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Swiss Jews criticise Middle East trip

Calmy-Rey visited the souk in the old town of Hebron during her trip Keystone

Switzerland’s Jews have criticised the visit earlier this month to Israel and the Palestinian territories by Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey.

The Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities said it “regretted the biased stance” taken by the foreign minister during her trip.

In a statement issued on Monday, the federation said Calmy-Rey “lacked understanding for the security concerns of the Israeli population”.

It went on to criticise her for “continually using the word ‘Palestine’” to describe the Palestinian territories.

The federation was also incensed by what it called the minister’s decision to give equal treatment to a wreath laying ceremony at the grave of the deceased Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, and another ceremony at the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, Yad Vashem.

Calmy-Rey, who returned from her trip last Wednesday, divided her six days in the region evenly between Israel and the Palestinian territories, meeting the new Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, as well as her Israeli counterpart, Sylvan Shalom.

Aid projects

She also held talks with representatives from international organisations and visited development projects funded by Switzerland.

“A more balanced position would have been more in keeping with Swiss traditions and allowed Switzerland to play a more important role in the peace process,” the federation’s statement concluded.

The comments by the federation come one day after Israel’s ambassador to Switzerland, Aviv Shiron, suggested that Calmy-Rey could have done more during her visit to improve the “atmosphere between the two countries”.

Speaking in the tabloid newspaper, SonntagsBlick, Shiron criticised a number of Swiss government moves over the past few years, including a decision to tighten restrictions on arms deals with Israel.

No connection

In a first response, the Swiss foreign ministry rejected the criticism by the federation.

The ministry told swissinfo that Switzerland had on several occasions recognised Israel’s right to defend its citizens according to the Geneva Conventions.

It also said that Switzerland had always condemned attacks on Israel.

It added that since the death of Arafat, several heads of state had visited his grave, and that the ministry did not see a connection between the grave and the Holocaust memorial.

swissinfo with agencies

The Swiss foreign minister, Micheline Calmy-Rey, visited Israel and the Palestinian territories from February 3 to 8.

Her visit has been criticised by Swiss Jews as unbalanced.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR