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Monday, April 20, 2009

Diplomatic row between Israel and Switzerland

Israel has recalled its envoy from Switzerland to show its displeasure with Sunday night's meeting between Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Swiss President Hans-Rudolf Merz.
Israel on Monday recalled its ambassador to Switzerland Ilan Elgar in protest of Swiss President Hans-Rudolf Merz's meeting on Sunday with his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Geneva, a day before Jews worldwide commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Israel also cited Switzerland's hosting of a "racist and Holocaust denier who openly declares his intentions to wipe Israel off the map."

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman issued a joint statement on Monday morning to the effect that Elgar would be recalled as soon as possible for consultations in Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, Foreign Ministry Deputy Director-General for Western Europe Rafi Barak on Monday summoned Switzerland's Deputy Ambassador to Israel Monika Schmutz-Kirgoz for an urgent Jerusalem meeting to relay Israel's displeasure at Merz's meeting with Ahmadinejad.

Former Israeli ambassador to Switzerland Aviv Shir-On confirmed that Elgar was on his way to Israel.

The message to Switzerland is that the meeting harms the values that Switzerland itself upholds, Shir-On said.

"Switzerland is a country friendly to Israel, but we are not ready to accept any and all actions by our friends," Shir-On said.

"A meeting by the president of a democratic country with a known Holocaust denier who also calls for the destruction of Israel is inconsistent with the values that Switzerland represents and that should be upheld," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

"Israel cannot ignore the fact that the conference being attended by the known Holocaust denier is taking place on the very same day that the Jewish people commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day," the statement continued.
The JPost reports that the Swiss Jewish community is also furious with Merz.

I'd like to make a number of points. First, the Post reminds us that it has only been one year since Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey met with Ahmadinejad to celebrate the signing of a gas deal with Iran. Like Merz, Calmy-Rey seemed to be enjoying herself more than carrying out a duty (see the picture above and the picture here). Given the two meetings, I have to question the platitude that Switzerland is a 'country friendly to Israel,' and to consider the reality that it is anything but a friend to Israel - or to the World Jewish community.

It is time to reassess Switzerland's 'neutrality,' and its relationship with the Jewish community in general and with Israel in particular. Such a reassessment would not be unprecedented. Last March, when there was a different administration in power in the US, the Americans considered declaring Switzerland 'non-neutral' as a result of that gas deal. And there is plenty of history to back up a reassessment of Israel's relationship with 'neutral' Switzerland. Consider, for example, their treatment of Jews trying to escape from the Nazis during World War II.
More than 50 years after the end of the war, it is now being disclosed that Alexander and thousands of other Jews escaped the Nazis only to spend years in a network of Swiss forced-labor camps. Refugees as young as 16 were held against their will, often behind barbed wire. They broke rocks, built roads, dug ditches and felled trees. If they complained, guards punished them and threatened deportation to the Nazis--and certain death. Some died from disease or overwork. Walter Fischer, a retired plumber now 82 and living in France, spent three years in camps and remembers accidents, hunger and threats: "I have not spoken of this for 50 years, but the Swiss are guilty of terrible crimes," he says. "They exploited us, and they have blood on their hands."

Just as Switzerland thought it was recovering from revelations that it was a willing conduit for Nazi gold and that Swiss businessmen profited from the war by trading with the Third Reich, these new allegations are dragging the nation into another bout of soul-searching. Edward Fagan, a New York lawyer who is suing the Swiss government on behalf of 22,000 clients over Nazi gold, will in the next 30 days file another lawsuit on behalf of the victims of labor camps. "It is now clear there was a forced-labor machine in Switzerland," he says. "Jews were victims of an inhuman and immoral policy."

Switzerland's reputation will take a further battering later this year with the release of a report on refugee policy by an international Independent Commission of Experts established by the Swiss government to investigate their wartime record. Besides the issue of forced labor, the Commission will look into the fact that Switzerland in 1938 insisted Germany should mark Jewish passports with a "J" stamp. Because of that policy, Swiss border authorities were able to identify Jews easily. At least 30,000 refugees were turned away, and most perished in Nazi death camps.


Last week the Simon Wiesenthal Center released a report on the Swiss camps which claimed that anti-Semitism was rife in wartime Switzerland and that a special "Jew-tax" was levied on wealthy Jewish refugees but not on those of other faiths. Many families were separated, including young babies from their mothers, according to the report's author, Alan Schom, an American historian living in France. "The Swiss were really sadistic," says Schom. "They wanted to hurt the Jews."
Read the whole thing. Here's hoping that ambassador Elgar will spend a significant amount of time in Israel - as long as it takes to make an accurate assessment of Switzerland's role in the extermination of six million Jews in World War II and to confront the 'neutral' Swiss with that assessment and its consequences.


At 4:22 PM, Blogger George Barth said...

The following is an excerpt from a NYTimes Op-Ed article. Now please try to imagine, how the NYTimes would react, if Israel would shutoff the water supply for Gaza
until the hostage Gilad Shalit is released.

In 1995, for example, the water supply for Mogadishu, the capital, was shut off by the United Nations humanitarian agencies until a hostage who worked for another aid organization was released. On the first day of the shutoff, the women who collected water from public distribution points yelled at the kidnappers; on the second day they stoned them; on the third day they shot at them; on the fourth day, the hostage was released.


At 4:22 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

Carl - the outrage in Israel has unified the entire Jewish people. There are normally differences of opinion on any other issue imaginable but this time the country is speaking with one voice. On the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, its taken on added significance. The Swiss don't really get how Jews feel about the reception they accorded to Iran's Ahmedinejad. There is something wrong with a world that sees nothing wrong with granting an anti-Semite a place of honor at a conference supposedly dedicated to fighting the worst evils of mankind and it says the world's attitude towards the Jews hasn't changed.

How can Jews be safe in this climate? That one even has to ask this question is an illustration of the dark times in which we live today.

At 6:45 PM, Blogger zicki71 said...

Switzrland is a political dwarf but wants to play a big role in international politics.
The problem is that it bows in front of powerful countries like the USA,China, Russia ,Germany ,etc.
It prefers to criticize a small country like Israel and to greet
a person like Mr. Ahmadinejad ignoring his RACIST speeches and
threats against Israel, giving thereore the impression he is cautioning Iran's President.
Shame on Mr. Merz, Presisent of the Swiss Confederation.


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