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Jewish community leader misses target

Alfred Donath's allegations lack substance according to the Swiss authorities

(Keystone Archive)

Criticism aimed at the government by the head of the Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities (SFJC) has mostly missed its mark.

During the last assembly of the SFJC, Alfred Donath attacked the Swiss authorities, in particular the foreign ministry, saying their policies were biased against Israel. He added that the government was openly in favour of the Palestinians, feeding anti-Semitism in the process.

"The foreign ministry is obsessed with the so-called illegality of Jewish settlements," said Donath," when in fact they have been just pawns since the Camp David negotiations."

The foreign ministry begs to differ though. Since 1967, Switzerland affirmed that seizing territories by force and developing settlements in occupied zones are illegal.

The Swiss base their position on international law, especially the fourth Geneva Convention. Most of the international community is of the same opinion, as shown at the Middle East humanitarian conference in Geneva last December.

The government says that settlements are also an obstacle to peace in the region and an extra source of violence and human rights abuses.

Donath's affirmation that the settlements are just another card in the negotiating deck fails to ring true as well. The current Israeli prime minister, has always been opposed to dismantling the settlements, and has been in fact one of their major supporters.

Settlements now control 41.9 per cent of the West Bank territory according to B'Tselem, an Israeli non-governmental organisation. The NGO says that successive Israeli governments built thousands of extra settlement inhabitations between 1993 and 2000.

Fanning anti-Semitism

Donath also said Switzerland was fanning anti-Semitism, by paying for schoolbooks that advocated anti-Jewish sentiment. The head of the SFJC was referring to funds allocated by the Swiss to the UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which supports the Palestinian population.

"These accusations are nothing new," said Jean-François Golay, of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC). "They are based on a report published by a controversial American organisation, the CMIP."

Another study, carried out jointly by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the University of Bethlehem formally contradicts this affirmation.

"The manuals incriminated by Alfred Donath are not paid for by UNRWA anyway, but produced by the Palestinian Authority since the mid-90's," added Golay.

The foreign ministry adds that all Swiss funding for the Palestinians is under tight surveillance. The SDC's liaison office in Jerusalem carries out some of the monitoring for the government.

Alfred Donath still maintains his accusation though, promising to supply the proof within the next few weeks.

Fatal shooting

The president of the SFJC also wants the government to admit one of its employees, was shot by a Palestinian policeman near Hebron.

Catherine Berruex was a member of the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH), the only multinational group of observers in the Palestinian Territories. She was shot along with a Turkish colleague on March 28.

While a Turkish eyewitness said the gunman was a Palestinian policeman, the Swiss authorities refuse to confirm, preferring to wait for the end of the investigation.

"The Swiss foreign minister, Joseph Deiss, has asked his Israeli and Palestinian counterparts for their support in making sure this investigation is as thorough as possible," said Muriel Berset Kohen, a foreign ministry spokeswoman.

The TIPH has confirmed an investigation is underway, carried out by the Israeli police and security forces. The Swiss prosecutors' office has also launched its own investigation, and a request for judicial cooperation will be sent to the Israelis in a few days time.

swissinfo/Frédéric Burnand

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