SIG President Ralph Lewin: “This conflict allows antisemites to unleash their hatred freely on Jews”

President of the Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities (SIG) Ralph Lewin gave an interview to Watson about the rise of antisemitic incidents in Switzerland following the Hamas massacre of October 7th.

According to the SIG latest report on antisemitism, an unprecedented wave of antisemitic incidents occurred in 2023. What happened?

Ralph Lewin: The Hamas terrorist attack on Israel and the subsequent conflict in the Middle East acted as extremely powerful triggers. While between January and September, antisemitic incidents were roughly at the same level as in previous years, their number sharply increased after October 7, especially concerning more serious incidents such as assaults. This had already greatly concerned us before the knife attack in Zurich on Saturday, March 2.

Why does the current conflict in the Middle East fuel so much antisemitism in Switzerland?

Israel has previously militarily responded to Hamas attacks in the form of rocket fire. This was the case in 2009 and 2014. These previous conflicts acted as triggers for antisemitism. But the phenomenon was limited in time. Today, the terrible massacres committed by Hamas have been going on for five months already, and the armed conflict continues. It was Hamas that initiated this war through its terrorist attack. A reality often overlooked. Unfortunately, this war claims many civilian victims among the Palestinian population. These images also do not leave us indifferent.

So, behind the increase in antisemitic acts, is there compassion for Palestinian victims?

No, and our report impressively shows this. Firstly, this wave of antisemitic incidents began in the days following the Hamas attack. So at a time when Israel’s military response had not yet taken place. Secondly, since October 7, it is not only the incidents of antisemitism related to Israel that have sharply increased, even though this is where the increase has been most pronounced. But even in this case, it is not acceptable to hold Jews responsible for the situation in Israel. Unfortunately, an evolution that I predicted immediately after October 7 has occurred.

What evolution?

Hamas terrorism and its victims were quickly forgotten or at least pushed into the background. Just a few days after the massacres, attention turned to the situation in the Gaza Strip. Hamas’s strategy, which deliberately hides fighters and military infrastructure among the civilian population, is often overlooked. On the other hand, accusations that Israel is committing “genocide” in the Gaza Strip have been widely heard, which has greatly inflamed passions. In the end, this conflict is an opportunity for many antisemites to express their existing anti-Jewish attitudes – and to unleash their hatred on Jews.

Immediately after October 7, the FSCI spoke out against allowing pro-Palestinian demonstrations. How does this reconcile with the freedom of assembly and expression?

We welcomed the decision of the municipal and cantonal authorities responsible for security not to allow demonstrations in the weeks following the attack – this concerned cities with Jewish institutions, indeed. At that time, the security situation was extremely tense. But we attach great importance to the right to demonstrate and freedom of expression. Legitimate criticism of Israel and its government is not antisemitism, and we view this very differently.

Nevertheless, there are still antisemitic signs or chants at the demonstrations.

The penal code contains an anti-racist criminal standard. This also applies to demonstrations. We expect the authorities to intervene to prevent and prosecute clearly antisemitic posters or chants.

Following a decision by the Swiss Parliament, Jewish institutions will receive around 4.5 million francs in 2024 for security measures, twice as much as before. What is the impact of this measure?

The security of Jewish institutions and their visitors is non-negotiable. Jewish communities have had to take the necessary security measures, even if they could not afford them.

They had to save some of this money on their main tasks, such as religious practice or cultural events. Although the protection of all its citizens is an essential mission of the state, we have had to fight for years to obtain more support. Today, this year, we finally have enough money for all the requests submitted. It is a great relief.

What political support do you hope for?

We welcome the decision made last week by the National Council in favor of a national strategy against antisemitism. We should not expect miracles from it, but it is an important sign of recognition.

The Confederation and the cantons must now make more efforts to identify and combat antisemitism and support existing projects of civil society more, for example for schools. It is also important to have better legal means to combat hate speech on the web and social networks. We hope that Parliament will quickly advance the Hamas issue and the ban on Nazi symbols.”


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