By Amir Mizroch and jpost.com staff
The Jerusalem Post
April 20, 2009
Swiss President Hans-Rudolf Merz on Monday defended his meeting with his Iranian couterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and said criticism was unjustified. "Switzerland is neutral and not part of any alliance," Merz said in a radio interview, adding that it is part of his country's national tradition to offer its mediation services.
Army Radio reported that Switzerland would only be represented by a low-ranking official during Ahmadinejad's keynote address to the Durban II racism conference in Geneva Monday evening.
Merz's statement came after Israel recalled its ambassador to Switzerland Ilan Elgar in protest of Merz's meeting on Sunday with Ahmadinejad in Geneva, a day before Jews worldwide commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Israel also cited Switzerland's hosting of a "racist and Holocaust denier who openly declares his intentions to wipe Israel off the map."
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman issued a joint statement on Monday morning to the effect that Elgar would be recalled as soon as possible for consultations in Jerusalem.
Meanwhile, Foreign Ministry Deputy Director-General for Western Europe Rafi Barak on Monday summoned Switzerland's Deputy Ambassador to Israel Monika Schmutz-Kirgoz for an urgent Jerusalem meeting to relay Israel's displeasure at Merz's meeting with Ahmadinejad.
In his letter, history teacher Jean-Francois Bussy expressed his "dismay" over his president's meeting with Ahmadinejad, noting that the "intentions and convictions of that man were already known."
"I thus estimate that your meeting with him was a mistake, even an insult to democracy in general, and to Israel, the only true democracy in the Near East," Bussy wrote.
. . .
Bussy also dismissed Switzerland's argument of neutrality, saying that "neutrality has boundaries too."
"Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, and we, as democrats, cannot just stand idly by," he said. "You can't be neutral when someone wishes to destroy another country. Neutrality ends at that point."
Sun Jul 19, 2009 2:02 pm Israel furious over Hamas leader's trip to Switzerland
Israel furious over Hamas leader's trip to Switzerland
By Barak Ravid
July 14, 2009
The Foreign Ministry is furious over news that Mahmoud al-Zahar, a senior Hamas official based in the Gaza Strip, recently headed a Hamas delegation to Switzerland for talks with Swiss diplomats.
A senior Foreign Ministry official said the visit will further destabilize already shaky relations between Jerusalem and Bern, after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited Switzerland in April for the "Durban 2" United Nations anti-racism conference.
China's news agency broke the story of Zahar's visit nearly two weeks ago. Officials at the Israeli Embassy in Bern were surprised by the report, since they knew nothing about the June visit.
The embassy has requested clarifications from the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, but Israeli officials say the responses have not been satisfactory.
One Jerusalem officials said it was many days before the Swiss confirmed the Hamas visit to the embassy.
Swiss officials told Israel's ambassador in Bern, Ilan Elgar, that the Hamas delegation was invited to Geneva by a nongovernmental research institute.
The Foreign Ministry source, however, noted that Swiss diplomats, including the Swiss envoy to the Middle East, met with the delegation during a conference at the institute.
When Elgar requested official clarification regarding the visa issued to the delegation, he was told by the Swiss foreign ministry, "In Switzerland, Hamas is not considered a terrorist organization."
Tensions between Jerusalem and Bern began to build about a year and a half ago, when the Swiss foreign minister went to Iran to sign a major gas purchase contract.
In May, in the wake of Ahmadinejad's visit to Geneva and the official working meeting with him held by Swiss President Hans-Rudolf Merz, Israel recalled Elgar to Jerusalem for consultations in protest.
Sun Jul 19, 2009 2:05 pm For Switzerland, there are no terror organizations
For Switzerland, there are no terror organizations
By Herb Keinon
The Jerusalem Post
July 17, 2009
Switzerland continues to dismay Israel, as its Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey told Swiss RSR Radio on Wednesday that while she recognizes there are terrorists, Switzerland does not have a list of terrorist organizations because it believes that while a person can be called a terrorist, an organization cannot.
During the interview, Calmy-Rey admitted that officials from her ministry met in June with a Hamas delegation - led by former Hamas foreign minister Mahmoud al-Zahar - when he was at an international conference in Geneva.
The Swiss officials had joined a meeting the Hamas delegation held with former US diplomat Thomas Pickering, a former ambassador to the UN and undersecretary of state. Pickering is today the co-chairman of the non-profit International Crisis Group.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said "the Swiss government, by ignoring the murderous and extremist character of Hamas, is again making the wrong choice, sending the wrong signal, and missing an opportunity to side with the moderates in the Middle East."
Palmor said "again" because in April, Israel recalled its ambassador to Bern for consultations after Swiss President Hans-Rudolf Merz met with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Pointing to the year-long spat the Swiss are having with Libya over the arrest - and later release - in Switzerland of Muammar Gaddafi's son and daughter-in-law, Palmor said Gaddafi last week called for breaking up Switzerland, which he described as a "global mafia."
"How would the Swiss feel if we invited Gaddafi here now to discuss the matter?" Palmor said.
The Swiss Embassy in Tel Aviv said the Swiss Foreign Ministry had no comment on the issue.
Palmor said that while Israel would not this time recall its envoy in Bern, Ilan Elgar, for consultations, the ambassador would make Israel's dissatisfaction known to the Swiss government.
Switzerland is not a member of the EU. The EU, like the US, does consider Hamas a terrorist organization and has refused any contact with it until Hamas recognizes Israel, forswears terrorism and accepts previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements.
Although there are some voices inside the EU - primarily from Sweden and Belgium - that would like to ease these conditions so a dialogue could be maintained with Hamas, Palmor said there was no real concern in Jerusalem at this time that the EU would change its position on the matter.
The US has also not changed its position on Hamas, with The Washington Post on Wednesday quoting US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as saying that before Hamas can participate in peace talks, "we have made it clear, both publicly and privately, through all kinds of pronouncements, that we would expect Hamas to recognize Israel, renounce violence and agree to abide by prior agreements."