Switzerland, Hamas and the question of terrorism
Jewish organizations in Switzerland are calling for the radical Islamist militant group Hamas to be declared a terrorist organization. The latest escalation in the Middle East conflict has fueled this ongoing debate, but it has fallen on deaf ears in Swiss diplomacy.
This content was published on May 31, 2021 – 09:00
The latest conflict between Israel and Palestine has reignited a long-standing debate in Switzerland: to officially classify Hamas as a terrorist organization.
In a joint statement on May 20, the Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities (SIG) and the Platform of Liberal Jews of Switzerland (PLJS) called Hamas “clearly extremist, terrorist and anti-Semitic”. They said it was unacceptable that “Hamas members move freely, fundraise and do business in Switzerland.” The Israeli embassy in Bern has made similar appeals.
Switzerland has only classified al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (IS) as terrorist organizations. As such, the Swiss government cannot communicate directly with them.
After 11 days of violence in May between Israel and Hamas, at least 230 Palestinians and 11 Israelis were killed and thousands were injured. The infrastructure and thousands of homes in the Gaza Strip have been devastated. A ceasefire finally came into effect in the Gaza Strip on May 21 after Egypt and the United Nations negotiated an agreement between Israel and Hamas.
Silent Federal Government
This is not the first time that Jewish communities have launched such an appeal. In 2017 Christian Imark, of the conservative right-wing Swiss People’s Party and member of the House of Representatives, called on the Federal Council (executive body) to ban Hamas or classify it as a terrorist organization.
“Declaring Hamas as a terrorist group would be the right thing to do. He repeatedly acted as an aggressor and used his own people as a human shield, ”Imark told SWI swissinfo.ch.
So far, the Federal Council has not responded to this statement. For its work in promoting peace in the Middle East, Switzerland communicates with all parties involved to promote dialogue between Israel and the Palestinians as well as between Islamist Hamas and secular Fatah groups. Naming Hamas a terrorist organization would not allow direct communication with the political party. This position has not changed since the last outbreak of violence.
In response to our investigation, the Foreign Ministry said: “The Foreign Ministry has taken note of the request from the Jewish communities. Switzerland’s position […] has not changed, however, it clearly condemns the fact that Hamas denies Israel’s right to exist and defines armed struggle as a legitimate means of resistance.
He added that Switzerland had been in contact with all parties to the conflict and had called on Hamas in the Gaza Strip to end the violence and ensure respect for international humanitarian and human rights law.
The European Union (EU) regards Hamas as a terrorist organization which makes direct communication impossible. This is one of the reasons why he did not play a major role in negotiating the current ceasefire.
Other countries view Hamas’s military wing, the Al-Quds Brigades, as a terrorist group, but do not characterize the entire organization as one.
The latest escalation in fighting has revived debates on this issue elsewhere. German politician Armin Laschet, one of the candidates for succession to German Chancellor Angela Merkel, called for a ban on Hamas’s flag while others demanded that the entire organization become illegal. As is the case in Switzerland, Hamas is not banned in Germany.
It is doubtful, however, that the Hamas ban will have much effort. Analysts say Hamas is now considered the strongest political party outside the Gaza Strip, where it has been in power since 2007. It is gaining support in the West Bank and among Israeli Arabs.
Middle East expert Erich Gysling summed up the dilemma in an interview with the German-language newspaper Luzerner Zeitung. “Hamas is the winner on the Palestinian side. We must maintain the dialogue with them. Calling them terrorists would not work for anyone’s benefit, ”he said.