It’s rare when a story about Switzerland makes international headlines, but a recent scandal involving a mayor of a town outside of Zurich did just that.
What should have been a localized story about a public figure sending inappropriate texts (think Anthony Weiner) exploded when the media discovered a Jewish angle: Two of the figures connected with making the selfie scandal public were key figures in the pro-Israel community.
(The man at the center for the selfie scandal, Geri Müller, pictured at the Federal Palace with his Hamas guests.)
Suddenly, it was all about Jewish conspiracies and the Israel lobby.
You see the Baden mayor, Geri Müller, who’s also a member of parliament, has a long and strong history of being anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian. Over the years, he’s hosted Hamas representatives in the Federal Palace (Switzerland’s equivalent of the US Capitol), has served as trustee of the Hamas-affiliated NGO, the Center for European Palestinian Relations (CEPR), and participated in a pro-Palestinian rally where hateful, anti-Semitic messages appeared. (He’s also praised Iran’s “democracy” and during a recent unsanctioned trip to Syria, stated that the Assad regime knows how to deal with terrorism “without inflicting losses on civilians.”)
You can imagine that Jewish groups weren’t too keen on Müller. The pro-Israel organization I work for in Zurich has, over the years, exposed some of Müller’s Hamas connections and Müller himself makes no apologies for his stances (although, of course, he denies being anti-Semitic).
So is it any surprise that when the opportunity arose to try and bring Müller down, his foes grabbed at it?
The two individuals accused in the press of being the masterminds behind ‘Geri-gate’, as the scandal is known, Sacha Wigdorovits and Josef Bollag, founded Audiatur, the media watchdog where I work. They were approached by a person with incriminating evidence about someone they believe is harmful, and so they referred her to members of the media. Yes, these foes are pro-Israel, and yes, they are Jewish, but does that mean it’s a Jewish-wide conspiracy?
Whenever a story here involves Jews, it’s never limited to the particular individuals and their causes. Instead it’s conflated into a sinister conspiracy, harking back to the anti-Semitic tropes of Jewish cabals with global control. The word ‘lobbying’ becomes pejorative, with the implication of it being a uniquely Jewish tool in the effort to exercise undue influence on politics (or economics, etc. as the case fits). The general Swiss populace seems to suffer collective amnesia, conveniently forgetting about the construction, healthcare and pharmaceuticals lobbies, all of which wield an incredible amount of influence on parliamentarians as well as the presidents themselves (Switzerland has seven presidents, each serving as a cabinet minister).
And the astounding thing is that the synagogues, Jewish communities and Jewish media are party to it, jumping to dissociate themselves from these individuals and their actions. Sure, one may not want to condone or praise certain behavior or tactics, but why the need to make a public, critical statement? Why add fuel to the fire that conflates Jewish individuals with the Jewish community as a whole?
One thing I’ve learned during my 10-year-plus sojourn in Europe is that classic anti-Semitism lives on, whether in obvious ways like Nazi graffiti or more subtle ways, like these Jewish ‘conspiracies’. And sadly, part and parcel of that anti-Semitism, is the fear it creates within the Jewish population and that constant need to please the mainstream, and prove its loyalty.
In the case of the selfie scandal, though, the Jewish conspiracy angle didn’t succeed in proving a long-term diversion to the real story: whether Müller is fit for the job. He’s lost the confidence of his council and has been stripped (no pun intended!) of his duties, although for now he still holds the title of mayor.
A funny thing, though. Now that the Jewish angle has died down, Müller is no longer dominating national headlines. Coincidence?