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April 17, 2014 / 17 Nisan, 5774
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Switzerland’

Geneva Lawmaker Wants to Ban Hanukkah

Saturday, November 30th, 2013

A city council member from Geneva, Switzerland, has warned his municipality against allowing a public Hanukkah event, which he said would violate Swiss law.

“I’m not afraid of being called anti-Semitic, because my request is not directed at a religious community [but at] the authorities, which do not comply with the law by issuing an authorization for this event,” council member Pierre Gauthier is quoted as telling the Tribune de Geneve daily newspaper this week.

In a letter to the mayor, Gauthier, who is the secretary of a not-for-profit called “Geneva Secular Coordination,” cited Switzerland’s Law of Foreign Worship, which states that “no celebration of worship, procession or any religious ceremony is allowed on public roads.”

He urged the mayor’s office to cancel a public candle-lighting event on Mollard Square scheduled for Dec. 3. The organizer of the event, Rabbi Mendel Pevzner of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, told the Tribune, “This is not a religious event but a moment of sharing, open to all faiths. Since 1991, we have never encountered a problem.”

On Tuesday, another council member from Geneva, Denis Menoud, wrote on Facebook that he was pleased with the signing of a deal between world powers and Iran on its alleged nuclear weapons program because, “The bottom line is that Israel is on the path of carbonization.” The deal was reached last week after talks in Geneva.

MCG President Roger Golay condemned Menoud’s words and said the party expected him to resign.

Johanne Gurfinkel of CICAD, a Swiss group that monitors anti-Semitism, called on Menoud to “publicly apologize for his statement.” Gurfinkel also asked Menoud’s rightist MCG party to take a stand against “this type of hateful comments.”

Menoud told the Tribute de Genève that the “sentence was taken out of context,” and that he only meant to say that this situation in the Middle East will create a new paradigm. “The loser is Israel, strategically and politically.”

Council of Europe Says Ritual Circumcision Won’t Be Banned

Thursday, October 10th, 2013

The Council of Europe has assured President Shimon Peres that Europe will not ban religious circumcision despite last week’s non-binding resolution of the Council’s Parliamentary Assembly that cited circumcision of males as a violation of human rights and equated it with female genital mutilation.

President Peres wrote on Monday to Thorbjorn Jagland, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, to protest the resolution. Although it has no legal significance, the Council is very influential on decisions by the European Union.

Jangland said male circumcision did not violate human rights, and Daniel Holtgen, the Director of Communications at the Council of Europe, sent a tweet quoting Jagland as saying, “Female genital mutilation violates human rights. Male circumcision does not.”

The resolution angered Muslims as well as Jews. It called for European states to “promote further awareness in their societies of the potential risks of some of these procedures,” which the assembly lists as the circumcision of boys, early childhood interventions in the case of intersexual children and the coercion of children into piercings, tattoos or plastic surgery.

Marlene Rupprecht, the rapporteur behind the resolution, claimed the text did not aim to “stigmatize any religious community or its practices” but simply called for public debate “aimed at reaching a wide consensus on the rights of children to protection against violations of their physical integrity.”

While Jagland’s statements were good news for Jews and also for Muslims, it is scary that we are so susceptible to the threat of a ban on circumcision that we have to be grateful to someone deciding to suspend what would be a death sentence to Judaism.

Jews have died rather than accept decrees against circumcision, but today’s trend to use “human rights”  and “animal rights” to disguise campaigns that deprive Jewish rights is more subtle and devious than the open anti-Semitism of the past.

A judge in a German province earlier this year banned circumcision, leading to an uproar that prompted the national parliament to make it clear that ritual circumcision is legal.

The anti-circumcision movement is increasingly popular in Scandinavia, where the influx of Muslims also is a factor behind the campaign to prohibit the religious rite.

Jews and Muslims are constantly threatened with a ban on local slaughtering of animals according to Jewish and Muslim laws, which prohibit the method of stunning before using the knife. There are some leniencies in Muslim law.

The most recent controversy is in Poland, which banned ritual slaughter this year but where Jews now have to be thankful to the Catholic Church for supporting the rights of Jews and Muslims to slaughter animals according to religious laws.

The Polish parliament in July rejected a bill, sponsored by the government, to legalize kosher slaughter, but Pope Francis recently has voiced concern over the ban.

“Animal rights” supporters have successfully campaigned in Sweden, Iceland, Norway and Switzerland to outlaw kosher slaughter.

The European Union’s official policy states, “European Convention for the Protection of Animals for Slaughter” generally requires stunning before slaughter, but allows member states to allow exemptions for religious slaughter.”

Holland two years nearly outlawed kosher slaughter after the Animal Rights Party managed to convince the Lower House of parliament to pass a bill, which was rejected by the Upper House, to ban the practice.

Israel is the only country that comes to mind where Jewish rights still are unquestionably more important than “animals’ rights.”

As for circumcision, the only argument might be over “Metzitzah b’peh.”

Forgotten Zurich Synagogue and the Day the Jews Were Expelled

Wednesday, October 9th, 2013

By Rhonda Spivak / winnipegjewishreview.com

Last winter in February, I was in Zurich, Switzerland, for my first time staying at the Ambassador Hotel on my way home from Israel. I had one day there and I began wandering around in the nearby old town of Zurich rather aimlessly. Like a good reporter, I managed to forget my camera in the car of a friend in Ashkelon back in Israel, had no notebook, no pen (it was out of ink), and I had managed to arrive in what was the coldest week in Zurich for years without any mittens. I was fighting a head cold and after downing two cups of coffee (where I noticed prices were worse than Tel Aviv), wearing several layers of clothing, I started out walking near the Zurich Lake (windchill off the Lake made it even more unpleasant). Within the first minute I managed to lose the city map of Zurich that my hotel gave me (probably when I put my freezing hands inside my coat) such that I really had no idea where I was going. In fact I considered returning to my hotel, putting a sticky note on my forehead that said “Loser” and calling it a day.

I knew I was in the old Towne of Zurich because I could see the old city walls. I decided to stop in at a really nice looking design art type store not because I was looking to buy anything but more because I wanted to get a blast of heat. On my way out right next to it, I was rather surprised (in fact stunned) to see a sign that I thought meant “Synagogue.” (In fact I have since learned the sign said “Synagogue Alley”)

I looked up and followed the sign down the lane but could not see anything that remotely looked like a synagogue so I went back to the art shop for another blast of heat and asked where the synagogue was.

“Oh no, there is not any synagogue there anymore. There used to be one a long time ago,” the friendly shopkeeper said. “Where is the old synagogue. Which building ?” I asked rather confused. “Oh, it’s in the shop next door. It used to be a synagogue.”

I walked to the building next door which was a music and book shop with a big black grand piano at the back near a window. I asked the Swiss man behind the counter who said his last name was Steinemann if this used to be a synagogue.

“Yes,” he said, and showed me that the synagogue had been near where the piano had been, in an area of the store with windows where I could see that parts of a very old looking original floor still remained.

“This was where the oldest synagogue in Zurich was,” he said.

Not bad, I thought to myself. What were the chances of my finding this in the first hour of my aimless meanderings? It’s like someone had been directing my feet to find this.

I asked if there were any pamphlets or photos of what the synagogue looked like or anything that could tell me something about its history. He showed me a two page explanation about the old synagogue that was tucked away near a back exit where no one would see or notice it. It was written in German. I asked if he had any English material about the synagogue. “No,” he said.

I made a mental note (since I had no pen) to try to discover the story behind the Synagogue/ Book and Music shop, realizing that I had probably come across the area where there had been a Jewish ghetto.

It turns out that in fact I had accidentally happened upon a main street in what was the Jewish ghetto in medieval times when Christendom ruled, when Jews were banned from most occupations and restricted as to where they could live. (Remember that in Medieval times, the population believed the deicide charge that, as was written in the Gospels, Jews had been behind the killing of Jesus). The Jews of Zurich were forced to become moneylenders (since “usury” was prohibited for Christians) and although the government of the day took much of the interest that the Jews charged, the average person didn’t know this, which only enabled them to dislike Jews more.

In fact, Jews in Switzerland at the time were required to wear the “Judenhut” (or Jew’s hat), with the occasional exemption of Jewish physicians. Because of the prohibition against usury the Jews could not be gone for long or else the economic functioning of Swiss society would have ceased.

It so happens that during the Middle Ages there was a narrow stream that ran behind the synagogue, which I had accidentally found. In February 1349, the corpse of a small Christian boy was found in the stream. The Black Death had struck Swiss cities in the preceding months, and the Christians believed that the Black Death occurred because the Jews were poisoning the wells. The mourning crowd in the Grossmunster Cathedral (where the body of the little Christian boy was taken) concluded that he must have been murdered by the Jews, and it was believed that the Jews, of course, must have been attempting to poison the nearby well. The raging Christian crowd burst out of the church and ran to the Jewish ghetto, where they pulled out every Jew they could find out of their homes and almost overnight Zurich was cleansed of Jews, with 600 of them being burned at the stake.

Since finding this site of the old Zurich synagogue, I asked Dr. Catherine Chatterley, founding director of the Canadian Institute for the Study of Antisemitism, about this strange notion that the Jews were responsible for the Black Death and she told me that “Jews were associated with the Black Arts (sorcery and magic) in the European imagination during this period. They were believed to be in league with the devil and engaged in a conspiracy to destroy Christendom. Poisoning the wells and killing off the European population was assumed to be part of this ‘anti-Christian conspiracy.’ Hundreds of Jewish communities were destroyed in 1348-49 with Jews being burned alive or drowned. Historians have documentation, including that of Pope Clement VI’s physician, that proves Jews were also dying of the plague, but that had no effect on the paranoid psyche of the time.”

As described by Paul Doolan, (http://www.pauldoolan.com/2010/04/here-is-photo-of-pretty-street-in.html ) who has taken some great photos of the street and the site of the former synagogue as they exist today, “Those who were official residents of Zürich were burnt at the stake [in February 1349] after being tortured, those who lived under the protection of the Holy Roman Emperor were tortured, and then deported. Men, women and children met the same fate. Only a few managed to flee. Almost overnight Zürich had been completely emptied of Jews.”

According to the clerk at the front desk of the Ambassador Hotel who was very nice about trying to translate the German pamphlet I received from the Music/ Book Shop (especially since my request was not the usual “can I get another room key” request) some Jews managed to get back into Zurich and in 1363 the synagogue was active again (until the Jews were re-expelled).

The long and the short of it is that Jews were banned from living in Zurich from the 15th century until the mid-19th century. Only in 1868 were Jews allowed to become Swiss citizens.

Post Script: Since discovering the site of this old synagogue, I looked up the origins of the Swiss flag- which has a white cross on it. It appears to mark when Switzerland during the Middle Ages was part of Charlemagne’s great continental empire and was a sign of leadership in the Christian continent.

Visit Behind the News in Israel.

Police Raid Israeli Diamond Billionaire’s Geneva home

Thursday, September 12th, 2013

Swiss police staged a mysterious raid on the Geneva home Israeli diamond billionaire Benny Steinmetz, according to an anonymous source close to the incident and who was quoted by Bloomberg News.

Geneva’s public prosecutor reportedly ordered the raid on the basis of a request by the Guinea government, but no one is making any comments or explaining why the raid took place.

Police did not confiscate nay documents.

Steinmetz’s BSG Resources mining company owns 51% of the Simandou iron ore deposit in Guinea, which is reviewing mining license. A U.S. grand jury in April began investigating allegations that Steinmetz’s BSG company paid bribes for mining rights in Guinea.

Swiss Blogger Sentenced for Denying Holocaust

Thursday, August 1st, 2013

A judge in Geneva sentenced a Swiss blogger on Tuesday to six months in jail for denying the Holocaust and inciting hate.

The 55-year-old man, who was not named, directed his comments against all Jews and had denied the Holocaust in 50 articles published between January 2010 and May of this year, according to the news site 20min.ch.

 

 

Swiss Banks’ Holocaust Fund Has Paid Out $1.24 Billion

Wednesday, July 17th, 2013

Holocaust survivors and victims’ heirs have received $1.24 billion from a Swiss fund set up in 1998 following a scandal over dormant accounts of Jews killed in World War II, according to the Swiss  Jewish weekly Tachles.

It wrote that the figure appeared in a report by New York judge Edward Korman, who oversees the management of the fund.

Korman’s report summed up operations since a landmark 1998 deal between the World Jewish Congress and Swiss banks. Under the accord, the banks paid a $1.25 billion settlement, which was transformed into U.S. government bonds.

Payouts were then overseen by Korman and the Swiss-based Claims Resolution Tribunal, which wrapped up its operations in 2012.

All told, 457,000 Holocaust survivors and heirs have therefore received money from the fund.

Among them were 199,000 people who were pressed into forced labor by Nazi Germany, and who received a share of $288 million.

The banks were accused of keeping money owned by Jews who had hidden funds in secret accounts in neutral Switzerland but then perished in the Holocaust, and of stonewalling heirs who tried to track down the money.

Within the fund, a total of $800 million was destined for account holders and their heirs.

Teva to Sell Generic Viagra in UK, and Move Patent Filing to Switzerland

Sunday, June 23rd, 2013

Teva, the world leader in generic medication will be soon be launching a generic version of Pfizer’s Viagra in the UK and Europe.

Pfizer’s Viagra patents expired this past week in the UK and parts of Europe, allowing other manufacturers to move in.

In the US, a court ruling has prevented Teva from introducing generic Viagra until at least 2020.

Teva also announced that it will stop filing its patents in Israel, and will now be filing them instead in Switzerland.

The reason for the move are Switzerland’s patent related tax laws, and subsequent tax breaks and benefits they will provide Teva.

Teva said that if Israel were to change its tax codes to make them more competitive with other countries, they’d be happy to move the IP registrations back to Israel, according to a report in Globes.

Switzerland And The Jews: A Realistic Assessment

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013

Starting next week, Professor Beres’s column will be on summer hiatus until September.

* * * * *

In June 1998, Prof. Beres, following publication of an op-ed article in The New York Times, was invited by then-Swiss Ambassador Thomas Borer to present personal testimony before the specially-constituted Swiss Commission on World War II in Bern, Switzerland.

Here is part of that testimony.

My parents arrived as Austrian Jewish refugees in Switzerland almost exactly sixty years ago, on August 1, 1938. The day of their own “liberation” coincided with an anniversary of Switzerland’s national day of independent statehood. It was also less than twelve hours after their wedding. Today my wife, Valerie, and I are in Switzerland on the date of our thirtieth wedding anniversary, a milestone that would never have been possible had it not been for the safe refuge that Sigismund and Margarete Beres found here, following their 1938 marriage in Vienna.

On August 1, 1938, my very young parents (my mother not yet eighteen years old) entered Switzerland as a just-married couple, without any money, without any status, without any friends, without any nationality, and without any idea of a future. Today, their son speaks to a distinguished group of Swiss officials, headed by Ambassador Thomas Borer, as a citizen of the United States of America, as a professor of international law with Ivy League university degrees, and as an honored guest of that very same country of Switzerland.

It is a moment that would have made my parents very proud; I am certainly sorry they didn’t live to see it.

My parents spent a year or two in a labor camp near Lugano – I never learned the exact amount of time, or the precise name of the camp, but after that internment they were able to move off to Zurich and live happily and quite comfortably. In Zurich they were befriended by several Swiss families, both Christians and Jews, who did a great deal to help them become self-sufficient. This kindness of strangers they never forgot.

I was born in Zürich on August 31, 1945, an event for which I am understandably grateful. Had my parents not been allowed to stay on in Switzerland immediately after their marriage I would not be in Bern today.

Had it not been for Switzerland, I would never have been born.

So my reason for being here today, for accepting Ambassador Borer’s thoughtful invitation, is simple enough. My personal debt to Switzerland is obviously very great. It could not possibly be greater. When I now look at my own child, my 24-year-old daughter, Lisa Alexandra, I acknowledge that my parents’ good fortune in this beautiful country sixty years ago made her life possible as well.

Had it not been for Switzerland, she would never have been born.

Yesterday we left our good Swiss friends in Oberlunkhofen, Canton Argau. Christel, the wife and mother, is the daughter of a Swiss Catholic couple that assisted and befriended my parents during the war. Christel was born two years after me, on August 31 – the same birthday as mine. Her son’s middle name is Alexander; my daughter’s middle name is Alexandra. We discovered this coincidence of middle names only a few days ago.

My parents, especially my father, always loved Switzerland. When I was a child I was raised in part with the stories of William Tell. When my father returned to Europe on vacation he went first always to Switzerland. When he returned to the U.S. he brought back a bag full of Swiss flags as souvenirs. This was not what one would expect from a refugee who had any sad or angry recollections of his war years in Switzerland.

When the article I had written The New York Times about my parents’ Swiss experience was reprinted recently in the NZZ (Neue Zuricher Zeitung), I received about a dozen letters from elderly Swiss people, none of them Jewish, who remembered my parents and simply wanted to tell me some nice things about them. Some telephoned me as well.

So it is not difficult to understand why I am here today. My wife, Valerie, also cares for this country, not exactly in the same way as I (her own family having much longer roots in the United States), but certainly as an American tourist who appreciates magnificent mountains, wonderful cities, and the company of good Swiss friends.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/columns/louis-bene-beres/switzerland-and-the-jews-a-realistic-assessment/2013/06/19/

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