Security and extremism

The threat of terrorist attacks against the Jewish community has become more severe. The required security measures represent a great financial burden for the Jewish community and institutions. Some cantons and municipalities have agreed to assume a part of the high costs. The SIG, however, demands more extensive solutions.

The Jewish community and its institutions in Switzerland are facing an increased level of risk. Meeting places, synagogues and schools can become targets of terrorist attacks at any time. The threat stems especially from extreme rightwing and Islamist groups. This appraisal is based on the experience of several terrorist attacks around the globe and on the current European environment. The Swiss intelligence service NDB confirms this assessment of the situation in its annual report, and considers Jewish and Moslem communities in particular to be at risk. For the past ten years, the SIG has made great efforts to ensure more comprehensive protection for Jewish establishments and an appropriate state contribution to the costs involved. As an umbrella organisation, the SIG also plays the role of coordinator between communities, institutions and the authorities responsible for security.

Level of threat from rightwing extremists and Islamists has risen


For over ten years, Europe has been confronted with a rising threat of extremist violence. Numerous terrorist attacks over this period show that this threat is no passing phenomenon, but a real and permanent security risk. More than a dozen European countries have been affected, which also shows that such terrorist activities know no borders. They have repeatedly been directed at Jewish institutions. The attacks on the Jewish Museum in Brussels, a synagogue in Copenhagen, a Jewish school in Toulouse, a supermarket for kosher goods in Paris and a synagogue in Halle are examples of targeted aggression, motivated by antisemitism, against the Jewish community. Examples from outside Europe include the attacks on the synagogues of Pittsburgh and San Diego in the United States.

Security costs represent a great burden


The Jewish community in Switzerland has had to meet increasing security requirements for decades. Reactions to the renewed spike in threat over the past few years have been swift. Security concepts were updated and tightened. This includes the protection of buildings, security personnel and training. The ensuing costs still have to be borne largely by the Jewish communities themselves. Estimates for Switzerland range from four to five million francs a year. No compromises can be made regarding customised security for Swiss institutions, which means that security measures cannot be reduced despite the immense financial burden. The Jewish communities have long reached a ceiling in this respect and therefore need to cut costs in other domains such as education, training and events. This has a direct impact on the core of a religious community – the practice of its religion.

Federal support for security measures


After years of debates about who is responsible for security measures, the fact that the state of affairs was unsatisfactory was acknowledged by the Federal Council in 2017. In November 2019, the Swiss government finally adopted the “Verordnung über Massnahmen zur Gewährleistung der Sicherheit von Minderheiten mit besonderen Schutzbedürfnissen” (decree on measures to ensure the protection of minorities with special security needs, VSMS). The decree is in line with the Federal Council’s decision of July 2019 to strengthen the protection of threatened minorities and to support them in the financing of security measures. It also defines measures based on the security concept that was proposed by a working group consisting of representatives of cantons, municipalities and the minorities concerned, including the SIG. The decree provides for financial assistance for security-related projects of the minorities in question in the fields of constructional measures, education, awareness raising and information – covering up to 50% at most of the project concerned. For this, the Confederation earmarked an annual amount of up to CHF 500,000. In July 2020 and February 2021, the Federal Office of Police (fedpol) approved initial financial assistance for projects by Jewish communities and establishments. The projects submitted by these Jewish communities and establishments focus primarily on constructional measures to increase security at synagogues, schools and communal centres.

Cantons and cities called upon to provide support


The Confederation explicitly spoke of the decree as a first step and announced that it would draw up further-going measures and also examine the question of an associated Federal law. It also called upon the cantons to show greater commitment in this matter. Since then, several cantons and municipalities have decided to cover a part of the security-related costs. The city and canton of Zurich and the canton of Basel-Stadt in particular have resolved to provide more extensive financial support and wider-ranging solutions. Further pledges of support have come from the cantons of Aargau and Vaud as well as the cities of Biel/Bienne, Lausanne and Winterthur.

The SIG demands more extensive solutions in security matters


The SIG believes it is essential for the state to take its responsibility seriously at all levels – Federal, cantonal and municipal. The SIG is pleased that the financial burden caused by the security costs at certain Jewish communities and institutions has been eased somewhat. But this burden still weighs heavily. At four to five million francs a year, the security costs borne by the Jewish community still remain at an unacceptably high level. Moreover, the two VSMS application cycles show that the funds provided did not suffice to cover all the related projects and expenses. The risk exposure and the high security costs this entails for the Jewish community cannot be reduced or solved by these means alone. Other and far more extensive measures will be required in future. A lot will depend on further steps taken by the Confederation and the cantons. Following the adoption of the decree, the Federal Department of Justice and Police is expected to issue a proposal in the coming months on what the next step could comprise.

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