Nothing new in Bern

When Swiss Federal Councillor Didier Burkhalter took the office of foreign minister in January 2012, there was a considerable amount of hope that Swiss foreign policy might leave the unwanted spotlight. After all, it was Burkhalter’s predecessor who had the rather dubious honor of being one of the few Swiss politicians known by name in Israel.

Micheline Calmy-Rey, infamous for her 2008 photo-op – all smiles and headscarf – with Iran’s then-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was always quick when it came to condemning the Israel. Meanwhile, she pressed for dialogue with Hamas, and under her auspices the Swiss foreign ministry (EDA) more than once invited London-based Azzam Tamimi, an ardent Hamas supporter who openly calls for the destruction of Israel and praises martyrdom.

Calmy-Rey’s meeting in Tehran with Ahmadinejad regarding an Iran-Swiss natural gas deal wasn’t the only stunt of her career that angered quite a few people. She pushed the Federal Council to recognize Kosovo as an independent state in spite of serious concerns regarding the alleged affiliation of Kosovo’s leaders such as Hashim Thaci with organized crime and war crimes. She also offered Iranian deputy foreign minister Saeed Jalili to host a seminar on the “different perceptions of the Holocaust” – an offer which was made only one week after the notorious 2006 Holocaust denial conference in Tehran.

In contrast, Calmy-Rey’s successor has kept a rather low profile and Swiss foreign policy has since made fewer headlines. However, as a closer look reveals, change hasn’t come to Bern.

Late last month, former Swiss MP Jean Ziegler was elected to the advisory committee of the UN Human Rights Council, a body consisting of human rights violators protecting other human rights violators while habitually condemning Israel. Ziegler’s candidacy was sponsored by the Swiss government.

Ziegler stirred up quite a controversy when the Geneva-based NGO UN Watch caught him red-handed lying. For years, Ziegler had claimed that allegations of his ties to the Al-Gaddafi International Prize for Human Rights and that he was one of its laureates were “fabrications by the American Jewish Committee” as he put it in an interview with Austrian media in 2011. This from the guy who had no problem aligning himself with dictators and corrupt regimes in Africa and South America while simultaneously blasting the West for colonialism, imperialism or “predatory capitalism”.

New video evidence provided by UN Watch, however, definitively proves Ziegler a liar. He was indeed not only awarded the prize in September 2002 in Tripoli (another laureate of that year was the Holocaust denier Roger Garaudy), but he accepted the award, something he had long denied. This distinction came from Ziegler himself; he had prevaricated on this point for years, claiming that though he was chosen as a recipient, he never accepted the award.

Still, the Swiss government didn’t deem it necessary to revoke its sponsorship of Ziegler. In fact, when asked about the nature of its support, the foreign ministry continued to assert that it was merely a messenger of Ziegler’s candidacy. This, however, is patently false as UN regulations require an official sponsor for each candidate to the advisory committee.

Another case is the foreign ministry’s ongoing financial support of UNRWA. According to a recent article in the Sunday paper “Sonntags Blick”, Switzerland donates more than 20 million dollars annually to the organization. When confronted with the fact that some schools under UNRWA’s auspices promote hatred of Israel and Jews, the foreign ministry said that such allegations would be taken seriously and that the Swiss government has “estimated” the school material as appropriate for the region’s standards – whatever that means.

Yet there’s reason to believe that these issues aren’t being taken that seriously. The “Sonntags Blick” listed several examples of hate speech and Jew-hatred at UNRWA schools, such as a teacher calling for “education and jihad to retake our country” or a posting on the official Facebook page of Ikataba High School in Tulkarem a picture of Hitler saying: “I could have killed all the Jews, but I left a few so that you would know why I killed them.” Despite this, the foreign ministry’s support of UNRWA is likely to continue.

It seems that although Micheline Calmy-Rey has left the building, her spirit remains. What she once labeled “active neutrality” seems to equate with endorsing an exposed liar and financially endowing hatred against Israel and the Jews. What a shame, especially when it comes from a country that prides itself as a pillar of human rights and democracy.

About the Author
Michel Wyss lives in Zurich, Switzerland and is an Online Editor at Audiatur-Online, a German-language platform for information and analysis on Israel and the Middle East. He has a BA in Journalism and Communications and plans on studying Middle Eastern studies and modern history.