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Jewish leaders urge vigilance as tensions rise

Jewish groups have contacted police to ensure the protection of synagogues such as this one in Geneva.

(Keystone Archive)

Jewish groups in Switzerland are reviewing their security procedures following recent anti-Semitic acts elsewhere in Europe.

Some Jewish groups in Switzerland have contacted cantonal police to request increased police presence.

But reassurance rather than panic is the message being sent out by Jewish leaders such as the president of the Jewish communities in Switzerland, Alfred Donath, following increased violence in the Middle East and Easter weekend attacks on synagogues and other Jewish structures in France and Belgium.

"No immediate fear"

The attacks in the European countries were worrisome, Donath told swissinfo, but "there was no immediate fear of similar attacks taking place in Switzerland."

"We are, of course, in touch with the police on a local and federal level," he said, "but there has been no threat against a Jewish building in Switzerland, and security as always is organised and we are just making sure it works properly."

Donath said the attacks raised concern because they showed that the problems of the Middle East had the potential to spill over into Europe.

"Some groups could see it as an opportunity to express anti-Semitic feelings," he said. "If the attacks proved to be organised, the Swiss authorities could well find themselves facing the same problems as their French and Belgian counterparts."

The Federal Police Office said it would advise cantonal offices to step up security if the need arose.

"It's clear that since the events of September 11, Israel and the United States in particular, have been very concerned about security levels," Daniele Bersier, spokeswoman for the federal police told swissinfo.

"It's important to analyse the situation every day and every hour if necessary, and we will contact the cantonal police [who are responsible for the security of local buildings] if there is a perceived threat."

Franz Märki, a spokesman for Bern police, said the local Jewish community had been in touch about possible increased police protection, but for security reasons he was unable to go into detail.

Palestinians monitor events

As the Jewish community reviews its security measures and follows the events taking place in the Middle East, the same developments are drawing the attention of Palestinians living in Switzerland.

Edward Badeen, a lecturer in Islamic studies and Arabic Literature at Basel and Zurich Universities, told swissinfo that the Swiss government should be more forceful in declaring that the rule of international law in the Occupied Territories be respected .

"I am exposed on a daily basis to news coming out of the Middle East," he said.

"I'd particularly like to see Switzerland help peace organisations to be heard more loudly and push for international law to be respected no matter who is responsible for the violence - Palestinians or Israelis."

He said that as a Palestinian he did not feel his personal security in Switzerland had been affected by the conflict in the Middle East, but the Muslim community in general had suffered since the September 11 attacks.

United for peace

Last month hundreds of Arabs and Jews living in Switzerland drew up a manifesto calling for the resumption of the peace process and an end to the killings in the Middle East.

The "Manifesto for a Just Peace in the Middle East" was presented to Swiss parliamentarians and was signed by 400 people.

by Jonathan Summerton

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