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Published:January 11th, 2010 13:18 EST
Jewish Lobbying Groups on Swiss Minaret Ban

Jewish Lobbying Groups on Swiss Minaret Ban

By Geoff Dean

 You`d think it would be right up our alley (I use "our" without permission, but as a Jew, of sorts, I take the liberty). A group of German-speaking, goose stepping, Hitler`s birthday celebrating, neo-Nazis gradually assume power in a country and begin restricting the rights of a prominent religious minority. And yet, to my dismay, I have found my favorite Jewish lobbying groups to be remarkably silent on this attack on religious freedom. It couldn`t be because the victims are Muslims, now could it?

 In Switzerland, home of cheese and yodeling and 21st century fascism, the SVP (Swiss Volk Party) has sponsored a referendum banning the building of new minarets in the country. And succeeded beyond even their own wildest dreams (and they have some pretty wild ones!)

 A minaret ban, probably unconstitutional under Swiss Law and certainly inexcusable under any but the most draconian regime, is a predetermined slap in the face of a peaceful Muslim community in Switzerland. And, according to many analysts, a provocation with the goal of raising up a few local extremists, so as to make easier the passage of even more repressive laws.

 As a Jew, and even more, as someone who cherishes religious freedom and human rights, I was appalled. What could a minaret ban accomplish except accelerating hatred and exascerbating tensions? What could be less needed than that? I was sure that the Jewish groups that I respect would be in the forefront of the protest movement against this unconscionable ban. I was sure...wrong.

 I contacted AIPAC and the AJC, the two largest lobbying groups in the US and got no response. More gracious was J Street, a more liberal Jewish American advocacy group. When I asked if they would support any form of boycott of Swiss goods and/or any other form of protest, the response from spokesperson Amy Spitalnick, was that "J Street has not taken a public position on the Swiss minaret ban." Why not, may I ask? Is it none of your/our concern? Since Jews are not directly affected (at least, not yet), can we ignore persecution of a religious minority? She went on to add that "J Street remains opposed to...sanctions and boycotts against Israel." This is interesting since I never mentioned Israel or suggested any sanctions against the Shalom State. It reinforced the idea that (to me) Jewish groups are about protecting Jewish rights, not human rights, and surely not Muslim rights.

 The Anti-Defamation League gave the most complete response to my queries about boycotts or other protests, saying that they "are not in favor of boycotts" because "...they often have negative effects on the people for whose benefit the boycott was started." This is unfortunately but undeniably true. There are "other avenues of pressure useful to effect change, such as diplomatic and public initiatives and actions." I suppose I can agree with this, too, but then why isn`t the ADL sponsoring any such diplomatic initiatives or public actions? Is this not just spin and double talk to excuse inaction? The ADL claims to defend religious freedom not only for Jews but for all. I can`t help but doubt that that offer is extended to Muslims, as well.

 Jews have a unique history of and perspective on religious persecution. As such, we should be in the forefront of the anti-ban movement. And, this is an excellent opportunity to show support and compassion to our suffering Muslim brothers and sisters. Can someone tell me why we are dropping the ball? Oy vey, for goodness sake!