Outrage once again flooded my Facebook feed this week, albeit not only from one group of friends and news outlets, but from two completely different sectors. A sign posted in an apartment building in Arosa, located in the Swiss mountains read the following:
A similar sign was posted in front of the kitchen, where Jewish guests store their food in the freezer, asking them to respect the designated times to access said freezer.
Outrage ensued. Shortly after the first Israeli news organisation picked up the story, it showed up in virtually the entire media landscape and it didn’t take long until the Israeli government voiced its utter disgust of this seemingly blatant case of antisemitism with calls for punishment, boycott and worse. Tzipi Hotovely as the representative of the foreign ministry, demanded a formal condemnation from the Swiss government. Even Tzipi Livni posted a harsh message on her Facebook page, writing about the importance of fighting antisemitism and its ugly, one-sided face.
As a Swiss-born and raised person, now a proud Israeli, who spent much of his youth in a very similar village not far from Arosa and is very well acquainted with the people’s mentality in such resorts, I feel compelled to present my point of view on this issue.
Some swiss villages can be a peculiar sight in the month of august. Throughout the year these harmonious and luscious places are filled either with people in their ski suits carrying their equipment towards the station in the winter, or mostly people in T-shirts and shorts with backpacks making their way through the mountains by foot or bike in the summer. But in August, the most sighted outfits are long black coats on men and long skirts, stockings and long sleeved, wide tops on women. For decades, the Swiss Alps have become a popular getaway for many Haredim in their short summer vacation. This welcome tourism in many otherwise not well-booked villages can sometimes lead to confusion among the local population because of the difference in lifestyle but this is largely bridged by friendly conversation and tolerance. Obviously, the apartment building in question that rents their flats to tourists and houses a swimming pool just became one example where the encounter can go wrong.
First the obvious: this was a badly worded statement that needed to be taken down and the author had to be made aware of its questionability. That could and should have been the end of the story. It is clear that the janitor did not understand at first how her message might be perceived and immediately removed the signs once the complaints came raining in.
Instead, though all the above-mentioned meddling happened and the janitor was faced with violent phone calls and emails from strangers and was looked to be made an example of. Seemingly hungry for proof of the cruel anti-Semitism sweeping the planet, politicians, journalists and even private people took matters into their hands and jumped on the bandwagon of outrage persisting in the west, usually when related to Islamophobia, Homophobia, Racism and so on. Of course, we do not grant any margin of error in the 21st century and people expressing themselves in the wrong way must be sworn enemies of progressivism and pluralism. Judging ourselves we mostly navigate within the reality of the grey zone, but others only in terms of black and white.
The real outrage here should be aimed at the overblown reaction, especially from our politicians who are demanding punishment. Punishment? Punishment, at best, is a form of justice and should not be a political tool! Calls for boycotts are completely out of place and counter-intuitive.
Yes, I can imagine that if the sign would have read Muslims or Gays or Women or another minority the global outrage would have been much more forceful than when it read Jews. But that outrage would have been as unjustified as it is now. I can understand that as Jews we feel the need to stand up for ourselves because nobody else will and it frustrates and saddens us that we feel that no one really cares. But how about leading by example, evaluating the graveness of the matter, weighing all the factors and realizing that this incident was not much more than human ill-consideration?
The reality of the matter is that I don’t believe there was anti-Semitic intent at show here. What I do believe is that a lot of anti-Semitism was generated with the embarrassing reaction of our politicians, journalists and fellow Jews. Let’s reserve the outrage for real anti-Semitic incidents. Unfortunately there are enough as is.