Swiss Jews oppose punishing students who refuse to shake teachers’ hands

Swiss Jews spoke out against a regulation that makes it illegal for schoolchildren to refuse to shake hands with their teachers because of religious reasons.

A regional school board last month ruled that schools in Basel Country can fine parents up to $5,000 if their children refuse to shake hands with teachers, as is customary at graduation ceremonies.

The ruling was in reaction to the refusal of two Muslim boys to shake hands with female teachers at a public school in northern Switzerland. Like with devout Muslims, some devout Jews also refrain from touching members of the opposite sex because they view doing so as inappropriate.

Switzerland has approximately 400,000 Muslims, who constitute 5 percent of the population, and 20,000 Jews.

“We think that students, in public, should shake their teachers’ hand,” Jonathan Kreutner, secretary general of the Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities, said in a statement sent in an email Wednesday. “But imposing a compulsory handshake under threat of sanctions is not the right way.”

The affair generated considerable attention in the media and among politicians in Switzerland, where many residents oppose societal changes connected with the arrival of many Muslims in recent decades. In 2009, a majority of Swiss voted in a referendum against the construction of minarets. Shechitah and dhabihah, the Jewish and Muslim traditional ways of performing ritual slaughter of animals, respectively, are illegal in Switzerland.

Last month, Kreutner told the Schweiz am Sonntag weekly in a first reaction to the handshake affair that whether pupils shake their teachers’ hands or not, what really matter is that students “show respect for their teachers.”

SGS, Weatherford trade blame over Iraq’s missing nuclear material

Swiss inspections group SGS and U.S. group Weatherford International Plc traded recriminations on Thursday, both denying responsibility for the disappearance last year of radioactive material used to test pipes at an oil field in southern Iraq.

Reuters reported on Wednesday that Iraq was searching for a “highly dangerous” radioactive source whose theft in November had raised fears among Iraqi officials that it could be used as a weapon if acquired by Islamic State.

SGS said in a statement that the equipment and material, when not in use, had been stored in a “secured bunker” provided by Weatherford, which it said was the “main contractor” and had hired its Turkish unit to perform the tests.

“The disappearance of the equipment occurred while the equipment was stored in the Weatherford bunker,” it said, adding the loss was discovered on Nov. 3.

Weatherford said on Thursday it holds no responsibility or liability in relation to the issue and had answered all inquiries raised by Iraqi and U.S. authorities to their satisfaction.

“SGS Superviser Gozetme Etud Control had sole control and access to the material and bunker,” it said in a statement, referring to the Turkish unit of SGS.

Yet SGS said its staff required Weatherford's prior written approval to access the site.

“The site where these operations are conducted is fully secured and guarded by security guards under the responsibility of the owner of the site. SGS does not assume any responsibility for the site security and does not control accesses,” SGS said, adding that many contractors used the site.

Its Turkish business immediately notified Iraqi authorities and cooperated fully with the investigation, it said.

SGS added that it has no contractual relation with Iraq-based security company Ta'az, which it said controlled the site and employed expatriate staff.

An operations manager for Ta'az previously declined to comment, citing instructions from Iraqi security authorities.

SGS said the radioactive content of the stolen device was most likely very weak, putting its strength at nine curies, a conventional unit for measuring radioactivity.

Radioactive sources used in equipment like this are similar in strength to those used in medical radiography, it said.

“At the time of the disappearance of the equipment, the source was close to the end of its useful life,” SGS said. “It is therefore safe to affirm that the remaining radioactive content of the source is now very weak.”

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said separately that Iraqi authorities had reported on Thursday that no elevated radiation levels have been detected following the theft.

“They informed the IAEA that after the theft of a source, an extensive search was performed and a criminal investigation was launched,” the U.N. nuclear watchdog said in a statement.

Kerry: Some funds released under Iran deal will go to terrorism

Secretary of State John Kerry said Iran would likely use some money freed by the lifting of sanctions for terrorism, but if it does, it will be subject to separate sanctions.

“I think that some of it will end up in the hands of the IRGC or other entities, some of which are labeled terrorists,” Kerry said Thursday at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in an interview by CNBC reported by The Associated Press. The IRGC is an acronym for the Iran Revolutionary Guards Corps.

“You know, to some degree, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that every component of that can be prevented,” he said. “But I can tell you this, right now, we are not seeing the early delivery of funds going to that kind of endeavor at this point in time.”

The Obama administration lifted nuclear-related sanctions over the weekend after U.N. inspectors confirmed Iran had complied with its obligations under the nuclear roll back for sanctions relief deal achieved last year between Iran and six major powers.

Kerry said IRGC and other terrorist groups would still be subject to separate sanctions should the new money be used toward attacks.

“We have made it very clear that we use sanctions when we think they are appropriate in order to counter behavior that we believe has broken the law or has challenged the United Nations Security Council or threatened the United States and we stand by our sanctions,” he said, referring to new sanctions imposed on Iran this weekend because of its test launch of a ballistic missile.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is also in Davos, vigorously opposed the deal, but has also committed himself to working with the Obama administration to make sure its safeguards are strictly implemented.

Netanyahu met at Davos with Kerry and Vice President Joe Biden, and both U.S. officials described the meetings favorably.

Biden’s office said the two leaders “discussed regional developments, including Syria, the campaign against ISIL [an acronym for the Islamic State terrorist group], the implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action to verifiably prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, steps to counter Iran’s destabilizing activities, and opportunities for Israel to expand energy partnerships with countries in the eastern Mediterranean to enhance regional prosperity and cooperation.”

Swiss see ‘terrorist threat’ in Geneva, hunt for suspects

The Swiss city of Geneva raised its alert level on Thursday and said it was looking for suspects who, according to national officials, had possible links to terrorism.

A security guard at the United Nations' European headquarters told Reuters that Swiss authorities were searching for four men believed to be in or near the city.

Another guard said the U.N. compound was on maximum alert, and Geneva prosecutors said they were investigating the preparation of criminal acts. 

Separately, the Swiss attorney-general said it opened an a criminal inquiry on the basis of a “terrorist threat in Geneva” against unknown persons suspected of belonging to a criminal organisation and of violating the ban on al-Qaeda or Islamic State operating in the country.

The Geneva daily Le Temps reported that a friend of Salah Abdeslam, the latter wanted in connection with the deadly Paris attacks on Nov. 13, was in a van spotted by Geneva police on Tuesday after a tip from French authorities that the two men in the car were strongly suspected of ties to radical Islam. 

The van, which had Belgian plates, crossed the border into France, the paper said. Geneva officials could not confirm the report.

A French police source said Swiss authorities had been in touch to ask for information, about some suspects, including photographs.

Swiss federal police in the capital Berne said they had passed on information about people with possible links to terrorism, but were not connecting them to Islamist militant attacks in Paris last month in which 130 people were killed.

Earlier, the newspaper Le Matin said a Belgian-registered car that drove through a police check prompted police to examine a photograph of four suspected Islamist militants provided by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. The paper said it had obtained a document describing the men as “armed and dangerous”.

Two sources confirmed that the CIA had provided the photo, which shows the four bearded men seated, with their faces blurred but index fingers raised in the air. A CIA spokesman in Washington declined to comment.

Swiss television said the city's Jewish community had been told to be vigilant. 

“Sensitive sites have been alerted,” a Swiss official said.

The guards stationed at vehicle entry points to the U.N. grounds were, unusually, carrying Mp5 sub-machine guns on Thursday. One guard said the U.N. premises had been evacuated for a time late on Wednesday night “as a precaution”.

The sprawling complex sits at the heart of “international Geneva”. The headquarters of the World Health Organization, the U.N. human rights office, the refugee agency UNHCR, the World Trade Organization and the International Committee of the Red Cross are a short walk away.

“The heightened security affects the entire Geneva area, and the U.N. is taking measures that are commensurate with those taken in the host country,” U.N. spokesman Rheal LeBlanc said.

Senior U.S. and Russian diplomats are set to hold talks on Syria in Geneva on Friday, but the United Nations said the location would be kept secret.

Swiss and French officials say they have been working closely together since the Paris attacks. The Swiss Attorney General's office is currently conducting 33 criminal proceedings linked to Islamist militancy, and opened nearly a dozen new investigations in October and November, a spokeswoman said.

Israel shows off its drones

This article originally appeared on The Media Line.

Switzerland this week voted to buy six Israeli surveillance drones made by Elbit in a deal worth $256 million. The deal went through despite a campaign by protestors not to buy Israeli-made products because of alleged human rights abused against Palestinians.

The deal came the same week that an exhibition in Rishon Letzion showed off the latest in Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, also known as drones. Israel has long been in the forefront of manufacturing drones.

“This is a vertical takeoff and landing aircraft which can fly for three times the time as a multi-copter and is resistant to wind while hovering,” Amit Regev the CEO of Colugo said of his prototype the Arcopter. “We are aiming at many markets including precision agriculture and first responders. What we have here is the next generation.”

He spent many years flying drones in the Israeli army, but said his start-up is aimed at civilian applications. In China, he says, drones are already delivering packages, a move which saves time and money, and does not add to the carbon footprint, as a truck delivering a package would.

He has come to this exhibition in Rishon Letzion, near Tel Aviv, looking for investors and partners. It is the third time that iHLS, a website that deals with homeland security has sponsored the exhibition.

“Israel is a major power in unmanned systems,” Arie Egozi, the conference organizer told The Media Line. “Israel needed them for its survival. It’s not that the US doesn’t have the capability to do this, but they fight in Afghanistan, far away. Israel needed this system to fight wars and that is why it is so advanced.”

Among the items on display were the Heron, developed by Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI). It can fly for 52 hours continuously and can be fully autonomous from takeoff to landing. It can carry the most sophisticated payloads and cameras, and is used in at least 20 countries, said IAI officials.

Also used for surveillance is the RT Skystar Systems which look like large white nylon balloons. These were used during last summer’s fighting between Israel and the Islamist Hamas in the Gaza Strip, says Taly Kosberg Shmueli, the Vice President of RT.

“We do all kinds of missions including protecting the border, intelligence and aiding special forces,” she told The Media Line. “Last summer we had 13 systems around Gaza and we are now working on the Egyptian border as well as Jerusalem.”

Dozens of governments sent representatives including China, India and Albania. Israel’s defense exports totaled $5.6 billion in 2014, including drones. The businessmen declined to be interviewed.

There were also exhibits from companies that make parts for aircraft. One that received a lot of attention was Su-Pad, a company that uses 3-D printers to make plastic parts for drones and other planes.

“The users are adopting the technology in a way that is getting better and better,” Ziv Sadeh, the Sales Manager for Su-Pad told The Media Line. “We supplied a big printer to the Israeli air force. They use a polymer called ultem, and it is able to make parts for the aerospace industry. We are able to print very complex parts and we don’t need a tool to do it. The price is much smaller than traditional methods.”

Organizer Egozi says that what is on display is only what is not classified.

“There are many many other drones that are still classified and will be so for many years,” he said. “What you see here is just the tip of the iceberg.”

Switzerland says regrets envoy’s display of Netanyahu cartoon

Switzerland expressed regret on Friday after its ambassador to Iran displayed a cartoon depicting two doves defecating on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's head, at an event promoting Iranian business opportunities.

Ambassador Giulio Haas showed the image during a speech to hundreds of Swiss and Iranian business people at a Zurich hotel on Thursday.

The Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA) said the “questionable cartoon” was used without its knowledge. “The FDFA regrets the use of this cartoon and considers it tasteless,” it said in a statement.

Haas' address came as Europeans race back to Iran, whose markets and major reserves of oil and gas will be much easier to tap once sanctions are lifted under a global deal struck last month.

In his speech, Haas called Iran the “pole of stability in a very, very unsafe region.” He urged Swiss businesses not to delay their endeavors in Iran, a potentially lucrative market with a population of 80 million.

“Ambassador Haas did not intend to insult anybody with the cartoon,” the FDFA said. “If that is the case, however, he regrets it and seeks the pardon of everyone who could have felt insulted.”

The cartoon, a commentary on responses to the deal Tehran struck on July 14 with world powers to limit its nuclear work in return for sanctions relief, shows a pair of doves with U.S. and Iranian flags on their chests atop Netanyahu's head.

Netanyahu opposes the pact, saying it will be ineffective and allow Israel's enemy to expand its regional influence.

At Thursday's event, Haas displayed the image of the cartoon on an enormous screen, under the title “Iran: now or never.”

“What this picture shows is, I think now is really the opportunity to assess the market,” he said.

In the United States, where Iran has long been seen as a regional menace, Congress has until Sept. 17 to vote on the nuclear deal.

Switzerland lifted some sanctions on Iran this month, though most remain.

Haas urged those gathered in Zurich, including representatives from power products maker ABB, Swiss bank UBS and farm-equipment maker Bucher Industries, not to delay efforts open up to Iran.

Switzerland and Israel have at times had fraught relations.

In 2009, Israel recalled its ambassador to Switzerland to protest a U.N. conference in Geneva attended by then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Israel has also complained to Switzerland in the past about its purchase of natural gas from Iran.

In 1998, Swiss banks reached a $1.25 billion deal with Holocaust survivors and their descendants over the fate of funds deposited in Swiss banks by Jews during World War Two.

The Israeli embassy on Friday did not immediately return a request for comment on Haas' use of the cartoon.

Swiss envoy says: invest in Iran, Middle East’s ‘pole of stability’

Switzerland's ambassador on Thursday called Iran a “pole of stability” in the Middle East and urged companies to make the most of a lucrative market about to re-open after years of crippling sanctions.

Ambassador Giulio Haas was addressing some 500 Swiss business people as Europeans race back to Iran, whose markets and oil will be much easier to tap once sanctions are lifted, under a global deal struck last month.

“Iran seems still for a lot of people to be bearded, elderly gentlemen with turbans. You see them, but you see not a lot of them, especially when you're dealing with business,” Haas said.

Iran's adversaries in the Middle East, particulaly Israel and Saudi Arabia, oppose the deal Tehran struck with world powers, limiting its nuclear work in return for sanctions relief.

In the United States where Iran has long been seen as a regional menace, the U.S. Congress has until Sept. 17 to vote on the deal backed by President Barack Obama but opposed by many Republicans.

Haas said his nearly two years in Tehran had convinced him Western perceptions of Iran as the world's most-aggressive nation were about to change.

“Iran at the moment is most probably the pole of stability in a very, very unsafe region,” he told the conference.

Britain reopened its embassy in Tehran on Sunday , catching up with rival European powers that have rushed to tell Iran their companies are ready to restart business. France's foreign minister visited Tehran just two weeks after the nuclear deal was agreed on July 14.

Iran's financial system should escape cripping restrictions next year, leaving foreign companies contemplating 80 million consumers, $35 trillion worth of petroleum reserves and deep infrastructure needs.

Companies including engineering group ABB Ltd bank UBS and agriculture equipment maker Bucher Industries AG attended the event in a Zurich hotel hosted by a Swiss export-promotion group.


Swiss exports to Iran have fallen more than half to less than 400 million Swiss francs ($415 million)since 2008 as tightened U.N. and EU sanctions forced many companies to cut ties with the country.

“It's very important for us that the stream of money in Iran reopens,” said Christian Wuerzer, managing director at insurer SwissCare, whose products cover expatriates and diplomats.

Marzban Mortaz, director of a Tehran-based juice and milk packager, said access to Swiss financiers is essential if the country's economy is to double or triple post sanctions.

“With that size of economy, everyone has expansion plans,” he told Reuters. “Companies in Iran are cash-strapped.”

Experts cautioned that Iran remains a difficult market, telling the conference that bureacracy, nepotism and corruption were common, as were the threat from product piracy and legal unpredictability.

“The corruption is still at unbelievable rates,” said Sharif Nezam-Mafi, chairman of the Iran-Switzerland Chamber of Commerce and Eurasia region director of Swiss mill-maker Buehler AG.

Nevertheless, speakers described Iran as a “virgin market” of sophisticated consumers ready for business with the West.

“Be brave,” urged Ali Amiri of ACL Asset Management, an Iran-focused investment firm. “You've been to wilder places: Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Kuwait, South Africa, Nigeria. If you can bear those places, Iran is a walk in the park.”

$1 = 0.9622 Swiss francs

Switzerland lifts sanctions against Iran

Neutral Switzerland will lift on Thursday sanctions against Iran that had been suspended since January 2014, the government announced on Wednesday, citing a deal between Tehran and big powers to curb Iran's nuclear program.

“The Federal Council (government) wishes today's steps to be seen as a sign of its support for the implementation of the nuclear agreement and its interest in deepening bilateral relations with Iran,” a statement said.

A Jewish state grows in Basel

Basel, Switzerland, could be thought of as the cradle of modern Zionism. It was here that the First Zionist Congress was held in 1897, and the city remains a pilgrimage site for many American and Israeli Jews.

One of the most powerful and attractive locations that still draws visitors is Grand Hotel Les Trois Rois (” target=”_blank”>, an ambitious smartphone and tablet app launched in 2014 for Jewish travelers to Basel. It offers a multimedia walking tour that covers the 800-year history of Jews in the city. 

Although Jews living in Switzerland today coexist relatively peacefully with Christians, it is important to remember that Basel, like other European cities from the Middle Ages to the 19th century, was a place where Jews were subject to second-class-citizen status, vocational restrictions, persecution and pogroms. In 1349, for example, 600 Jews were burned at the stake and the surviving 140 children forcibly baptized.

According to various sources — including my Basel Tourism guide Armgard Sasse, a registered city tour guide well versed in Jewish history and with close ties to the Jewish community — Jews were required to live outside Basel’s city walls and restricted to the money-lending trade. Until recently, one gate leading into the present-day central business district featured a plaque dating to the early 18th century listing entry tolls and warning Jews to be out of the city when a loud curfew bell was rung.  

Relief came to Swiss Jews starting with the Great Council of Helvetia (1798-1799), where some of Switzerland’s most liberal citizens advocated civic equality for the Jews and attacked the ancient prejudices of intolerance. Ambassadors of France, England and the United States insisted that the right of settlement should be granted to all citizens of their respective countries, without distinction of creed. After years of conferences and debates, all restrictions concerning the right of Jews to establish residence were finally abolished in 1866. Eight years later, the nation’s new constitution declared full emancipation.

During World War II, Swiss Jews were protected by the nation’s neutrality, yet a number of government initiatives prevented the entry of Jewish refugees. Its banks also have been accused of working closely with Nazis and of holding assets of Holocaust victims. Under pressure from the international community, Switzerland was forced to confront its behavior during the Holocaust, and one result has been restitution for aging survivors.

Out of all the darkness, there’s light as well in this city. One can visit the Stadt Casino, which still retains its Belle Epoque aesthetic, with light fixtures and artwork still cleaned and maintained by hand. You can also stroll through Israel Park, a grove of 40 trees presented to the city by Israel’s sixth president, Chaim Herzog.

Basel also is the site of Switzerland’s only Jewish Museum (Basel’s neo-Byzantine Great Synagogue was built in 1868 and enlarged in 1892. Its basement houses a kosher fine-dining restaurant. 

Sasse, my guide, is close friends with Joel Weill, the Basel Jewish community’s head of administration, and the three of us had lunch at Topas (” target=”_blank”> features several of Marc Chagall’s revered studies of rabbis as well as a moving portrait of his wife, Bella, and an idiosyncratic self-portrait. Just outside the city, the Fondation Beyeler (” target=”_blank”>, located in the middle of Basel, and walking distance from the train stations and trolleys to the city’s central shopping areas and attractions, makes a great tour base for Jewish families, especially with its excellent kosher-food program on request. 

Jewish travelers to the city will find more helpful information from SIG/FSCI, Switzerland’s Jewish Federation (

Swiss Jewish leader denies leaking pro-Gaza mayor’s nude selfies

The president of a Swiss Jewish community denied accusations that he helped leak nude photos of a pro-Palestinian mayor who had sent them to a younger woman.

Josef Bollag, who heads the Baden-Baden Jewish community, issued the denial last week in an Op-Ed that he wrote amid the unfolding of a scandal that forced Mayor Geri Muller to temporarily step down as mayor, though he was reinstated this week. Bollag is a longtime critic of Muller over Muller’s harsh criticism of Israel and advocacy of Iran.

The woman, a 33-year-old teacher identified in the Swiss media only by her initials, N.W., “made contact with me and in no time did I press to hand over the incriminating material about Geri Muller to media,” Bollag wrote in the Neue Zurcher Zeitung daily on Aug. 26.

The affair, known locally as Mullergate, was first reported last month by the Schweiz am Sonntag weekly. According to the publication, Muller, 52, sent the woman nude photos of himself while posing at his office at Baden-Baden City Hall.

The weekly did not publish the photos but wrote about their existence after receiving copies.

Muller, of the Green Party, filed a police complaint alleging that the woman had violated his privacy and defamed him. In the complaint he said that correspondence from her cellphone, which police have confiscated as evidence, contains correspondence with a “Mr. Bollag.”

In his Op-Ed, Bollag said the woman contacted him “as a cry for help” and that he was shocked by the photos but did not pass them on.

Police investigating the case asked the woman about her relationship with Bollag and Sacha Wigdorovits, a Jewish public relations professional who, together with Bollag, runs the pro-Israel media watchdog Audiatur, the Neue Zurcher Zeitung reported.

Wigdorovits acknowledged being in contact with the woman but denied sending any photos.

Muller, who is also a lawmaker in Switzerland’s federal parliament, has hosted several Hamas officials. During a demonstration for Gaza in 2010, he said, “The Holocaust is terrible, but that does not entitle any party to do the same with a different population,” though he later denied this constituted equating Israel with Nazism.

He has also said that Iran was a democracy.

Anti-Israel protesters target synagogue in Geneva

Anti-Israel protesters demonstrated outside Geneva’s main synagogue.

A Swiss watchdog group said the weekend protests in front of the Beth Yaakov, or Grande, Synagogue were the first public displays of hostility in Switzerland toward Israel since the conflict with Gaza began in early July.

A veiled woman carried a sign reading “Every synagogue is an Israeli embassy” and waved a Palestinian flag on Saturday morning, according to the Intercommunity Coordination Against Anti-Semitism and Defamation watchdog organization, or CICAD. The same protester returned that night accompanied by three men, the group said.

A second woman wearing a Palestinian flag around her neck tried unsuccessfully to enter the synagogue, according to the watchdog. The protesters told police that they have a right to protest and threatened to return the following Saturday.

“With this first public demonstration of hostility towards the Jewish community in Geneva since the beginning of the conflict in Gaza, an unacceptable step was taken,” CICAD said. “Synagogues should not become the new places of expression of hatred against Israel.”

CICAD called on local politicians, including those who support the Palestinian cause, to denounce this kind of action against the Jewish community and for authorities to take action to protect the Jewish community.

Swiss polling firm wants to know if Jews have too much power

A Swiss polling company working for an undisclosed client is conducting a survey about Jewish power.

Annie Mumenthaler, a representative of Switzerland’s ruling UDC party from the Lausanne suburb of Pully, told the news site 24 Heures that an employee of the Demoscope polling firm interviewed her last week and asked whether she believed Jews had too much power in politics.

“I answered all the question to see just how far this ignominy could go and I was not disappointed,” 24 Heures quoted her as saying Thursday. She said the employee asked her: “Do you find Jews are omnipresent in key positions in the finance industry?” and whether Jews have “too much influence” in American and Swiss politics.

Demoscope, Switzerland’s third largest polling company, conducted the poll for a German contractor working for a Canadian client, both of whom Demoscope would not name, 24 Heures reported. The company began conducting the survey last week, according to the site.

Mumenthaler said she found the questions “shocking, shameful and racist.” Antoine Reymond of the Swiss chapter of the International League against Racism and Anti-Semitism, or LICRA, said, “The ideas presented in the survey are reminiscent of the sinister notions propagated during the [Nazi] occupation of France.”

But Johanne Gurfinkel of the Swiss CICAD watchdog group on anti-Semitism said the condemnations were premature.

“We need to know who commissioned the survey and what their goals are before we can say anything for certain,” he said, adding: “Sometimes, provocative and closed questions are presented to respondents by watchdog groups because that way one knows what the population really thinks about a minority.”

Gurfinkel also said that the poll “may relay the stereotypes, but may also show how prevalent they are.”

Fewer anti-Semitic attacks recorded in Switzerland last year

The number of anti-Semitic incidents recorded in Switzerland has dropped from 36 in 2011 to 25 incidents last year.

The figures were reported in the annual analysis on anti-Semitism by the Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities. The report states that unlike the previous year, no physical attacks against Jews were recorded in Switzerland in 2012 and that hostilities in Israel did not serve as “trigger events,” as has been observed in previous years.

Most incidents last year were hate mail cases or graffiti, the report said. Online content was not included in the report.

Monitor reports showed a 58 percent increase in anti-Semitic incidents in France in 2012 and a 30 percent increase in Belgium, which watchdog groups said were linked to a wave of attacks that followed the slaying of four Jews at a school in Toulouse by a radical Muslim.

Swiss Jewish philanthropist, wife die in house fire

An elderly Jewish philanthropist from Switzerland and his wife died in a fire in their Zurich home.

Yosef Elbaum, 91, and his wife Raizel, 74, died from smoke inhalation on March 7 after a fire broke out in their attic apartment on Richard Wagner Street in southern Zurich, the Volks Blatt local newspaper reported.

Yosef Elbaum made his wealth in Switzerland’s banking industry and became a philanthropist, donating to Jewish institutions in his community and beyond, according to the Israel-based news website Behadrey Haredim.

When rescue forces arrived at the scene they found the couple dead in their bedroom.

The couple’s live-in caretaker required treatment for smoke inhalation. The cause of the blaze is not yet known.

Yosef Elbaum was close to the Spinka Rebbe of Bnei Brak in Israel, according to Behadrey Haredim, and was brought with his wife for burial in Israel.

French Nazi hunter: Swiss Shoah record better than believed

Swiss authorities turned away only 3,000 Jewish refugees during the Holocaust and not 24,500 as believed, French Nazi hunter and historian Serge Klarsfeld said.

Klarsfeld told Switzerland’s Der Sonntag newspaper that the figure of 24,500 came from imprecise archive material processed by the authors of the 1999 Bergier report on Switzerland’s Holocaust-era record and called for a new examination of the issue.

The Bergier commission, which named the figure of 24,500, did not possess information which specified the rejection of Jews or the reasons for denying people entry, Klarsfeld said.

Last month the Swiss SRF television station aired a documentary which suggested the Swiss government turned down refuges despite knowing of German leader Adolf Hitler’s extermination plan and the existence of German concentration camps as early as 1942, the year that Germany decided on its so-called “final solution” for the Jews.

Klarsfeld called on Switzerland to create a new commission to examine the question of the acceptance and rejection of Jewish refugees at the Swiss border during the war years.

“The number of 24,000 is totally wrong,” Klarsfeld told Swiss public radio earlier this week. “It’s unfair to let international opinion believe that 24,000 Jews were turned away from Switzerland and died because of that when the figure of people denied entry is closer to 3,000.”

Klarsfeld also pointed out that 30,000 Jews were admitted into Switzerland at the same time.

“It should be known how many Jews managed to find refuge in Switzerland and how many were turned away and what happened to them. This is about Switzerland’s image in the world, and that’s important for the country,” he said in the Sonntag interview.

Klarsfeld is famous, along with his wife Beate, for their success in tracking down the infamous Gestapo commander Klaus Barbie in Bolivia in the 1970s. The 77-year-old now devotes himself to researching the destiny of French wartime Jews, according to the Netherlands-based news agency IEDE.

Report: Swiss kicked out Jews despite knowing of ‘final solution’

The Swiss government knew about the Nazi program to wipe out Jews in 1942 — earlier than previously known — documents publicized by a Swiss television station suggest.

A report aired by the German-language station SRF on Sunday, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, said the government was aware of German leader Adolf Hitler’s extermination plan and the existence of German concentration camps as early as 1942, the year that Germany decided on its so-called “final solution” for the Jews.

Switzerland, which was neutral throughout World War II, was nonetheless throwing asylum seekers out of Switzerland that year as it tightened immigration quotas.

The TV show was aired hours after the release of a speech by Swiss President Ueli Maurer that described Switzerland as “a land of freedom and justice” during a “dark era, thanks to a generation of brave men and women.”

On Monday, three Swiss Jewish organizations condemned Maurer's words as “a simplistic and exclusively positive” presentation that “hides the weakness and errors” of Swiss authorities in dealing with refugees. The organizations — CICAD, FSCI and PJLS — noted that the problems were documented in the 2002 final report of the Bergier commission of inquiry.

The information revealed on Sunday was in hundreds of letters, telegrams and detailed reports collected by Swiss diplomats and sent to the federal cabinet during World War II. The government also received information about the Nazi activities through photos, SRF reported.

“We can prove that the information about the murder of Jews was known in Bern as of May 1942,” Sascha Zala, director of  Diplomatic Documents Switzerland, told SRF.

The previously unpublished documents were received by Eduard von Steiger, federal justice and police minister, according to the station.

Several thousand Jewish refugees managed to enter Switzerland illegally during the war, according to the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Jerusalem, in addition to 30,000 Jews who entered legally.

Swiss army officer slammed for praising Nazi-era German general

A Swiss army commander reportedly praised Nazi-era German general Erwin Rommel before a group of officers, holding up Rommel as an example for the Swiss army to follow.

According to a report in the Swiss newspaper Der Sonntag, the officer, a lieutenant colonel identified only as “PL,” defended his words as “no praise for Rommel the person, but merely highlighting his leadership.”

Rommel was the World War II field marshal who led German forces in North Africa. He conspired against Adolf Hitler late in World War II. Once the conspiracy was discovered in 1944, he committed suicide after being presented with a choice between killing himself or standing trial for treason.

The Swiss newspaper article, which appeared online on Dec. 8, said the lieutenant colonel delivered his talk on Rommel, who was known as the “Desert Fox,” to a group of soldiers, telling them Rommel “possessed leadership skills and was a model general in combat.”

“I was shocked that one of our officers praised a Nazi as a role model,” one of the soldiers told the newspaper.

The Swiss Ministry of Defense said in a statement that “because of his role in the Third Reich” mentioning Rommel was “inappropriate.”

“There are plenty of Swiss examples which can be used such as Henri Guisan, a symbol of self-assertion in dangerous times,” the ministry added.

Dutch police nab suspected stabber of French Jew

Dutch police reportedly arrested and extradited to Switzerland a 22-year-old Briton suspected of stabbing a Jewish man in Geneva.

The suspect is a member of extreme right circles, according to CICAD, a Swiss watchdog on anti-Semitism, and was arrested last month in the Netherlands. DNA evidence linked him to the stabbing, according to Johanne Gurfinkel, secretary general of a CICAD, an institution of the Swiss Jewish community.

According to the CICAD website, the suspect was arrested following “a long investigation by the police department of Geneva and an international arrest waarant issued.”

The attack occurred last December in the car park of Geneva’s Natural History Museum as the victim, a haredi Orthodox Jew, was putting a baby carriage in the trunk of his car. His attacker allegedly stabbed him four times in view of the victim’s family.

The victim, a French national from Aix les Bains, some 40 miles from Geneva, sustained serious injuries and was hospitalized for more than a week.

He was visiting friends in Geneva along with his wife and five children, the oldest of whom was 9. The children were in the car and his wife was at the wheel when the man was attacked and stabbed from the back, according to a report on the incident by SPCJ, the security unit of France’s Jewish communities. 

The attacker seemed “particularly determined to kill the victim,” according to SPCJ. The victim, however, managed to hit the attacker in the face and fend him off with the baby carriage. The victim suffered lacerations on his back and face; the knife also penetrated one of the victim’s lungs.

The attacker fled but left some DNA, which the Swiss police collected and filed with the European wanted persons database, leading to his arrest and extradition, Gurfinkel of CICAD told JTA.

Israeli tennis duo upsets defending Olympic champs Federer and partner

The Israeli Olympic tennis duo of Jonathan Erlich and Andy Ram upset the 2008 gold medalists in men’s doubles, Roger Federer and Stanislaw Wawrinca of Switzerland.

The Israelis beat the Swiss pair, 1-6, 7-5, 6-3, in the second round on Wednesday and advance to the quarterfinals to play the top-seeded duo, brothers Mike and Bob Bryan of the United States.

Along with Israel, the Erlich-Ram victory brought grins to Jewish communities to Argentina and neighboring Uruguay. Erlich was born in Buenos Aires and made aliyah with his family when he was a year old. Ram is a native of Montevideo, Uruguay. His father is the Israeli Betar Jerusalem soccer player Amiram Ram; his mother is Uruguayan.

Erlich and Ram have been representing Israel for more than a decade. Their greatest victory came in 2008, when they won the Australian Open. They also own Davis Cup wins in 2009 over Russia, in 2007 over Luxembourg and Italy, and in 2006 over Great Britain.

For more Olympics coverage, visit

Health issue or anti-Semitism: Switzerland joins German circumcision ban

Today come reports that hospitals in Zurich and St. Gallen have suspended the practice on Jewish and Muslim boys in the wake of a similar ban in Germany ordered by a judge in Cologne.

Judges in Cologne concluded that circumcision, even when performed by a doctor, is considered “bodily harm,” since a boy under age 14 years cannot legally give consent. And now Berlin’s Jewish Hospital banned this procedure out of fear that its Doctors could face prosecution and even incarceration.  The Netherlands had banned circumcision stating that ‘it was ritual slaughter’, but recently reversed this ruling.

Great Britain’s Orthodox Chief Rabbi said that a ban on circumcision was mandated by two of the Jewish peoples’s worst enemies – the Seleucid ruler Antiochus IV and the Roman Emperor Hadrian.

Believe it or not, an American city, San Francisco, was set to vote to proscribe one of the central rituals of an entire religious community, the Jewish people, who have been circumcising male infants since the time of Abraham.  Fortunately, the vote was postponed.  Many Muslims, of course, also practice circumcision, while millions of other American parents have eagerly supported this procedure for their infants for hygienic or health reasons.  To add fuel to the fire, anyone who performs a circumcision may be fined $1000 or be committed to a year in jail if this vote was affirmative.  Mark Stern, a lawyer for the American Jewish Committee, said, “This is the most direct assault on Jewish religious practice in the United States.  It is unprecedented in Jewish life.”  The proponents of the bill insist that circumcision is “mutilation and barbaric.  Under pressure, the vote did not materialize.

Russell Crowe (the actor) said: “Circumcision is barbaric and stupid.  Who are you to correct nature?”  Is the “You” the Jew?  ” But do not be concerned,” Russell Crowe continues.  “I have many Jewish friends.  I love my Jewish friends.  I love the apples and the honey and the funny little hats, but stop cutting your babies,” he declared.  Who gave him a moral authority that he knows what is best for Jews, Muslims, and others who prefer the benefits of circumcision for their male children.

Anti-circumcision activists have been speaking out against circumcision for decades, but in the last several years the San Diego-based advocacy group has prepared anti-circumcision legislation for 46 states.  The head of the group says that “his circumcision as an infant resulted in diminished sexual sensitivity as an adult.”  Is this double-speak?  How would he know the difference?  Does he know for a fact that his limitations or an inability to have sexual gratification is a result of his circumcision?  Does he conclude that for thousands of years, no Jews or Muslims or billions of other people have had no or limited sexual satisfaction?  There are some data to suggest the opposite – that removal of the foreskin allows greater gratification.   


The warm, moist mucosal environment under the foreskin favors growth of microorganisms creating an environment that could lead to infection both to the man himself and his sexual partner(s)

Paraphimosis is a condition in which the skin that normally folds over the penis, the foreskin, tightens and retracts and cannot return to its normal position over the head of the penis.  If not corrected, the penis will swell and the blood flow to the head may be cut off, damaging the tissue.  It is usually caused by inflammation or infection of the foreskin and may be associated with poor personal hygiene.  Paraphimosis can only occur in uncircumcised men.  Treatment includes circumcision on an emergency basis.

Phimosis occurs when the distal foreskin cannot be retracted over the glans penis.  In the infant, the foreskin normally cannot be retracted over the glans and should not be forced.  With normal growth and stretching of the foreskin, it will become retractable in 90% of children by the age of 6 years.  However, local irritation or infection (balanoposthitis) can cause an abnormal constriction of the foreskin, preventing it from retracting normally.  Often there is pain and swelling, which may be associated with infection of the glans.  Occasionally, a urinary tract infection is present.  A circumcision is indicated particularly when there is superimposed balanitis, balanoposthitis, urinary tract infection, or obstruction.

Balanitis and balanoposthitis are infections of the glans and foreskin.  It is most commonly found in uncircumcised males and frequently presents during the preschool years.  Balanitis may be caused by entrapment of organisms under a poorly retractable foreskin—gram-negative or gram-positive bacterial organisms may be causative, and recently, group A beta hemolytic strep has been implicated.  Monilia infections (yeast) are also associated with balanoposthitis in infants.  Syphilis should also be considered. 

Signs and symptoms include swelling, erythema, penile discharge, pain on urination, bleeding, and occasionally ulceration of the glans.  Additionally, a careful examination of the base of the penis should be performed to look for a strand of hair, which may cause strangulation and edema.

Various types of injuries and trauma can involve the foreskin.  One extremely painful example is when the foreskin “gets caught” in the zipper of the boy’s pants, resulting in an extremely painful emergency situation requiring immediate circumcision.


The benefits of circumcision include: (1) decrease in many types of infections (2) decrease in “strangulation” of the penis; (3) lower incidence of inflammation of the head of the penis, (4) reduced urinary tract infections, (5) fewer problems with erections, (6) a decrease in certain sexually transmitted infections, such as HIV, HPV, genital herpes, syphilis, and other microorganisms in men and their partners, (7) almost complete elimination of invasive penile cancer,  (8) a decrease in urological problems generally, and (9) prevention of the foreskin getting “stuck in the zipper.”

An article was published in Lancet on January 6, 2011, written by Maria Wawer, et al. from Johns Hopkins University and Rakai, Uganda.  Male circumcision has been linked to a reduction of HPV infection in men and a reduced risk for cervical neoplasia in women with circumcised partners.  The results showed a significant reduction of 28% in the prevalence of high-risk HPV infection in female partners of circumcised males.  Male circumcision also reduced the incidence of high-risk HPV in women.  The authors suggest the reduced penile HPV carriage may explain the way in which circumcision helps prevent HPV infection in women.  The authors conclude that their findings indicate that male circumcision should now be accepted as an efficacious intervention for reducing the prevalence and incidence of HPV infections in female partners.

Problems involving the penis are not rare in pediatric practice.  A study by Wiswell (1980-1985) looked at 136,000 boys born in U.S. Army hospitals, where 100,000 were circumcised, and there was less than 0.01% complications, which were mostly minor with no deaths.  But of the 36,000 who were not circumcised, the problems were more than ten times higher and there were two deaths (Wiswell and Hachey, 1993).


The WHO and several Centers for Disease Control support circumcision as a preventative measure against HIV transmission.


There are recent alarming reports of harassment by medical professionals of new mothers (especially Jews) in an attempt to stop them from having this procedure carried out.  There has been a trend by pediatric organizations to skirt the truth in favor of what could be viewed as “New Age political correctness,” spurious “human rights” rhetoric, or perhaps fear of litigation stemming from a very, very unlikely surgical mishap.

Is it remotely possible that we are beginning to experience the events of the 1920s and 1930s in Germany – where governmental rules were “codified and classified and recorded to ensure the proper conduct of current and future generations.”?

Dr. Norman Lavin is a clinical professor at UCLA Medical School.

Arthur Stern, inventor, activist and philanthropist dies at 87

Arthur Stern, inventor, activist and philanthropist,  died in his home in Los Angeles May 25, 2012 at 87.

Arthur Stern was born in Budapest, Hungary in 1925. His life story combined Holocaust-era heroism, scientific excellence, pioneering technological innovation, passionate pro-Israel activism, Jewish community volunteer work, and a stellar devotion to peace and justice.

A graduate of Hungarian and Swiss Jewish seminaries, Stern survived the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, studied electrical engineering in Switzerland in the mid-1940s and immigrated to the United States in 1951 to launch a remarkable career as an innovator in electronics.

Stern played a leading role in General Electric’s development of America’s first color television. Then, as an expert on transistor technology, he managed the Advanced Circuits group at GE’s Electronics Laboratory and the company’s Electronic Devices and Applications Laboratory, where he worked on several groundbreaking technologies, including laser technology. Stern later was the head of Martin-Marietta’s Electronics Division and the head of Magnavox’s research laboratory, where he pioneered the satellite navigation devices that were rapidly deployed in commercial, military and private ships. He was also a pioneer developer of Global Positioning System (GPS), the technology used in today’s vehicle and smartphone navigation systems.

Upon retirement in 1990, Stern was elected president of America’s Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. He was the first American Jew to hold the job.

Stern quickly harnessed his energy and passion to a myriad of Jewish community and pro-Israel causes, from advancing peace for Israel to assisting it with the monumental task of absorbing the flow of Russian Jews, and fighting for social justice and the advancement of Israel’s civil society. In addition to his leadership role with APN, Stern was active with the New Israel Fund, the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, LA’s Bureau of Jewish Education, the Progressive Jewish Alliance, and many more.

Arthur was a longtime senior member of American for Peace Now’s Board of Directors and co-chair of its Los Angeles chapter.

“Arthur was our moral compass,” APN’s President and CEO Debra DeLee wrote in a letter to board members. “Arthur was driven by core values that set a moral imperative for our debates on the myriad of issues that we struggle with as an organization.” “He was brilliant, funny, impatient, generous and stubborn. He didn’t suffer fools lightly, and when you were rewarded with that delighted, somehow-angelic-looking smile, you knew you had done well.”

A full bio of Arthur Stern, from a January 30, 2003 feature in The Jewish Journal, is

Basel opens first new Orthodox synagogue in 83 years

Basel, a city with a Jewish population of some 2,000, saw the opening of its fifth synagogue.

Monday’s opening was the first dedication of an Orthodox synagogue in the city of Zionist fame since 1929.

Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski, a Chabad emissary who settled in Basel 10 years ago, will run the synagogue, which is near the Chabad House. It is part of the Feldinger Chabad Jewish Center, named for a Jewish family that hosted Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany.

The dedication was “a very exciting day for the community,” Wishedski said.

Joel Weill, the Basel Jewish community’s head of administration, worried that the new synagogue could be divisive.

“We value Rabbi Wishedski’s work on education, but we’re not so happy about the synagogue,” Weill said. “We fear it will further divide the community. We have 1,000 people who go to synagogues. This isn’t New York.”

Weill added that the community was “diminishing” in size.

Basel hosted the inaugural congress of the World Zionist Organization in 1897, chaired by Theodor Herzl. “At Basel I founded the Jewish State,” Herzl wrote in his diary.

Dateline Davos: Israelis and Palestinians make their voices heard

“Each one of us needs to understand our power and our responsibility, and take action by asking: What am I willing to do to end the conflict?” That statement was made in a video clip featuring young Palestinians and Israelis presented at the World Economic Conference in Davos, Switzerland last week.

The video presentation, which was aired via closed circuit to a conference room filled with hundreds of the world’s most influential leaders, was the kickoff of the grass-roots organization One Voice’s $5 million “What Are You Willing to Do to End the Conflict?” campaign. Among those present for the screening were Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, Israel’s Vice Premier Shimon Peres, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israel’s Foreign Minister Tzippi Livni.

The short broadcast showed images of One Voice efforts to kick-start a Palestinian-Israeli dialogue and root out extremism: town hall meetings in Israel and the West Bank, leaflet dissemination, petition signing, rallies, marches and interviews with moderates on all sides. One Voice, founded by American Daniel Lubetzky in 2002, advocates amplifying and empowering the voices of moderate Israelis and Palestinians while quelling extremist factions. The organization boasts a 250,000-strong membership.

“If we’re going to end this conflict,” former U.S. Middle East envoy Dennis Ross conveyed in the video clip, “we need to address matters from the grass roots on up.”

Grass-roots voices included Chrissy Soudain of Jerusalem: “One Voice enables the Israeli and Palestinian people to take steps to propel political representatives toward a comprehensive political agreement.”

“We still haven’t won the war for peace,” noted Miri Olifant of Tel Aviv. “But we will not stop engaging through nonviolent action until we prevail,” concluded Odeh Awwad of Bir Zeit University.

“It is the first time someone is asking Palestinians what they really think,” said an unidentified Palestinian man in the clip.

The clip ended with two kindergarten-age children asking in Arabic and Hebrew: “What are we willing to do to end the conflict?”

Messages from town hall meetings in Tel Aviv, Ramallah and Jerusalem were then broadcast to attendees via One Voice directors and leaders stationed in each of the three cities.

“People in the audience — made up of extremely influential people — were teary-eyed. Tens of thousands of people have seen the video and millions have seen reports about the gathering — and all of those felt a much needed ray of hope,” Lubetzky said from Davos following the summit.

After the screening, Abbas, Livni and Peres took turns at the dais expressing their reactions to the clip and voicing plans for the future. Although Abbas and Livni launched into lengthy political addresses, they began by expressing hope and willingness for arriving at a peaceful solution. In her speech, Livni reiterated the need for a two-state solution and expressed commitment to the overall process.

“We all watched it with mixed feelings,” Livni told the audience in Davos.

“Sadness for lost opportunities, but on the other hand, hope. They gave me hope, but I think our responsibility is to give them hope. They are our children and our future. If there is something to come out of this room, it is a promise to generations to come to bring peace to our region.”

Abbas reiterated the need for dialogue on a personal level, saying the presentation had also “instilled hope” in his heart. “In the past century we have lived side by side, but we didn’t have the people-to-people relationship. We have reached that step now, belatedly. Dialogue between sectors of society will lead to peace.”

Peres stressed the connection between politics and economy, telling attendees that the two are inseparable. “The better the Palestinians have it, the better we will have it. That’s the best thing we can do for ourselves. Fatah represents the future; Hamas the past,” he said referring to the moderate and extremist factions within the current Palestinian political realm.

In Ramallah, One Voice Palestine Executive Director Nisreen Shaheen — who watched the historical broadcast with dozens of like-minded Palestinians — expressed cautious optimism.

“For us, as One Voice Palestine and Palestinians in general, it was an exciting moment – to see the people’s voice being heard by important world decision makers. But we felt like leaders listened to the voices in the video and then went back to their top-level political agendas and rhetoric,” Shaheen said. “But for us, it gave us a feeling that now there is a bigger responsibility and more effort to be dedicated.”

And in Tel Aviv, Israel’s One Voice Executive Director Gil Shami said that although appearances would suggest otherwise, he believes One Voice represents a majority in favor of ousting extremism.

“Many people ask me how it can be that Hamas is in power; I’m saying Hamas is a metaphor for desperation. When the Oslo agreement was signed, 88 percent of Palestinians supported it,” Shami said. “They lost hope, and the answer to desperation was Hamas. We saw with Lebanon this summer that missiles can hit Israeli cities. The situation requires urgency because desperation leads to catastrophe.”

Lubetzky summed up the organization’s efforts and results: “We’ve been building this human infrastructure for five years, and, in spite of the horrible atmosphere, or perhaps because of it, we are gaining more members and more momentum. People are ready to stand up and say, ‘Enough!'”

Stephanie L. Freid is a freelance writer for ISRAEL21c, a media organization focusing on 21st century Israel.

Briefs: Holocaust denial resolution goes to U.N.; Swiss admit Israel-Syria mediation; Survivors owed

Holocaust Denial Resolution Goes to U.N.

The United States presented a resolution condemning Holocaust denial to the United Nations General Assembly. The text, introduced Tuesday in advance of the U.N.-designated International Day of Commemoration for victims of the Holocaust on Jan. 27, urges member states “to reject any denial of the Holocaust as a historical event” and “condemns without reservation any denial of the Holocaust.” Although it does not mention Iran, the measure is seen as a reaction to last month’s Holocaust denial conference hosted by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a reaction to, but certainly the conference in question only reminds us that there are those among us who actually minimize or deny the Holocaust, and we find that frightening,” said Richard Grenell, the U.S. mission’s spokesman. “And this resolution makes clear it’s unacceptable to even minimize it.”

The resolution, which has some 25 sponsors, is expected to go to a vote Friday.

Pole Wins Jerusalem Prize

This year’s Jerusalem Prize will go to Leszek Kolakowski in recognition of his critiques of the repressive aspects of Soviet communism and his championing of human liberty. The prestigious literary prize will be presented at next month’s Jerusalem International Book Fair.

Born in 1927, Kolakowski earned a doctorate from Warsaw University and went on to serve on the faculties of Harvard, Oxford and the University of Chicago before retiring in 1995. Past recipients of the prize include Bertrand Russell, Arthur Miller, Susan Sontag, Mario Vargas Llosa, Milan Kundera and Simone de Beauvoir. Some of the recipients went on to receive the Nobel Prize for literature, including V.S. Naipaul and J.M. Coetzee.

Swiss Admit Israel-Syria Mediation

Switzerland confirmed that it had been mediating secret efforts to launch Israeli-Syrian peace talks. Swiss President and Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey said Monday that top emissaries from her government were currently in Damascus. She refused to elaborate, but the disclosure appeared to confirm a Ha’aretz report earlier this month that a European country had mediated two years of unofficial talks between a retired Israeli diplomat and a Syrian American businessman about how the two countries could resume peace talks that were cut off in 2000. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert dismissed the contacts as unauthorized, while the Syrian government called the Ha’aretz report baseless.

Survivors Owed Billions, Study Says

Holocaust survivors are still owed as much as $175 billion in reparations, according to a new study. The Jewish Political Studies Review in Jerusalem said European nations had promised $3.4 billion in reparations, but only half of that had been paid by 2005. Only about 20 percent of Jewish assets have been returned overall, according to the study, which was made public last Friday by Reuters. The study said payments slowed after the United States stopped pressuring Europe on restitution. Holocaust survivors, many of them poor, are frustrated with the lack of payments. “Things are moving much too slowly,” said Menachem Rosensaft, founder of the International Network of Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors. The Claims Conference said it would not comment on the report.

Katsav to Face Rape Charges

Israel’s attorney general decided that President Moshe Katzav should be charged with rape. Menachem Mazuz’s office issued a statement Tuesday saying it had collected enough evidence to support charging Katsav with rape and sexual harassment of former employees, obstruction of justice and fraud. A final decision on whether to indict Katsav will be made after a hearing in which the president may present his case. The president has immunity while in office, but said last month that he would resign if indicted. Katsav has denied any wrongdoing.

JDub, Matisyahu End Legal Troubles

In a release issued Tuesday, nonprofit Jewish record label and management team JDub announced it has resolved all legal disputes with Matisyahu, although its business relationship with the artist remains severed. In a surprise move last March, the Chasidic reggae star abruptly ended his management agreement with JDub’s Aaron Bisman and Jacob Harrison on the eve of the release of his first major studio album, “Youth.” JDub claimed their agreement with the artist had three years remaining on a four-year contract when Matisyahu moved to representation by former Capitol Records president Gary Gersh.

— Staff Report

Rap Mogul Addresses Jewish Congress

Rap mogul Russell Simmons called on Jewish entertainers to fight racism. In a speech Monday to the World Jewish Congress titled “Unity: Fighting Our Fights Together,” Simmons spoke about his public service announcements against racism and anti-Semitism that will be aired in Europe later this month. The ads, produced by Simmons, co-leader of The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, feature Simmons and rapper Jay-Z encouraging young people to fight racism and anti-Semitism in their communities. Simmons called on the Beastie Boys and other Jewish entertainers to create another public service announcement with him, this one focusing on Islamophobia.

Saddam Chroniclers Look to Yad Vashem

Iraqis documenting Saddam Hussein’s crimes have been consulting with Yad Vashem. Yediot Achronot reported Tuesday that a group of Iraqi exiles that want to honor the late dictator’s victims visited the Jerusalem-based Holocaust memorial last year and also met with Hollywood director Steven Spielberg, who has documented the stories of Holocaust survivors. “It is difficult for me to make a comparison between the story of the Iraqi victims and the Holocaust of the Jews in Europe,” Kanan Makiya, one of the researchers, told Yediot. “Yet there are many basic similarities. Saddam behaved toward some parts of his people as Hitler did toward the Jews. Both cases are tragedies and there were innocent victims in both cases.”

Shipwreck Found Off Israel’s Coast

An eighth-century shipwreck was discovered off Israel’s northern coast. Though the 50-foot-long boat was discovered almost a decade ago, Haifa University’s Institute for Maritime Studies announced the find Tuesday after completing its research into the vessel.

“We do not have any other historical or archaeological evidence of the economic activity and commerce of this period,” said the university’s Ya’acov Kahanov. “The shipwreck will serve as a source of information about the social and economic activities in this area.”

In addition to the wooden hull, many of the boat’s contents were preserved. Among them are 30 vessels of pottery of different sizes and designs containing fish bones, ropes, mats, a bone needle, a wooden spoon, wood carvings and food remains, mainly carobs and olives.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

A Swiss Family Bind — No Hotel Heirs


In Switzerland, resorts like St. Moritz and Arosa are second only to chocolate and cheese fondue in popularity. But these two disparate destinations, more easily accessible by train than car, both offer something rarely found in other Swiss mountain retreats — kosher hotels.

The Hotel Edelweiss in St. Moritz and the Hotel Metropol in Arosa are Jewish sanctuaries for observant tourists, offering everything from kosher dining and space for simchas to daily religious services and snow-melt mikvahs. They are family-run havens that inspire fierce loyalty in their guests, sometimes drawing generations of families from countries like England, Israel and the United States.

As the hotels prepare for the big Pesach rush that marks the end of the winter season, the couples that run the Edelweiss and Metropol are looking forward to returning home to Zurich. But they are also wrestling with doubts about the future of these kosher hideaways, and one question looms: Who will take over the family business?

In glitzy St. Moritz, women don fur coats as they window shop stores like Gucci and Armani, and the ski instructors suit up in Prada-designed uniforms. People flock to the town’s spas and nosh in its tea rooms, or they turn to funicular-accessible Corviglia for skiing and hiking.

A short walk from the central area of St. Moritz-Dorf brings guests to the Hotel Edelweiss, a family affair that has served kosher-conscious consumers since 1883. Leopold Bermann grew up in the hotel, which catered to Jewish American soldiers after World War II. He is the third Bermann to run the Edelweiss, having taken over for his father at 22 in 1953. His British-born wife, Rita, has worked alongside “Poldi,” as his family calls him, since 1960.

“All of our children have been married here,” said Leopold Bermann, referring to his four daughters and one son.

Now 73, Bermann continues to operate what he says is the world’s oldest-operating Jewish hotel, but he has no clear successor. Only one of his five children, Shoshana, still lives in Switzerland, and while his son, Josef, bought the hotel a few years ago, he leaves the management up to his parents. His son has expressed no interest in returning to Switzerland from Israel, so the Bermanns are pinning their hopes on the grandchildren.

Their 20-year-old granddaughter from Jerusalem, Rachel Bitton, spent her first season working at the hotel this winter. She’s looking forward to starting a family, but she’s not sure if she wants to do it in Switzerland.

“For now, I still want to live in Israel,” she said. “I’m really connected to the hotel, and I feel like I need to be here, but I don’t know.”

Rita Bermann, who left London to be with her husband, hopes Bitton will make a similar choice to carry on the family tradition.

“She’s the best to take over,” she said.

A half-day rail trip shared by the Glacier Express and Rhätischen Bahn takes travelers through Graubünden’s glacial valleys. It’s clear when arriving in Arosa that the resort is the polar opposite of St. Moritz.

“St. Moritz is high society. Here is a place where everyone is welcome,” said Marcel Levin, owner of Arosa’s Hotel Metropol.

One main street is the focus of all activity in this sleepy hamlet, where parents take their bundled-up babies out in sleds rather than strollers, and couples snuggle ensconced under thick blankets in horse-drawn sleighs.

Levin, 52, was born and grew up in Arosa. He talks glowingly of non-Jewish friends carrying schoolbooks for him on Shabbat and putting up a sukkah in more than a foot of snow. His father purchased the Metropol in 1949, and Levin took over the hotel in 1975, one year after he married his Israeli wife, Lea.

Levin happily shmoozes in the dining room, talking with guests as they eat, while his wife works behind the scenes with the staff. But this jovial man turns serious when he talks about the Metropol’s future. Jewish tourism is changing in Arosa, he said, and more people are starting to rent homes, turning to his hotel only for religious services and meals. It’s a sentiment echoed by the Bermanns in St. Moritz.

“Everything is going to private apartments, so we’re a bit scared,” he said.

Levin said none of his six children have expressed interest in taking over the hotel, but he still has some time on his side before he retires. “Maybe one will take it over,” he said, shrugging his shoulders.

In the meantime, Marcel and Lea Levin say they still take full advantage of their seasonal stays in Arosa. A few times a week at noon, they walk to the Weisshorn and take a tram to the halfway point, the Mittlestation, to enjoy the view of towering snow-covered peaks and take in the crisp mountain air.

“We’re new people after half an hour,” Levin said.

For more information about the Hotel Edelweiss, call 011-41-(0)81-836-5555. For more information about the Hotel Metropol, call 011-41-(0)81-378-8181 or visit

For Swiss travel information, call (877) 794-8037 or visit Switzerland Tourism paid the writer’s travel expenses.



My great-uncle, Jacques Graubart, came to town last weekend. Jacques, a fit and vigorous 79, has always been the superhero against whom I’ve measured my life. Jacques entered the Resistance when he was 19 and rowed hundreds of Jews to safety from occupied France into Switzerland. He was caught frequently by the French and escaped every time but the last time. Incarcerated by the Nazis in a series of concentration camps, Jacques survived a death march of prisoners that began with 1,400 and ended with himself and only three others alive.

He emerged from Buchenwald undaunted and became one of the world’s leading diamond dealers. Deeply involved in Israeli politics, his closest friends include prime ministers and ambassadors, journalists and best-selling authors. After quadruple bypass surgery, he still skis faster than teenagers. He is the real James Bond.

Jacques and my 4-month-old daughter, Chynna Bracha, met and hit it off. Chynna is purity, trust and a blissful unawareness. The world Jacques knew in the camps is one of horror and depravity. One day, Chynna may develop the need to understand evil. For now, though, the silent merging of the two worlds — the horrors Jacques knew and Chynna’s innocence — was almost vertiginous for me. They met instead on the common ground of love.

That weekend, Jacques perused two family photograph albums from the 1930s that my grandmother had spirited out of Europe on her own Holocaust odyssey. Jacques identified dozens of relatives and friends in the photos, almost all of whom were killed by the Nazis. To our surprise, one of the photos turned out to be the group picture from my grandparents’ wedding.

Seated in front of the wedding couple are their parents, my great-grandparents, whom the Nazis would kill seven years later. In fact, the Nazis would kill everyone in the photo except my grandparents and Jacques, the young boy standing at the extreme right. Unaware of the fate that would befall them, they looked like the cast of a Broadway play destined to close out of town.

Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote in “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” that evil exists because there are places in the universe that God hasn’t fully completed. These untamed pockets of chaos and disorder rain down harm on the innocent. But this explanation implies that God is less than all-powerful, and there is something deeply unsatisfying about that. Either God is everything or God is nothing. I can’t imagine that a divinely inspired universe could spin along for millions of years with so great a design flaw.

Of course not everyone believes in the existence of God. The great scientist, Richard Feynman, was a skeptic; he wrote that Earth seemed like an unlikely setting for the fight between good and evil. With all due respect, I disagree. I think Earth is an outstanding backdrop for that never-ending conflict.

The rabbis of the Talmud had a lot to say about evil. They posed the unanswerable question tzaddik v’ra lo, Talmudic shorthand for “How can evil befall the righteous?” They offered at least three responses: First, that sufferers would find bliss in an undefinable afterlife. Second, that in times of universal moral imperfection, good and evil fall randomly in the world; not because God isn’t in charge, but because we’re collectively too sinful to merit individual judgment. And third, Jews often receive joint reward or punishment because we are so tightly bound to one another.

Yet all these answers — Kushner’s, Feynman’s, the Talmud’s — are ultimately unsatisfying, because evil has to come from somewhere. It has to have an author, and so far, that author remains silent.

I brought the wedding picture to a photo refinisher who turned out to be a Holocaust survivor himself. He was a small boy in Belarus when the Nazis invaded his town and killed all the Jews — two-and-a-half hours after his family had escapec on foot, tipped off by a gentile neighbor. How appropriate — and yet how bizarre — that this man would be enlarging that wedding photo.

The enlargement will hang on the wall of our home, and one day Chynna Bracha will be old enough to ask me the story of her forebears in that photo, posing with hope and joy at the prospects for this new Jewish couple. I’d rather she asked me about the birds and the bees. I don’t know how to explain evil to a child, my child. I don’t even know how to explain it to myself.

Reviews of “The Envoy” and “Hitler’s Head”

“You can’t confront evil on its own ground without becoming part of it,” muses diplomat Heinrich Zwygart in “The Envoy,” and his self-recognition clearly applies to Switzerland, the country he represented faithfully in Berlin during the six years of World War II.

Zwygart’s job was to implement the “Swiss doctrine,” which is never defined in the play, but alludes to the country’s policy of collaborating economically and financially with Nazi Germany to forestall an invasion or economic strangulation.

He did his job well. He hobnobbed with Hitler at Berchtesgaden, promised von Ribbentrop food supplies and war planes in the waning days of the Third Reich, and, in the line of duty, slept with the wives of high-ranking Nazis.

Zwygart returns to his home after the fall of Berlin, expected to be hailed as a hero and savior of his country. Instead, he learns that his superiors at the foreign ministry have chosen him as the fall guy for their collaborationist wartime policy, and consigned him to permanent non-person status.

Swiss playwright Thomas Hurlimann plants “The Envoy” in a pure Kafkaesque milieu, in which Zwygart never sees or meets his accusers. Instead, in generally effective but occasionally wearying marathon monologues, he addresses his defense to a bug planted in the chandelier of his living room.

Alternately begging and defying his unseen and unheard superior, Zwygart unravels as he gradually builds the case against himself, all the while desperately trying to escape the trap.

In his thrashing about, he even considers enlisting the support of a wealthy Jew, whose jewels and paintings he apparently helped save from the Nazis, only to recall regretfully that the man perished in the Holocaust.

As presented at the Marilyn Monroe Theatre in West Hollywood, the intermission-less play ratchets up the tension under the sure direction of the 99-year-old “wunderalte,” Martin Magner.

In the capable cast, in which Josh Welsh essays the title role, and Erinn Strain his sister, veteran actor Curt Lowens stands out as the envoy’s blind father.

But the play impresses most for its political courage. Playwright Hurlimann has dared to indict not only his country’s politicians, but Switzerland’s most sacred institution, its citizen army.

Through Zwygart’s mouth, Hurlimann almost contemptuously dismisses the cherished Swiss belief that its small army forestalled a Nazi invasion, granting at most that it “shot some refugees.”

The second award for civil courage goes to the local Swiss consulate, which not only brought the play to the director’s attention, but, with Germany’s Goethe Institute, is the official sponsor of the production.

“The Envoy” plays Friday and Saturday evenings, through May 22, at the Marilyn Monroe Theatre of the Lee Strasberg Creative Center, 7936 Santa Monica Blvd. For tickets, call (323) 660-8587.

Hitler’s Head Shows its FaceBy Naomi Pfefferman, Entertainment Editor

The Mitzvah of Tzedakah

Last month, the major private Swiss banks signed an agreement to implement the $1.25 billion fund to pay to survivors of Nazi-era crimes or their heirs. So far, this is the only major settlement in the raft of cases — some 28 to date, with more to be filed shortly — that seek redress against many of the banks, insurance companies and heavy industries that participated in and profited from Nazi Germany’s massive campaign of plunder, enslavement and killing.

By its terms, the Swiss-banks settlement extends to “targets and victims of Nazi persecution.” According to the settlement, that term includes Jews, homosexuals, people with physical and psychiatric disabilities, and Roma (a people who are popularly but inaccurately known as Gypsies). The settlement also includes refused asylum-seekers in Switzerland and people who were forced or slave laborers for Swiss companies.

The Swiss-banks settlement does not, regrettably, include all of the victim groups that the Nazis singled out. The landscape of death and suffering inflicted by the Third Reich was on a far vaster scale, one that is only slowly coming to public perception. The amount of the settlement, while seemingly large, is, to put it in perspective, less than three times what Merrill Lynch agreed to pay Orange County for allegedly faulty investment advice. Arithmetic dictates that, for a fixed fund, there will be a smaller per-capita recovery the larger the class of defined victims is.

Initially, the World War II-era litigation involved relatively discrete claims for unredeemed bank accounts and insurance polices. The Swiss-banks case and most of the others, however, are now driven mainly by other issues — slave labor and looting and plunder of property. The German war machine was kept up and running by the unlimited supply of free labor funneled to it by the SS. Banking and industry were greatly and unjustly enriched in the process.

Companies that have already been sued for their use of slave labor include Ford, Siemens, Volkswagen, Heinkel and Degussa — the last of which is also accused of manufacturing Zyklon B for the gas chambers. Others are expected to be added soon. The major German and Austrian banks are also alleged to have reaped large profits from slave labor and looted assets.

Who were the Nazi’s victims? The Swiss-banks case has one definition. Other pending and future litigation may provide a fuller historical picture.

The Nazis intended to exterminate the entire Jewish people. The Roma were also marked for total extermination. While Roma are included in the Swiss-banks settlement, many aspects of their persecution, however, are not well understood by the public. The stereotype of Roma as shiftless nomads, for instance, has not withstood scrutiny. It has become clear that many European Roma had, by 1933, joined the ranks of the middle class and owned considerable property and other wealth. The Germans labeled the Roma a people of artfremdes Blut (alien blood). Nazi policy from the outset was to render the Roma zukunftlos (futureless), first by forced sterilizations — Roma accounted for some 94 percent of those the Germans carried out — and then by outright killing.

The persecution of people with physical and psychiatric disabilities has also received some public attention. These individuals who had the misfortune to live within the Reich were, as the Roma had been, also labeled lebensunvertes Leben (lives unworthy of life) — and dealt with accordingly.

Homosexuals were forced to submit to “medical experiments” or subjected to forced labor.

The Swiss settlement appears not to account for several other groups of victims. There were those, for example, whose actions were deemed contrary to the interests of the state. Early in the Nazi years, socialists and communists were arrested en masse and their assets seized. Laws devised to combat the political left were later used against the Jews. Many communists fled to the Soviet Union; the Kremlin authorities then often sent them to the Gulag or handed them back to the Nazis after the German-Soviet nonaggression pact of 1939. Jehovah’s Witnesses, who refused to salute the flag, serve in the army or work in war industries, were also seized. Many Spanish republicans who had fled to France in the wake of Franco’s victory were rounded up by both the Nazi occupation and the Vichy regimes.

Prisoners of war were killed in enormous numbers. We have the testimony of a witness of no lesser stature than Primo Levi, in his last completed work, “The Drowned and the Saved,” that, in Auschwitz, Soviet POWs — a total of 2.2 million to 3.3 million of whom were killed in German captivity — were considered “only one degree superior to the Jews.” Bergen-Belsen began as Stalag 311, a prisoner-of-war camp. The historian Sybil Milton has reported that the 15,000 Russian prisoners at Auschwitz-Birkenau suffered a 99.2-percent mortality rate.

The suffering of non-Jewish Poles and other Slavs — whom the Nazis deemed untermenschen (subhumans) — under German occupation was also extreme. In pursuit of German policy “to see to it that only people of purely Germanic blood live in the East,” Hitler ordered the SS to “send to death, mercilessly and without compassion, men, women and children of Polish derivation.” Already by the end of 1940, the SS had expelled more than 325,000 Poles from their homes and looted their property. Scholars estimate that between 1.8 million and 1.9 million non-Jewish Poles became victims of German occupation policies and the war.

Slave labor was a favored fate for the Polish people. Indeed, Poles made up perhaps the single largest group of slave laborers. By war’s end, at least 1.5 million Poles had been impressed into forced labor and transported throughout the Reich to work in every economic sector. In August 1942, a subaltern of Alfred Rosenberg — the chief Nazi ideologist and the Reich minister for the Occupied Eastern Territories — put it this way: “The Slavs are to work for us. In so far as we do not need them, they may die.” Resisters were executed, and many more died from the exhausting work and harsh conditions. Poles — who were identified by purple P’s sewn to their clothing — became prisoners in nearly all of the concentration camps within the Reich’s far-flung system.

The list of defendants in the U.S. litigation is lengthening. At the same time, the recognition of who their victims were is becoming clearer. While true compensation is, of course, impossible, the record must reflect the realities of history, and those responsible should be held to account for actions of enormous magnitude and scope.

Barry A. Fisher is an international human rights lawyer in Century City. He is one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs in the Swiss-banks litigation and some dozen other lawsuits involving World War II-era assets.

Wiesenthal Report:

Jewish refugees fortunate enough to make it into Switzerlandduring World War II, were, in most cases, interned in forced-laborcamps, required to perform hard physical labor under primitive livingconditions, and separated from their families.

By 1944, the Swiss had established about 100 such camps, manysurrounded by barbed wire, which held some 22,500 refugees, most ofwhom were Jewish.

The charges were presented Tuesday in a press conference by Dr.Alan Morris Schom, an American historian, who attributed in hisjust-completed report the harsh treatment of Jews to “a pattern ofconsistent anti-Semitism” by Swiss officials.

Schom’s report, “The Unwanted Guests: Swiss Forced Labor Camps,1940-1944,” was prepared for and presented at the Simon WiesenthalCenter.

In his report and presentation, Schom identified 62 camps by nameand added the following charges:

* Men up to 60 were forced to work on road gangs and in forestswith shovels and pickaxes, from dawn to dusk, in summer and winter.

* Women and girls were assigned to institutions and privateresidences to perform the most menial labors.

* Camp commandants separated men from their wives, and mothersfrom even infant children.

* Recalcitrant refugees were sent to one of two special”punishment” camps or taken to the border and handed over to FrenchVichy police or German officials.

Throughout the war, Schom said, Switzerland maintained a two-trackpolicy for Jewish and Christian refugees. While the Swiss governmentprovided for Christians, the small Swiss Jewish community andAmerican Jewish relief organizations were required to pay the entirecost of maintaining Jewish refugees.

In addition, a special “Jew tax” was imposed on all wealthy Jewishrefugees, who also had to divulge full information on any bankaccount they might hold.

Schom also charged that throughout the Hitler era, the presidentof the Geneva-based International Red Cross, Dr. Max Huber, profitedfrom arms sales to Italy and Germany and owned a manufacturing plantin southern Germany run by the SS and employing slave labor.

In a letter to Swiss President Flavio Cotti that accompanied thereport, the Wiesenthal Center’s Rabbi Marvin Hier asked that thetreatment of Jewish refugees be investigated by the BergierCommission of eminent historians.

If the charges are validated, Hier said, Switzerland should offerapologies and compensation to former camp inmates. Hier alsoemphasized that the forced-labor camps, though harsh, could not becompared to Nazi concentration camps, and that many individual Swisscitizens sought to succor the refugees.

Schom received a doctorate in history but is not affiliated withany academic institution. He lives in France and has written fourbooks, put out by respected publishing houses, on aspects of Frenchand British history.

In a brief interview, Schom said that he had talked to one formerSwiss camp commandant but had received no cooperation from otherSwiss officials. The historian said that he had been in contact withthree German Jews, now living in London, who had been interned by theSwiss, and he had researched recently declassified British wartimedocuments.

“As a historian, I fit together bits and pieces until I find apattern,” he said.

In Switzerland, meanwhile, a government spokeswoman, MarieMarceline Kurman, said that the Schom study was littered withhistorical inaccuracies and that the existence of work camps forrefugees has long been documented by Swiss historians.

Of various former camp inmates interviewed by The AssociatedPress, some praised their treatment by the Swiss, while otherscomplained of harsh conditions and anti-Semitic incidents.

However, some of Schom’s charges were endorsed by an unscheduledwitness. Annette Glazman, herself a wartime Belgian refugee inSwitzerland, testified that her first husband had been interned in aSwiss camp, where “he was treated like a slave,” and where mothersand children were separated.

“The Swiss were very anti-Semitic, and they treated people asbadly as they could,” the 77-year-old Glazman, a Camarillo resident,said. “We knew exactly when Germany began to lose the war, becausethe Swiss attitude toward us changed radically.”

During daylong sessions at the Wiesenthal Center, state InsuranceCommissioner Chuck Quackenbush took testimony from six witnesses whoaccused European insurance companies, particularly in Italy andGermany, of failing to make good on policies taken out by parents andrelatives.

Quackenbush warned the only insurance company representativepresent at the hearing that he and commissioners of other stateswould use their regulatory power over American subsidiaries of theEuropean companies to see “that justice is done.”

At another session, a Belgian and a Russian art expert relatedtheir labyrinthine efforts to track down art and literary workslooted by the Nazis.

For instance, Jacques Lust of the Royal Museum of Fine Arts inBrussels told of finding a rare book in Amsterdam in 1996 that hadbeen originally confiscated by the Nazis from a wealthy Belgian Jew.In tracing the book’s journey over 50 years, he found that it hadchanged owners in Berlin, Silesia, Minsk, Moscow and Amsterdam.

The Swiss Spin

Swiss Ambassador Alfred Defago

Has unremitting pressure on the Swiss government and its banks byAmerican Jewish organizations and supportive politicians becomecounterproductive, or will only constant prodding move the Swiss todo the right thing?

The question is being spurred by a newly cohesive attempt atdamage control by leading Swiss spokesmen, aimed at Americanaudiences in general, and the Jewish community in particular.

During a recent week-long visit to California, Alfred Defago, theSwiss ambassador to the United States, spent his first day in LosAngeles, visiting the Simon Wiesenthal Center in the morning andholding back-to-back meetings with two Jewish leadership groups inthe afternoon and evening.

During his trip, Defago addressed an average of five to eightgroups a day, about a third of them Jewish. But even in meetings withgeneral audiences, “the Jewish aspect always comes up,” he saidduring a private interview in his hotel room.

Two weeks earlier, Dr. Pierre Braunschweig, a Swiss historian anddirector of a political-policy think tank, stopped in Los Angelesduring a national tour to defend his country’s role during World WarII. He said that he was the first Swiss representative to visitAmerican universities and to examine charges that neutral Switzerlandwas a willing collaborator of Nazi Germany during the war.

Defago struck one major theme in his public addresses and privatemeetings. After reciting his country’s current and future steps toidentify Swiss bank accounts opened by Holocaust victims and toestablish a fund to aid survivors, Defago added, in one typicalinstance:

“While it may sometimes appear that Switzerland moves slowly, thisis because the Swiss are a deliberate and prudent people…. We askAmericans to please respect democratic rule. Give us time forreflection and making up our minds. Nobody likes to be pushedaround.”

And, on another occasion, he said, “We react better toconstructive dialogue than unreasonable political and economicthreats.”

To bolster his plea for patience and calm discussion, Defagorepeatedly quoted U.S. Under Secretary of State Stuart E. Eizenstat,the leading American voice for lowering the level of anti-Swissrhetoric and sanctions.

It is not lost on the Swiss that Eizenstat, both as a prominentJewish figure and as director of a U.S. government study that’shighly critical of the Swiss government, enjoys a high credibilityrating in the Jewish community.

In opposing sanctions against Swiss banks by the state governmentsof California, New York and Massachusetts, Eizenstat said, recently:”Such actions have led to a negative reaction in Switzerland,creating the impression among the Swiss population that they areunder unfair attack.

“This impression undermines the Swiss government’s ability tocomplete those initiatives that are subject to a direct vote of thepeople in referenda.”

Eizenstat’s reference is to two separate referendums that Swissvoters must approve in order to allow the government to sell off aconsiderable part of its gold reserves and establish a $4.7 billionSolidarity Fund, part of which would benefit Holocaust survivors.

Braunschweig and other knowledgeable Swiss observers predict thatif the present mood of the Swiss electorate continues into next year,the referendums will fail, elevating the present acrimony to an evenhigher pitch.

Backing Eizenstat’s viewpoint is Abraham H. Foxman, nationaldirector of the Anti-Defamation League. In a letter to stateTreasurer Matt Fong, Foxman wrote that, given recent “very hopefulsigns” of cooperation by the Swiss government and banks,” punitivepolicies by California and other states and municipalities would becounterproductive to this positive effort.”

Defago concedes the present aggrieved state of most of hiscountrymen at what they perceive as bias by the American media,unfair accusations by Jewish organizations and demeaning threats byAmerican politicians. But many Swiss, he adds, especially among theyounger generation, are open to critical self-examination and willcorrect past errors if allowed to work through the process at theirown pace.

At least one Jewish leader, with intimate knowledge ofSwitzerland, sees some merit in Defago’s arguments. Arthur P. Stern,a Swiss-educated Holocaust survivor who is married to a Swiss-Jewishwoman and who is former president of Magnavox, said that while “I amnot an enthusiastic supporter of Switzerland, I feel that some thingshave gone too far.”

Stern, who chaired a meeting that the Jewish Federation Council’sJewish Community Relations Committee (JCRC) had with the Swissambassador, gave, as an example, the recent television documentary,”Nazi Gold.” The documentary charged that the Swiss allowed thetransshipment of Italian Jews across their territory to Germanconcentration camps.

Stern termed this charge preposterous, saying: “It is no minorthing to accuse a people of murder. It is very difficult,particularly for American audiences, to reconstruct a situation 50years later and to understand the attitudes and traditions of anothercountry.”

Stern’s relatively charitable viewpoint was not shared by StanleyKandel, who participated in the same meeting.

“I didn’t find the ambassador forthcoming; he would only admitwhat he was forced to admit,” said Kandel. “He never acknowledgedthat Switzerland prospered during World War II and acted way beyondwhat it needed for survival.”

The president of the American Jewish Committee’s Los Angeleschapter, Barry Sanders, who took part in a separate colloquium withDefago, suggested a balanced approach to Switzerland.

“We should continue to put appropriate pressure on the Swiss to dothe right thing, but acrimonious and not strictly accurateaccusations are not effective,” he said.

Yet such observations on the Swiss pleas for relief from Americanpressures and accusations are mild, compared with the reactions ofthose individuals and organizations that have led the fight to forceSwiss banks and the Swiss government to admit to and rectify theirwartime and postwar actions.

Sen. Alfonse D’Amato, R-N.Y., who chaired the Senate hearings thatexposed Swiss banking practices and brought them to world attention,minced no words.

“What do [the Swiss] expect me to do: surrender my right of freespeech?” he said in a phone call from his Washington office. “Dotheir banks think that by releasing their lists [of wartime Jewishaccounts] a little at a time, we’ll be satisfied? If we didn’t bringthis up, they wouldn’t have done a thing — give me a break.”

Injecting occasional expletives for emphasis, the senator promisedthat “I will do whatever is necessary to achieve justice…it is notI who creates antagonism, it’s their officials. It wasn’t me, butthey, who talked of Jewish blackmail and a war against the Jews.”

Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress,was only slightly less emphatic. The WJC, as the lead organization inconfronting Swiss banks and government policy, “does not applypressure, but pursues the truth,” said Steinberg. “If the Swissconsider that truth is pressure, that’s their problem.

“Actions taken by the Swiss have undercut confidence in them. Theyhave been unwilling to admit that they have made mistakes. We willcontinue to pursue the truth.”

Another player in the Swiss arena is the Simon Wiesenthal Center.The Los Angeles-based organization found itself in a diplomaticcontretemps when the Swiss ambassador showed up for a scheduled 8a.m. visit to learn that neither of the center’s two top executives,Rabbis Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper, were there to greet him. ASwiss official told a Jewish leader that the rabbis’ absence was “aslap in the face.”

Hier, who said that he was at a long-planned family wedding in NewYork and that Cooper was in Israel, ascribed the incident to amisunderstanding. Defago, in an earlier communication, had merelyasked for a tour of the Wiesenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance, asdo many visiting dignitaries, Hier said.

“Had we known that the ambassador wanted to see us and discussissues with us, we would have notified him that we would not be intown,” Hier said. He added that he would phone Defago to apologizefor the inadvertent slight.

Otherwise, the Wiesenthal Center’s investigations will continue tofocus on what Hier called “the neglected question” of how manydormant wartime accounts in Swiss banks were opened by top Naziofficials and businessmen before the collapse of the Third Reich.

The sums deposited by perpetrators of the Holocaust may be muchlarger than the amounts deposited by Holocaust victims, but the Swisshad not exposed the Nazi assets, because it would be “tooembarrassing for the Swiss,” Hier said.

The visits to Los Angeles by the Swiss ambassador and a Swisshistorian were marked by a number of ironies.

The two men’s meetings with Jewish organizations were conductedwith considerable civility on all sides. The really aggressivecomments and questions took place in such elevated and supposedlyneutral forums as the Los Angeles World Affairs Council and UCLA, andcame from unrestrained freelance protesters.

At the university, for instance, a questioner stunned the Swiss byaccusing them of a form of original sin, which included profiteeringduring World War I and the hiring out of Swiss mercenaries to warringEuropean armies in centuries past.

The visiting Swiss officials and journalists acknowledged thatthey were psychologically unprepared for worldwide criticism becauseof their country’s squeaky-clean and oversentimentalized image as theland of fine chocolates, watches and ski resorts, inhabited bystolid, law-abiding burghers.

To dispel this unwarranted picture of “Heidiland,” as one Swissvisitor put it derisively, he and others went to great lengths toassure Americans that Switzerland was rife with drug problems,racism, alienation of the young, high unemployment and the illscommon to other nations.