New antisemitism report in Switzerland: Conspiracy theories gain ground

The Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities (SIG/FSCI), the country’s EJC affiliate and the Foundation against Racism and Antisemitism (GRA) have released their latest report on antisemitic incidents in German-speaking Switzerland. As in previous years, the number of physical and verbal antisemitic incidents remained relatively stable. However, a marked increase in antisemitic conspiracy theories being spread online is of particular concern.

For the first time, the results of various reports from German-speaking Switzerland and French-speaking Switzerland have been brought together in a joint synthesis this year, by the Intercommunal Coordination Against Antisemitism and Defamation (CICAD).

The number of antisemitic incidents listed in 2019 in German-speaking Switzerland stands at 38, including 9 cases of insults and 7 of graffiti, but none of assault and depredation. These figures do not include online incidents. In light of a high number of unreported incidents, however, the total real number of incidents is considered to be higher. This is also the case for the online sphere. Using the same methods and similar resources as in the previous year, 485 online antisemitic incidents were counted in 2019, a slightly lower figure than in 2018.

The online sphere remains a concern. Although violent incidents recorded in the offline world are less common in Switzerland than among its European neighbors, the characteristics and the volume of incidents in the online world, is of a comparable level. These appear for the most part in the comment section of German-speaking media sites, as well as on social media. More than 90 percent of antisemitic comments recorded originated on Twitter of Facebook.

Of particular concern is the rise of conspiracy theories, with an overwhelming majority of these referring to a so-called “world Jewish conspiracy”. The threat that these conspiracy theories pose is particularly poignant in light of the recent far-right attacks in Pittsburgh, in Christchurch, Poway and Halle. In all these attacks, the perpetrators relied on such theories to justify their actions. Accordingly, the SIG/FCSI and GRA call on civil society, government and educational instances to take a clear stand against the dissemination of such theories, one which includes preventive measures.

Due to its linguistic and regional particularities, Switzerland publishes one report on antisemitism for German-speaking Switzerland and another one for French-speaking Switzerland. The latter is the work of CICAD. The differences in census reporting methods do not allow for easily comparing data. Consequently, the authors considered pertinent to publish a national synthesis encompassing both reports this year.

Even though the current level of antisemitic incidents is very similar across the country, in particular online, significant differences were nevertheless noted in 2019. A higher number of physical and verbal attacks was recorded in French-speaking Switzerland, where several synagogues were the target of vandalism. On the other hand, there is no significant difference regarding intensification of antisemitic conspiracy theories across the two regions.

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