Swiss rightists fighting Holocaust fund, worrying Jews

ZURICH — Switzerland's Jewish community is alarmed over a new campaign by the Popular Party aimed at undermining public support for two Swiss funds created to help needy Holocaust survivors.

"Blackmail is disgusting and ugly," reads one poster that was posted at key intersections here by the right-wing party, which is part of the governing coalition.

"During the last war, as a small country we accepted more Jews than any other country. We do not want to be praised because we saved Jews, but we reject blackmail connected with guilt," the poster reads.

The campaign, which also includes advertisements in Swiss newspapers, has sparked fear among many in Switzerland's 20,000-strong Jewish community.

"Orthodox Jews are afraid to go out alone in Zurich's streets. Often we are stopped and threatened by people," said Miryam, a member of Zurich's Orthodox community who asked to be identified only by her first name.

The Swiss Jewish community is increasingly feeling the effects of the heated controversy that was sparked here after the government established the funds earlier this year in an effort to confront its wartime past.

A recent poll of the Jewish community indicated that 11 percent of the interviewees had been involved in or witnessed at least one anti-Semitic incident since January.

Local Jewish leaders also voiced concern about the campaign, which was financed by Christoph Blocher, a right-wing parliamentarian who is president of the Zurich branch of the Popular Party and has been an outspoken critic of the Swiss funds.

"The Jewish community of the country is worrying that the campaign could release anti-Semitic feelings," said Thomas Lyssy, vice president of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Switzerland, the communal umbrella group.

"It is a very dangerous campaign," Lyssy said, adding that the federation was hesitant about issuing a statement of protest "because we do not want to give these kind of people a public platform."

Adolf Ogy, a member of the Popular Party who serves as the country's defense minister, refused to comment publicly on the campaign launched by Blocher.

But Ueli Maurer, the national president of the party, expressed his support.

Former Swiss President Jean-Pascal Delamuraz has been held responsible for at least some of the anti-Semitism.

In an interview in late December, Delamuraz dismissed Jewish calls for compensation to Holocaust victims as "extortion and blackmail."

Delamuraz later apologized in the wake of an international outcry.

Months of mounting international pressure regarding the whereabouts of Holocaust-era secret Swiss bank accounts prompted the government in late February to establish the Holocaust Memorial Fund.

Created with contributions from Switzerland's largest banks and industrial firms, the fund is valued at about $190 million.

The fund was created to make payments to needy Holocaust survivors as soon as possible while the questions regarding the missing assets are worked out — a process that could take years.

In March, Swiss President Arnold Koller proposed the creation of a second fund, the so-called "Swiss Foundation for Solidarity" to help the "victims of poverty and catastrophes," including victims of the Holocaust.

To create the foundation, the Swiss National Bank would sell off some $5 billion of its gold reserves. Interest and other investment income from the proceeds of that sale would generate some $200 million annually to support humanitarian causes.

The Swiss Parliament is expected to vote next year on Koller's proposal, after which it would be subject to at least one national referendum because the proposal requires a change in the Swiss Constitution.

Recent polls indicate that a majority of Swiss voters would vote against the proposal.

The campaign being waged by the Popular Party takes on both the Holocaust Memorial Fund and the Swiss Foundation for Solidarity.

"An international organization wants money," one poster reads, in a thinly veiled reference to the World Jewish Restitution Organization, which has spearheaded international efforts to determine the whereabouts of assets deposited by Holocaust victims in Swiss banks during the war years.

"A former Swiss president believes that this is blackmail," the poster continues. "After some opposition, the government gave up and wants to sell gold.

"The Parliament said: Yes, yes, yes. And the people have to pay? Never, never, never."