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.

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 that can happen at any time. The threat stems especially from extreme right-wing 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 Federal Intelligence Service FIS confirms this assessment of the situation in its annual report, and considers Jewish and Muslim 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 right-wing 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 ongoing 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 represent a great burden for Jewish communities. No compromises can be made regarding customised security for Swiss institutions, which means that security measures cannot be reduced despite the financial burden. Jewish communities reached their financial limits years ago and therefore had to cut costs in other areas 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» (Ordinance on measures to ensure the protection of minorities with special security needs VSMS). The ordinance 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 ordinance provides for financial assistance for security-related projects of the minorities in question in the fields of construction and technical measures, education, awareness raising and information.

The first rounds of support showed high demand

In subsequent years, the Confederation earmarked annual sums of up to only CHF 500,000 for the above-mentioned measures. On this basis, the Federal Office of Police (fedpol) have launched three application cycles from 2020 through to 2022. The projects submitted by Jewish communities focused primarily on construction measures to increase security at synagogues, schools and communal centres. The large number of applications submitted highlights the Jewish community’s urgent need of support in security matters. From 2020 to 2022, 27 applications in all were approved, 23 of which stemmed from the Jewish community. However, the need for financial means to improve security at Jewish institutions clearly exceeded the amounts available, which means that several applications for support had to be rejected. This clearly showed that further funds towards ongoing security costs are urgently required.

In April 2022, the Federal Council finally decided to raise the Confederation’s annual contributions from CHF 500,000 to CHF 2.5 million in all as of 2023. This made additional funds available for the Confederation to support comprehensive security concepts for the protection of institutions at risk. For the first time, the government has now taken full account of the high running costs needed to provide security for such institutions. The high demand for support was evident in the number of applications approved in 2023. Of the 34 applications approved in 2023 alone, 26 were for the Jewish community. The urgency of the newly created support for security concepts is demonstrated by the fact that there were 19 projects in this category alone.

Insufficient funds were increased again by Parliament in 2023

This number of authorisations was offset by unapproved applications, which generally could not be processed due to insufficient funds. In 2023, this was demonstrated by the many outstanding and necessary security measures of Jewish institutions and the associated ongoing security costs, which were a burden on the Jewish community. The SIG also assumed that Jewish communities and Jewish institutions would have to provide several million francs in funding themselves due to their precarious position. The general situation worsened considerably since the outbreak of the Gaza conflict, as security measures have had to be increased. There is still no end in sight to this situation. On this basis, in December 2023, Parliament approved an increase in funding for security measures for vulnerable minorities by a further CHF 2.5 million, with a remarkably high level of approval in both chambers. This should secure funding for all applications for 2024. In January 2024, 34 projects totalling CHF 4.7 million were finally approved, 32 of them from the Jewish community.

Cantons and cities called upon to provide support

Right from the beginning of the process, the Confederation asked the cantons to contribute their share of the costs. In the meantime, almost all cantons and cities with larger Jewish communities have decided to contribute to security costs. The canton and city of Zurich and the cantons of Basel-Stadt, Geneva and Bern have implemented more extensive financial aid and solutions. The canton of Vaud and the cities of Biel, Lausanne and Winterthur have provided further support.

The SIG demands more extensive solutions in security matters

Parliament’s decision at the end of 2023 and the increase in funding come at the right time. This is the urgently anticipated response to the tense security situation. Financial relief will not be felt immediately; there will be a delay as authorisation and implementation processes take place. Until then, Jewish communities and institutions will have to continuously adapt to the security requirements in order to protect members, facilities, schools, etc. The SIG is very pleased and welcomes the fact that this responsible action by Parliament will lead to a noticeable reduction in the security costs of Jewish communities and institutions. The SIG nevertheless continues to urge all cantons with Jewish communities to regularly and substantially contribute to their running security costs. The aim is to find and implement lasting financial solutions with contributions from the Confederation, the cantons and the municipalities.

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