Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Switzerland v Israel : Swiss attack on Israeli policy escalates Cold War

This article of mine appears in The First Post.

In an attack which shocked Tel Aviv by the harshness of its tone, Switzerland has accused Israel of wantonly destroying Palestinian homes in east Jerusalem and near Ramallah in violation of the Geneva Convention's rules on military occupation.

It's arguably the strongest condemnation of Israeli policy towards the Palestinians to come from any western European country since Charles de Gaulle famously attacked the "oppression, repression and expulsions" of Palestinians by Israel over 40 years ago. And it's come from a country that's not exactly famous for making strong condemnations.

The statement last Thursday from the Swiss Foreign Ministry said that Switzerland - the guardian of the Geneva Convention - regards the "recent incidents", under which scores of Palestinian homes have been destroyed by Israeli bulldozers, as "violations of international humanitarian law" and claimed there was "no military need to justify the destruction of these houses". In addition, the Swiss called east Jerusalem an "integral part of the occupied Palestinian territory" - a statement sure to inflame hard-line Zionists who regard the entire city as belonging to Israel.

The Swiss attack on Israeli actions might surprise some, but it is only the latest incident in a rising 'cold war' between the Alpine republic and the Jewish state. Earlier this year, Israel summoned Swiss Ambassador Walter Haffner to its Foreign Ministry offices in Jerusalem to protest against Switzerland's signing of a multi-billion dollar energy deal with Iran.

So incensed were Zionists when Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey wore a headscarf and was pictured smiling and joking with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran, that the Anti-Defamation League placed a series of advertisements in various national newspapers - including Swiss ones - which claimed that Switzerland's energy deal with Iran made Switzerland the "world's newest sponsor of terrorism". Calmy-Rey reacted angrily to Israel's criticism, saying that Switzerland was "an independent country that has its own strategic interests to defend".

It's possible to trace the deterioration of Swiss-Israeli relations to 1998, when Israel was compelled to write a formal letter of apology to Switzerland after five Mossad agents were caught trying to install surveillance equipment in an apartment in Berne in order to bug a Swiss citizen whom Mossad believed was linked to Hezbollah.

In the intervening period Switzerland has become an increasingly vocal champion of the Palestinian cause. As the Middle East conflict escalated, the country even halted all arms sales and military co-operation with Israel for three years in 2002. Earlier this year, Switzerland was among the 30 countries who voted in support of the UN Human Rights Council resolution that condemned Israel for "grave violations of the human and humanitarian rights of the Palestinian civilians living in Gaza".

It wasn't always like this. The Swiss-Israeli war of words is ironic given the fact that the world's very first Zionist congress was held in Basle in 1897 - and that 15 of the first 22 Zionist Congresses were held in Switzerland.

The Swiss condemnation of Israel today may be dismissed by some as having little global importance, but there are good reasons why Israel ought to be concerned. As guarantor of the Geneva Convention, Switzerland has the power to call meetings of the treaty's signatories if it finds problems with its implementation - something which would be very embarrassing for Israel.

And while it's one thing for Israel to be condemned by countries with a poor human rights record such as Cuba and Saudi Arabia - it's quite another for it to be criticised by a country whose record is beyond reproach. The fact that Switzerland - the home of the Red Cross - has not been involved in a military conflict for 200 years, gives the country a moral authority that many others lack.

Switzerland's independent line on Middle East issues also shows the advantage of maintaining national sovereignty in an age where most countries in Europe have surrendered important decision making powers to the EU. While other countries in Europe have been cajoled, under US and British influence, to moderate their criticisms of Israel's treatment of the Palestinians and to agree to swingeing sanctions on Iran - non-EU Switzerland is free to make its own decisions and to say what it thinks about Israeli actions.

It helps, too, that Switzerland is rich enough to follow its own path, without fear of retribution. On this issue, Israel has come up against a state which truly is beholden to nobody.


neil craig said...

I wonder when Switzerland will criticise NATO for having their "police" dissect 1,300 Serb teenagers kidnapped by them in Kosovo whose body parts were sold westward? Arguably a more serious crime.

Anonymous said...

Fair point by neil craig, but it goes without saying a more organised approach is needed to accomplish greater awareness abou what happened - Do you see articles in MSM about Serbs butchered for their kidneys?
I'm heartened that for whatever reason, the Swiss have shown some bottle at least with regard their own interests which they don't conflate or put second to third countries for fear of powerful Israel lobbyists and their mates in the mainstream media.

Anonymous said...

This is in my opinion one of your best articles. Although I believe no coutry is immune from US/UK pressure when it comes to Israel.
Switzerland has suffered alot from the US and was forced to open up it's files to invistigate claims of deposits made by Nazi victims, who was behind this US pressure? WJC.

Anonymous said...

It's fairly obvious that Switzerland has a secret nuclear weapons programme even though absolutely no evidence exists of such a programme.

Weapons inspectors should be sent in, and when they find no weapons, that should be taken as conclusive evidence that Switzerland possesses them.

Then Switzerland can be bombed and a new government installed, which will then say nice things about Israel.

Anonymous said...

This is bizarre:
'while it's one thing for Israel to be condemned by countries with a poor human rights record such as Cuba and Saudi Arabia - it's quite another for it to be criticised by a country whose record is beyond reproach. The fact that Switzerland - the home of the Red Cross - has not been involved in a military conflict for 200 years, gives the country a moral authority that many others lack'

Cuba does NOT have a poor human rights record...what it does have is a 2000lb gorilla 90 miles off its shores threatening it with termination.

2ndly , Cuba has not been involved in wars of aggression. It has been involved in wars of defence, where it aided Angola against the might of the US and apartheid south africa.

You can do better!

Switzerland, the land of the hidden bank accounts is not beyond reproach!

Youve seriously slipped up this time, Neil. And i really disagree with Dan about this being one of your best articles.


Neil Clark said...

thanks for the comments, and thanks, dan for your kind words.

brian- the point about cuba is that it's easy for Israel to brush off criticism from countries which are totalitarian one-party states and which have a poor human rights record- but it'll be less easy for them to brush off criticism from Switzerland, whose direct form of democracy makes it arguably one of the most democratic countries in the world and a country which fully respects human rights.

Switzerland has a lot more going for it than many progressives realise- I wonder if you saw my Guardian article on Switzerland from earlier this year?
Of course we can debate as to who is to blame for Cuba's human rights record-and the fact that it is a totalitarian state ( whether it's due to the US or not) but the point is that criticism from a model democracy like Switzerland is more damaging to Israel than criticism from Cuba.

neil craig said...

"- Do you see articles in MSM about Serbs butchered for their kidneys?"

Indeed not & having written letters to every UK national paper on the subject which none of them published (I have been published by most of them on other "controversial" subjects) I can say with confidence that this is not because of a lack of organisation by awareness raisers but that our media censor with an intensity Stalin would not have found wanting.

That being the case the infinitely greater amount of criticism levied on Israel for what is, at worst, thousandfold lesser crimes, is a legitimate matter of concern & I think it reasonable to suspect, as indeed the article implies, that Switzerland's outrage owes more to deals with Iran & not rocking NATO's boat than to the actual events.

Anonymous said...

if zionism wasn't as wrapped up in laissez-faire globalised capitalism, most of the 'acceptable criticism" levelled against Israel as opposed to Jewish lobbies, which would not be acceptable, would evaporate. Check out the attacks on Chevez, he's 'anti Semitic,' and probably hates America for it's freedoms no doubt. According to Abe Foxman, being anti American is anti semitic.
Switzerland supporting its own national interests isn't in dispute, the fact the Swiss haven't folded despite the hype - 'doing business with Iran equals supporting Ahemdinajad who is the new Hitler,' (they hung the last 'new Hitler,' Saddam) is reason to be cheerful if you don't support wars of aggression, land and resource theft or the propagandists in the global media, who wont publish your letters about the Serbs who MSM is responsible for setting up in the first place. Not until mass organised protest forces them to reconsider as they are being forced to with the Palestinian-Israel issue.

Anonymous said...

Neil, id be interested in learning egs of cubas poor human rights record! I hope you are not referring to the 'librarians'! Here is Diana Barahona on those spooks:

'Librarians as Spooks?
The Scheme to Infiltrate Cuba's Libraries By DIANA BARAHONA

The U.S. has been pretty successful at mobilizing world opinion against Cuba since the late 1980s.
Emboldened by the fall of the Soviet Union it has gone to considerable trouble and expense to bring down the revolution that refuses to be defeated a scant 90 miles off the empire's shore. Part of this effort has involved creating an artificial opposition movement on the island and enlisting liberal organizations and intellectuals to support it. But U.S. librarians, targeted by name in the State Department's 400-page destabilization blueprint, the Report to the President of the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba, not only refuse to play the game but are trying to assist their Cuban colleagues to improve their libraries.

The rent-an-opposition has several components:
independent trade union groups, independent journalists, independent political parties and independent libraries ­ all paid and directed by the U.S. Interests Section. They are also composed of the same people; one person may be an independent press agency, a political party, and run a library out of his house. The depth of U.S.-style "civil society" was evident May 20-21 at the Congress of the Cuban Dissident Movement in Havana. Financed with a special congressional grant of $6 million and featuring a videotaped greeting from Bush himself, this gathering was supposed to bring together 360 dissident organizations; it barely drew 100 people.

Cuba not only has libraries, it has a lot of them ­ 400 to be precise, plus 6,000 school libraries. So why has the State Department created a network of independent libraries there? What exactly is an independent library? Rhonda L. Neugebauer and Larry Oberg, both university librarians, went to Cuba to meet with colleagues and study the library system in 2000. But they also visited the so-called independent libraries run out of people's houses. What they found were carefully-chosen drop-off and contact points for personnel from the U.S. Interests Section and others, who visited them on a regular basis to deliver materials and money. They also discovered that by keeping bookshelves with these materials in their homes, the "librarians" qualified for a monthly stipend ­ "for services rendered," as one of them put it. They found no evidence that anyone ever checked out a book, and when they enquired of neighbors, nobody even seemed to know the libraries were there.'



Cuba a totalitarian state??? That must be news to latin americans, who regularly give Castro a standing applause, whereever he appears. A one party state is not ned a totalitarian state...a two party state CAN be totalitarian, Its a matter of there policies.

Cuba is a functioning democracy, in that it has elections: unlike most cubans can elect officials...were the neocons ever elected to office?

Its really amazing that you find the home of the swiss bank account is a better eg of a society than revolutionary cuba. Che must be rolling in his grave!