Saturday, July 19, 2014

Anti-Israel demonstration in Zurich, Switzerland, July 18, 2014

"Perverse politicians: when will these dictators answer for their murder of innocent people?" From the left: Benjamin Netanyahu, with a Hitler mustache; Kim Jong-Un, of North Korea; is the third one Vladimir Putin?; and then Bashar Assad of Syria
Last night I found myself at an anti-Israel rally on the Rathausbrücke in the old town of Zurich. Anti-Israel is the accurate name, not pro-Palestinian.

When I first got to the square, there were only a few people there, starting to put up signs. I went up to the women holding the sign above (after photographing it) to ask them about it, and they were quite hostile, asking me if I was photographing the sign "for Israel." I told them I was an American tourist, not an Israeli. I encountered this hostile reaction two or three times from people in the crowd. Another woman that I spoke with also asked why I was photographing the signs, why was I interested. Again, I told her that I was a tourist, and she said that if that was true, why wasn't I just relaxing and not watching the demonstration?

About a minute of the demonstration, with chanting.
A short video from a news website, in which you can hear the slogan "Allahu Akbar":
During the last couple of wars between Israel and Hamas (2008-09 - Cast Lead, and 2012 - Pillar of Cloud) I have read about anti-Israel demonstrations in various parts of Europe and the US, but I've never actually attended one, because we don't have demonstrations like this in Ithaca. There are a lot of leftwing people in Ithaca, New York (my home town), some of them pretty anti-Israel, but the demonstrations they hold about Israel tend to be very mild, probably because most of those attending them come from the local Catholic Worker and pacifist communities.

Not so at this demonstration. There were calls to "Free, free Palestine," and "From the river [Jordan] to the sea [Mediterranean], Palestine will be free." In addition, because there was a large Islamist presence at this demonstration, there were repeated chants of "Allahu Akbar" (God is the greater), alternating with "Free, free Palestine." The aim of this demonstration was not to advocate for a two-state solution, or reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians. The goal was the elimination of the state of Israel. A chant like "From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free" is not asking to share the land between Jews and Arabs - it is demanding that there should only be a Palestinian state.

On the right: "Freedom for Palestine"
The anti-Israel demonstration was organized by various groups, including the Switzerland-Palestine Society (this links to an article with an announcement of tonight's rally, along with a very one-sided analysis of the current Israel-Hamas war), the Islamic Central Council of Switzerland, an Islamist organization (source: Swiss info, and see also the ICCS announcement of the demonstration), and BDS Switzerland. Members of another Islamist organization, "Islamic Brotherhood Worldwide" also attended.

"Freedom for the Palestinian People" - BDS Zurich
From Anti-Israel demonstration in Zurich, July 18, 2014
Another sign from the BDS group. Partial translation: "As long as we want ... the Palestinians, 
we support the nonviolent BDS fight, boycott, disinvestment, and sanctions, against Israel"
"Injustice ... high finance." Note that "high finance" is often a code word for "Jews," since all Jews are supposed to be rich, according to anti-semitic conspiracy theories
From Anti-Israel demonstration in Zurich, July 18, 2014
The flags in Arabic have the Muslim statement of faith (the shahada) written on them: 
"There is no god but God and Muhammad is his prophet."
From Anti-Israel demonstration in Zurich, July 18, 2014

Deceptive series of four maps claiming to show the Arab loss of Palestine.
From Anti-Israel demonstration in Zurich, July 18, 2014

Members of the Islamist organization, "Islamic Brotherhood Worldwide."
From Anti-Israel demonstration in Zurich, July 18, 2014

In addition to several hundred demonstrators (one report I read today said there were about a thousand, but I think that may be too large), there were lots of police. At one point about ten police vans drove into the square. The police wore body armor, carried batons, and had pistols in holsters. At one point when I was feeling scared I walked to the back of the square and stood next to three very tall, unsmiling women officers who were keeping an eye on the crowd.

Before the square filled up, I went up to another police officer and asked him about the demonstration. He told me that there were at least two groups of people involved, who didn't necessarily like each other - the Islamists and the more left-wing groups. I asked him if there was a threat of violence, and he said that the police were prepared to deal with anything - they used tear gas and rubber bullets. 

During the time that I was at the demonstration, there was no violence, but at times I found the chanting quite intimidating. First one group would begin chanting "Free, free Palestine," and then another group would start chanting "Allahu Akbar" - followed by clapping after the chants had stopped.

"Israel has bombs, WE have Allah!" 
The sign comes from the Islamic Central Council of Switzerland. 

Woman marching with the Palestinian flag.

As the square was filling up with people, I saw more and more flags - both Palestinian flags and the Shahada flags.
From Anti-Israel demonstration in Zurich, July 18, 2014

From Anti-Israel demonstration in Zurich, July 18, 2014

From Anti-Israel demonstration in Zurich, July 18, 2014

I had conversations with a couple of women. One was a Swiss Christian woman who had been arguing with one of the demonstrators. I went up to her afterwards and asked her what she thought. She was very much against the demonstration (that made me feel better, because I felt quite alone there). She told me that in the past few days, there had been postings on Facebook pages about the demonstration that were quite antisemitic. She said that the organizers of the demonstration had wanted another venue - in a Jewish area of Zurich, but the police refused to let them do that.

Her comments seem to be corroborated by this news report:
Before the demonstration, the Federation of Jewish Communities in Switzerland expressed concern about the demonstration and a number of anti-Semitic messages on social media platforms. The Zurich police are reportedly investigating these messages.

The federation’s secretary-general, Jonathan Kreutner, said he was shocked by the “hatred and threats against Jewish people”. He called for the application of anti-racism law against authors of anti-Semitic statements. Several inter-religious organisations called for calm and religious freedom. 
Zurich police allowed the demonstration to take place near the Zurich city town hall, but stipulated that the participants would not be allowed to leave the agreed site.
Another news article also reported about antisemitism on social media: Antisemitism rising in Switzerland
THURSDAY, 17 JULY 2014 08:52 
On Friday evening, a rally for Palestine takes place in Zurich. It was called by various organizations, including the radical Islamic Center of Switzerland, for the "mobilization of Gaza". On several Facebook promoting the demo, comments by Palestine sympathizers were anti-Semitic such as: "Only a dead Jew is a good Jew," "Adolf Hitler was the only medicine against Jews," "we must exterminate the Jews", "gas". 
The Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities (SIG) is alarmed. "The hatred has reached a dimension that I have never experienced before," says Secretary-General Jonathan Kreutner...
A local blogger, originally from Denver, wrote about the Swiss Jewish response before the demonstration occurred:
This is how Jews live in Switzerland.
On Thursday, the community I belong to sent an email to all its members warning them to stay away from a pro-Palestinian (or in reality, anti-Israel) demonstration on Friday. They also assured members that the normal security at the synagogue and community center would be bolstered by the presence of city police. (And it’s not like the regular security staff are amateurs; in fact they’re so rigorous they often receive complaints from members who feel they’re being interrogated.) But the largely ex-IDF team is not enough in the face of the hatred that abounds in Europe during a period of IDF activity in the West Bank or Gaza. 
Last Sunday in Paris, hundreds of Jews were barricaded in a synagogue – where they had gathered to honor Eyal, Gil-Ad and Naftali – as pro-Palestinian protesters hurled stones and chairs at the police protecting the shul. There’s a story in this week’s IJN about a similar ‘demonstration’ in Antwerp, where “slaughter the Jews” was repeated as a refrain. 
In Switzerland, the social media surrounding plans for tonight’s demonstration have been filled with hatred, including calls to take the action into the Jewish neighborhoods and attacks the synagogues and Jewish citizens there. “Let’s smash their faces in” was written one of the choice comments. The comments were so vitriolic they sparked a story in the one of the national papers and on the evening news. 
So can you blame the community? 
When I first received the email I was frustrated; why stay away? Why the fear? Let’s face these people, and be proud of who were are, was my initial reaction. 
The Swiss Jewish community has maintained a near radio silence on events in Israel: no solidarity rallies as in Denver, no communal gatherings. The other day, several lay people, including many members of Keren Hayessod, organized a demonstration in one of Zurich’s downtown plazas, Paradeplatz. A member of Keren Hayessod made sure to emphasize to my colleague that he was there in a private capacity and that this rally was not an official Keren Hayessod effort. Why not? Keren Hayessod did, like JEWISHcolorado, open a fund to support Israelis in Israel affected by Operation Protective Edge, but when it comes to being vocal in the Diaspora, the fear sets in. 
Apparently this is what centuries of anti-Semitism, whether latent or active, does to a Jewish community. It’s that mentality of keep your head down, don’t draw attention, then maybe everything will be fine, a myth shattered by the Holocaust. But the survival instinct is still there, and many people continue to hope, if we keep our heads down… 
And I really don’t know if I can fault the Jewish community for its reticence....
I can testify that there were no counter-demonstrators (as there have been in the United States, for example), and I don't think it would have been particularly safe for them to be there. The startling hostility that I received, as a tourist, for merely being curious about the demonstration, was a sign to me that if anyone had spoken up for Israel they would have been risking their safety. I was glad that there were so many police there, and when I felt the hostile feelings of the crowd were rising, I went and stood by them for my own protection.

All in all, this was a most unnerving experience. When I decided to visit Switzerland after being in Israel for five weeks, I thought I would have an nice, relaxing, unpolitical time - I didn't realize that in this globalized world, there's no such thing as avoiding the deadly politics of the rest of the world.

If you would like to see more of the photos I took of the demonstration, click on Anti-Israel demonstration in Zurich.

Update, July 21 - a report (in German) of the same demonstration - Impressions of the pro-Gaza demonstration in Zurich.

A couple of photos of the demonstration from this website:

Notice that this photo shows a poster equating the star of David with the swastika,
which is antisemitic.
Update, July 22 - I've seen reports in a number of online sources that there were 3,000 people at the Zurich demonstration. This is incorrect - there were nowhere near that many people at the demonstration. The same sources assert that the demonstrators shouted that Jews should be thrown "into the sea." I don't know if that's true. If the shouting was in German, I wouldn't have understood it, but the English and Arabic chants did not say that. (One source:

A report from a Swiss news site (in German) that comes to the conclusion that, "Anti-Semitic statements or actions? Non-existent.Whether this has to do with the large police presence, which had stationed around the vegetables bridge or with the fact that it is easier to anonymously rushing on Facebook against Jews as a public space, is debatable." I don't agree with this assessment. If there were anti-semitic slogans in German, I didn't understand them, but the slogan of "From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free" is inherently antisemitic, because it calls for the replacement of the state of Israel with a Palestinian state.

I just found the source for the assertion that there were 3,000 people at the demonstration - from this article on the Maariv website: The article was written by Noam Amir, but it is based entirely on the testimony of one Israeli woman who happened upon the demonstration, and who estimated that there were 3,000 people there. I don't consider this to be a serious article, since it based on a second-hand account by only one person. 


  1. Rebecca, I hope you get at least a brief vacation that really is a vacation after this. Thank you for keeping us informed - you have been brave, being right in the thick of everything.

  2. Just coming home will be a vacation!

  3. I lived in Palestine for the last nine months and am therefore very "pro-Palestine", I think the problem with that term though is that it automatically means you are anti-Israel, and immediately then anti-semetic. I am very very shocked by some of what you posted, particularly the Star of David equated with the Swastika. Hitler and anything associated should never come into play, it is completely unnecessary and insulting. I would just like to add that among Palestinians it is often stressed that they are not against the Jews, only the Israeli occupation. I also think that here, as you said there were two groups, one notably more anti-semetic than the other and it's important to keep those apart. Promoting the rights of Palestinians does not mean and should never mean you are encouraging the sacrifice of any other group.