Switzerland’s lower house of parliament voted to halt public funding for organizations that promote racism, anti-Semitism and hate. Submitted by Christian Imark of the Swiss People’s Party, the bill passed by a vote of 111 to 78, with all center-right mainstream parties in support. Voting against the measure were the Social Democratic, Green and Green-Liberal parties. The matter now goes to the Council of States, Switzerland’s upper house of parliament, which will consider the bill in May.
This is the speech of National Councilor Christian Imark before the vote:
First of all, I would like to present you with the reasoning behind this motion. We have tried countless times – without success, unfortunately – to persuade the government of Switzerland (and the relevant Department) to take a stand regarding the specific accusations and to present the matter from its point of view. For instance, Switzerland either directly or indirectly supports the following NGOs with some millions of Swiss francs: Badil, Addameer, Al-Haq, Al Mezan, Breaking the Silence, Gaza Community Mental Health Programme, Adalah, Zochrot and Israel Social TV. These organizations promote and carry out boycotts and sanctions against Israel; incite hatred of Israel and conduct juridical warfare, anti-Zionist and racist campaigns; call for the destruction of the state of Israel; and even, in some cases, have direct ties to terror organizations.
With all due respect, Federal Councilor, as of yet, you have been unable to convincingly demonstrate to us that these accusations are unfounded, or that you would be willing to reassess Switzerland’s support of these organizations. I have spoken both to high-ranking representatives of Israel and to many ordinary Israeli citizens. All of them have confirmed that individual dealings between Switzerland and NGOs are considered unilateral party advocacy – and even, in some cases, regarded as provocation – in the conflict in the Middle East.
Swiss foreign policy loses credibility if Switzerland supports organizations that do not recognize the existence of the sovereign democratic state of Israel and go so far as to boycott it.
All of us sitting here are accountable to the citizens of Switzerland – and not to any other persons or bodies on this planet. We have a duty to our taxpayers to explain why a portion of their hard-earned income is being spent on peacebuilding efforts around the world. We are responsible for ensuring that this money is actually used to promote peace and that these peacebuilding operations are credible and recognized by all sides.
Legal arguments are often given within the context of this conflict. Yet it seems no one has asked themselves which public referendum or even which democratically legitimized organization gives us the right to carry out such dealings. Even if boycotts and incitement of the public against a sovereign state do not explicitly represent breaches of international law, we – in our independent, neutral position – must nonetheless ask ourselves whether we can afford to, or wish to, support such activities.
I do not presume that I myself can simply serve up a solution to the protracted conflict in the Middle East on a silver platter. The intention of this motion is by no means to halt the active use of Swiss taxpayer money in promoting peace around the world. On the contrary: if both sides are willing to seek peace so that people and nations can live in peace in the future, Switzerland should contribute to these efforts.
It is therefore in Switzerland’s fundamental interest to take great care in selecting the partners with which it cooperates on an international level and to vet them on an ongoing basis. It is utterly incomprehensible that one could decline to forbid partners of Switzerland from acting in a racist or antisemitic manner or from inciting the public to hatred. No one can understand this. Switzerland has a great responsibility that lies not only with its taxpayers, but also with its identity as a neutral country. If our country’s foreign policy is unilateral, we will never achieve peace – but rather will continue to fuel the conflict until we ourselves have blood on our hands.
On one side of this conflict, I see people without perspective – people who are condemned to live in a prison of their own making. On the other, I see people who live with the daily fear of losing their own lives or the lives of their friends and family. I do not believe that this conflict can be solved through legal, religious or history-based arguments. I do believe that it needs people with the unconditional will to live in freedom and peace. All the more reason for Switzerland – as a credible, independent, and neutral country – to ensure that we work with people who have this determination and not with those who invest their energy in hate and destruction. This is why it is crucial for Switzerland to choose its partners carefully. Thank you very much for your support.