Jewish groups criticise Swiss minaret ban

By Jessica Elgot, December 2, 2009
Follow Jessica on Twitter

Jewish groups have criticised the result of the Swiss referendum in favour of banning the building of minarets on mosques.

The referendum, called by the far-right Swiss People’s Party, has been criticised by the United Nations, the Swiss government, most Swiss newspapers, the Swiss church and the Vatican.

But it was supported by 57 per cent of Swiss voters, with 20 per cent more voters turning out than expected.

The Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities has been vocal against the ban. Dr Herbert Winter, its president, said: “As Jews we have our own experience. For centuries we were excluded: we were not allowed to construct synagogues. We do not want that kind of exclusion repeated.”

British and international Jewish groups have also condemned the result of the referendum.

A spokeswoman for the Board of Deputies said: “We do not seek to interfere in the affairs of other countries but must condemn intolerance wherever it occurs. Swiss Muslims should be made to feel at home in Switzerland, just as we hope that Muslims, Jews and other minorities in this country should be allowed to practise their faiths freely and without restraint.”

She added: “In our own country, we have seen the continuing victimisation of Muslims and other minorities by these groups. These have ranged from intimidatory protests outside mosques, to cemetery desecrations, to arson attacks, and even to murder.

“The Board of Deputies is appalled by such developments and stands with the vast majority of British society who condemn them.”

The New York-based Anti-Defamation League echoed the sentiments of the Board, and said in a statement: “This is not the first time a Swiss popular vote has been used to promote religious intolerance. A century ago, a Swiss referendum banned Jewish ritual slaughter in an attempt to drive out its Jewish population.

“We share concerns that those who initiated the anti-minaret campaign may now try to further erode religious freedom through similar means."

Last updated: 4:22pm, December 2 2009