In the Birthplace of Zionism, Jews Still Face Anti-Semitism

Article excerpt

If Theodore Herzel, the father of Zionism, were somehow whisked into this century, he would find a Switzerland just coming to terms with its Jewish population.

A bit of a surprise, perhaps, considering Herzel chose Basel in 1897 as the site of the First World Zionist Congress based on its reputation as being more politically open than other European cities.

Yet as Basel prepares to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Zionism - a movement that led to the state of Israel in 1948 - larger questions regarding Switzerland's relationship with Nazi Germany during World War II and a wave of resurgent anti-Semitism threaten to overshadow this event. Swiss banks are being pressed to account for what they did with money from the accounts of Jews who perished in the Holocaust, as well as looted Nazi gold reportedly deposited in their vaults. High-ranking government officials, including Switzerland's former ambassador to the US, have been called to task for anti-Semitic comments to the press. While strictly speaking, Zionism's 100th anniversary should be separated from the Swiss banks affair, it's turning out to have everything to do with it, says Thomas Lyssy, one of the event's organizers. "We're having trouble finding sponsors for this event because of the accounts issue," Mr. Lyssy says. "The banks don't want to give too much because they think that would make them look guilty." A public voice for the first time While the bank issue has caused anti-Semitism to erupt here as never before, it has also opened the door for Switzerland's tiny Jewish population, allowing Jews a public voice for the first time, says Jacques Picard, a member of the independent commission established by the government to investigate Switzerland's wartime past. Some of this new self-confidence for Swiss Jews comes from the younger generation, which has grown up with Israel in the background. "For the first time the Jewish voice is more clear," says Mr. Picard. "During the 1930s and '40s, anti-Semitism wasn't spoken about.... Now people have to talk about the Jews. But still, since Herzel came to Switzerland, relations have only changed to some degree. Jews here are well integrated but not assimilated." Perhaps Switzerland wasn't as cruel toward the Jews as was Nazi Germany or Spain during the Inquisition, which began in the 15th century. …


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