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 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 represent a great burden for the 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. The Jewish communities reached a ceiling in this respect many years ago and therefore had 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.
Hitherto insufficient funding markedly raised by Confederation
In subsequent years, the Confederation earmarked annual sums of up to only CHF 500,000 for the above-mentioned measures. To date, the Federal Office of Police (fedpol) have launched three application cycles (2020 through to 2022). The projects submitted by the Jewish communities focused primarily on constructional 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. In the said years, 27 applications in all were approved, 23 of which stemming 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 makes 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. Based on its own calculations, the SIG’s puts the Jewish community’s hitherto uncovered annual security costs at between CHF 4 million and CHF 5 million.
Cantons and cities called upon to provide support
Since the beginning of the related process, the Confederation has been calling on the cantons to participate in the funding. In the meantime, 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. This is a welcome development. 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.
Decree on measures to ensure the protection of minorities with special security needs VSMS
(only in German, French and Italian)