Above photo: Israeli President Isaac Herzog in Bern, Switzerland, shaking hands with Inazio Cassis following the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the Israeli National Science Foundation and the Swiss National Science Foundation in a joint research venture, August 29, 2022. Haim Zach/GPO/Wikimedia Commons.
At a time when Israel’s genocidal war on Gaza is increasingly met with international condemnation, the world has started to take action to halt the daily massacres against Palestinian civilians in Gaza, most recently with the near-unanimous adoption of a UN General Assembly resolution calling for a ceasefire. Still, some international actors have not been fulfilling their roles and obligations, chief among them Switzerland, which has violated its own commitment to neutrality by firmly taking a proactive stand on the side of the perpetrators.
On this account, on December 9, coinciding with the International Day of Commemoration and Dignity of the Victims of the Crime of Genocide and of the Prevention of this Crime, we, a number of Arab Palestine solidarity groups, have launched a campaign to economically Boycott Switzerland due to its unprincipled positions and its complicity in Israeli war crimes against Palestinians.
For two centuries, Switzerland maintained a worldwide reputation for hosting a neutral political terrain, a self-imposed policy of neutrality to enhance peace, as it claims.
In response to this self-proclamation, our campaign, launched by eight solidarity groups spanning the Arabian Gulf to the Atlantic Ocean, has sought to expose how the Swiss government, far from maintaining this alleged neutrality, is, in fact, complicit in the genocidal Israeli war on the people of Gaza.
Since October 7, the Swiss government has been pursuing a series of undemocratic measures against its own citizens, in complete disregard for the freedom of speech in public life, whether in the workplace or in institutions, including top academic institutions that are supposed to uphold free expression. These repressive measures have taken the form of intimidation and threats of being investigated for antisemitism, and are underwritten by a complete public commitment to uncritically echoing the official Israeli narrative, unfiltered and without independent scrutiny. This enhances anti-Palestinian, anti-Arab, and Islamophobic discourse within Switzerland by providing the state media as a platform for deceptive Israeli propaganda.
The Swiss Confederation has added gravely to the persecution of Palestinians by terminating the contracts of three Palestinian civil rights organizations and criminalizing and labeling Hamas as a terror organization.
On the other hand, it doubled down on its moral as well as financial support to “Israel.” The Canton of Zurich, for example, publicly announced a generous donation in the amount of CHF 500,000 from its charitable fund in support of the Israeli foundation Ha’Amuta Lekidum Toshevei Hevel Eshkol, “citing that the money will benefit survivors of the terrorist attacks in Israel and the reconstruction of their villages.” At a time when 85 percent of buildings in Gaza have been either partially or completely destroyed, no such gesture was extended to Palestinians even after over two months of destructive war.
Moreover, the Swiss Confederation has displayed a striking double standard in its willingness to condemn the October 7 attack while refraining from issuing any statement condemning Israel’s aggression on Gaza and the ongoing genocide in Palestine, all documented by independent experts, in complete disregard of the killing of 20,000 Palestinians, 45% of whom are children.
This double standard is underwritten by Switzerland’s sustained, if underreported, pursuit of economic and military ties with the Israeli occupation’s war machine.
In 2015, Switzerland ordered 6 Hermes 900 HFE drones from Israeli ELBIT Systems, the same model that bombs Gaza, at a cost of $326 million. Four years later, a new contract with ELBIT and a collaboration with Swiss state-owned arms manufacturer RUAG were signed.
In return, counter-deals for around 40 Swiss companies, utilizing Swiss know-how to “expand and perfect the combat drone,” were arranged by the Swiss Department of Defense (DDPS).
The DDPS-arranged counter deals involve Swiss flagship academic institution EPFL. Its sister university, ETH Zurich, on the other hand, is also represented along with Israeli defense company IAI in a 65-million euro research project on aircraft technologies.
Unsurprisingly, top-ranked Swiss institution ETH, which is involved in unethical collaboration with the settler colonial state, has actively endorsed the silencing of critical voices among its student and faculty body for merely reporting facts or engaging in critical academic research on Palestine while failing to grant them security and support.
More appalling, the Israeli company VERINT, founded by a former agent of the Mossad and unit 8200 of the Israeli army, supplies wiretapping systems to the Federal Department of Justice and Polices. In 2021, RTS revealed that Swiss authorities are also using Israeli spyware, PEGASUS, in their investigation.
It is estimated that between 1996 – 2005, Switzerland, in total, bought over half a billion dollars’ worth of military equipment from Israel.
But Switzerland does not stop at buying military goods. It goes further in contributing to war materials by selling military goods in the categories of tanks and aircraft, equipment, and ammunition. Historically, state-owned and privately-owned Swiss companies have cooperated with Israeli counterparts on the development of cluster ammunition, drones, reconnaissance systems, INTAFF, and others. In the course of five years between 2008 and 2013, Switzerland made sales in the categories of War material and Military goods to Israel.
Apart from military ties, Israel is Switzerland’s third most important trading partner in the Middle East. Regular economic relations and cooperation have been maintained since the founding of the state in 1948, and a free trade agreement has been in place since 1993. Switzerland has not tied these trade agreements nor any other official cooperation with Israel on the latter’s compliance with the Geneva Conventions or respect for international law and human rights. Despite calling for a two-state solution, Switzerland does not forbid, exclude funding from, or even warn companies against operating in the occupied Palestinian territories or trading in settlement goods — a breach of international law that even the EU has placed concrete measures against.
Among the arguments, the campaign states that: “Switzerland has concluded multi-million dollar deals with Israeli arms and security companies, such as ELBIT and VERINT,” and “at least 7 Swiss companies are involved in activities in the occupied Palestinian territories including Liebherr, Nestle/Osem, HBI Haerter AG, Lonza, Perapa AG, Tyco International, Von Roll Transformers.”
Given Switzerland’s positioning as a member and depository state of the Geneva Convention, the state is required to proclaim a stronger stance as a response to the Israeli breaches of international law and the Geneva Conventions.
Due to the fact that, to date, Switzerland holds onto its neutrality principle, it is obligated to fulfill the requirements of a neutral state. Should the Swiss Confederation actually support the peace that it claims to champion in the Middle East, it must immediately call for a ceasefire in the occupied Gaza Strip and the end of its blockade. It must recognize the suffering and oppression of the Palestinian people, call on Israel to abide by international law, end the occupation, and publicly call for a dismantling of the system of apartheid that Israel has built against Palestinians.
In official statements, Switzerland repeatedly mentions Israel’s right to defend itself, fully overlooking the fact that over 20,000 Palestinians have been killed since October 7. According to international law and various UN General Assembly resolutions, Palestinians have the right to self-defense and to resistance against occupation and colonization, including through armed struggle. Therefore, Switzerland’s criminalization of Palestinian groups engaged in this lawful resistance against the occupation and colonization of their lands must be retracted. Furthermore, a country claiming neutrality must have no military exchange with a military force engaged in the illegal occupation of foreign lands. The Swiss Confederation must end all military cooperation with Israel, Israeli arms, and security companies, and furthermore predicate all its dealings with Israel on the latter’s compliance with international law, human rights, and the Geneva Conventions. The Swiss Confederation must also put measures in place that prevent Swiss companies from benefiting from the occupation or trading with settlement products — a policy that even the EU has applied.
We strongly believe that this campaign is a crucial step in making Switzerland’s involvement in the region transparent to the public, with the objective of ensuring that Switzerland is not complicit in violations of international law and that the unrestricted endorsement and funding of the occupation of Palestine is brought to an end.
We specifically call on Arab nations and the international community at large to immediately withdraw investments in Switzerland, cease their tourism in the country, and suspend economic relations with it.
The Arab world is responsible for 4.9% of total Swiss export revenue, while GCC countries alone account for 3.5%. Arab tourism in Switzerland fills Swiss coffers with nearly half a billion dollars annually and accounts for more than 5% of all hotel stays. In 2021, the UAE alone had capital holdings in Switzerland in the amount of 1.335 billion francs (1.450 billion dollars). In 2022, 5 Arab countries fall within the top 30 markets for Swiss watch exports, accounting for 2.07 billion CHF, which amounts to 8.3% of the total Swiss watch export share.
Only days after the launch, the Swiss confederation did not only abandon the demand to issue a statement calling for an immediate ceasefire; it further escalated its stance by cutting aid to the leading UN humanitarian agency in Gaza, UNRWA — at a time when its involvement is crucial for the survival of Palestinians under bombardment.
The response to the Swiss positioning in the form of an organized boycott could lead to significant financial losses, given that the Arab world is responsible for 4.9% of total Swiss export revenue.
Countries complicit in reinforcing the systematic ethnic cleansing of Palestinians by the settler colonial state must be held accountable. Boycott is, without a doubt, an imperative tool to pressure these governments into ending their illegal aid to Israel.
You can read the full statement of the campaign and its demands in English here.