Swiss paper, and the article sparked off an incendiary debate on the issue.
Claims were made in Switzerland that, just like European citizens who became fighters for terror groups such as ISIS and al-Qaeda have been prosecuted in Europe, so too should those who serve in the IDF.
Several Swiss citizens who had volunteered for Sar-El were arrested and questioned, including André Mottet, who is not Jewish and has traveled to Israel on three occasions to volunteer with Sar-El.
Edouard Cukierman and Audrey Gozlan, both board members of Sar-El, were involved in assisting Mottet during the three years of legal proceedings against him, and the organization funded his legal costs.
Cukierman noted that the UK and Germany have similar laws banning citizens from serving in foreign armies, and that the case in Switzerland therefore has a wider bearing on European Jews and the Sar-El program.
The Military Tribunal of Sion, a Swiss military court, eventually issued an order for the arrest of three citizens, including 70-year-old Mottet, due to their service in Sar-El, and they were brought in for questioning by the Swiss military police.
Charges of treason were filed, which carry a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.
During Mottet’s trial, attorney Vincent Spira argued in court that Sar-El volunteers are not formal soldiers but civilians working as volunteers on bases.
In January the Military Tribunal of Sion ostensibly concurred with the defense and acquitted Mottet on all charges.
The military prosecutor nevertheless appealed the decision to the Military Court of Appeals. But this past Friday, the court came back with a verdict accepting the defense, once again acquitting Mottet of the charges against him.
The charges against the two other volunteers will now also be dropped.
“I was very relieved with the ruling, not only for me but also for the other Sar-El volunteers,” Mottet told The Jerusalem Post. “I was very surprised that I was charged, because Sar-El is a civil volunteer program and has nothing to do with military service, but I was always certain I would win the case.”
Asked why he was so dedicated to the Sar-El program, Mottet said he felt it was his way to give support to the Jewish people, “and show solidarity with them after they have been oppressed by Europeans.”
“It gives me happiness to have helped, and a way for me to help fix a little bit what the Europeans did to the Jews,” he said.
“Sar-El sees the volunteer who was charged by the Swiss authorities as an injured soldier on the battlefield, and the board therefore decided to support him and fund his legal expenses,” Cukierman said.
“The decision to reject the appeal strengthens the important message to the Jewish community and the supporters of Israel that they can continue to help Israel’s security without being compared to terror organizations.”
There are approximately 4,000 foreign volunteers for Sar-El every year, and more than 200,000 people from 56 countries have volunteered in the program since it was established in 1983. Around 20% of volunteers are not Jewish.
Sar-El estimates that several hundred Swiss citizens have volunteered in its programs.