Kansas City, Mo., 1st U.S. city to boycott Swiss banks

The resolution put Kansas City ahead of New York City and the state of New York, which have approved legislation to impose sanctions if a resolution of Jewish claims is not reached by Sept. 1.

Discussing the timing of the resolution, Cleaver said he had been following the issue and felt something needed to be done.

"I introduced a resolution a few years back with regards to South Africa," said Cleaver, who is a Methodist minister and African-American. "When I listened to President Nelson Mandela say that apartheid would still be a policy if not for the pressure applied by the sanctions, I realized what many of us did and said about the issues mattered. I listened to news reports and read about the Swiss' so-called neutrality. I realized that we in Kansas City should speak out on that, as well."

Part of the information Cleaver gathered for the resolution came from Kansas City Jewish community leaders.

"When I first had the idea to do this, I faxed a copy of the proposed legislation resolution to a close friend of mine, Rabbi Michael Zedek, and a copy to David Goldstein of the Jewish Community Relations Bureau," Cleaver said. "I asked them for their comments on the piece. They reviewed it and made some suggestions, which were made for the final draft."

"The JCRB/AJC [American Jewish Committee] applauds Mayor Cleaver and the city of Kansas City," said David Goldstein, the agency's executive director. "By acting to divest funds from Swiss banks, the city of Kansas City sends a powerful message to the Swiss and to the world: Never again!"

Marvin Szneler, executive director-designate of the JCRB/AJCommittee, said: "Mayor Cleaver is not representing just the Jewish community, but all of Kansas City. We are people who care, and we certainly have to do something about this issue."

Zedek of Temple B'nai Jehudah, the region's largest congregation, echoed the praise for Cleaver.

"There are occasions when the conscience of humanity is held to account," he said in a statement. "This is clearly one of those moments. Without question, the world did not do enough to save lives…now is the time to protest the indifference for the sake of those who survived."

The Kansas City sanctions are set to take effect immediately, Cleaver said, because the current Swiss offer of $600 million to the families of Holocaust survivors is not sufficient. The World Jewish Congress and lawyers for survivors are seeking a $1.5 billion "global settlement" that would cover all claims against commercial banks, the Swiss central bank and the Swiss government.

"I think the Swiss, because of their…partnership with the Nazis, should unfreeze all of the accounts and repay survivors, or at least their descendants," he said.

Cleaver added that while the resolution regarding Switzerland is a step in the right direction, more communities need to join in and take a stand.

"I don't operate under the illusion that we are somehow going to impact what happens in Switzerland by what we do on 12th Street in Kansas City," Cleaver said. "We need to let people around the city and the nation know where we stand on the issue."

Cleaver also said that the city has no idea of the current amount of business interaction with Swiss companies, but that the resolution instructs those who handle city employee pension funds to withdraw from and avoid future investments in any companies doing business with Switzerland.