TEL AVIV – Switzerland’s foreign ministry has sparked outrage due to its efforts to maintain a dialogue with Gaza-based terror group Hamas.
Swiss daily Blick said critics are accusing the foreign ministry of helping to “make the terrorist organization respectable.”
The conservative Swiss People’s Party deputy and foreign policy expert, Alfred Heer, told the paper it was “unbelievable” that Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter continues to support an organization that seeks Israel’s destruction.
Burkhalter, from the Liberal party, is known for his hostile views towards Israel.
Jacob Keidar, Israel’s ambassador to Switzerland, told the Jerusalem Post on Wednesday: “We have been conveying our views concerning Hamas to the Swiss government on a constant basis and we have been trying to persuade them to adopt our views.”
Israel, the European Union and the U.S. categorize both Hamas and Hezbollah as terrorist organizations. Switzerland, which is not a member of the EU, has rejected the terrorist classification of both groups.
General-secretary of the Swiss Jewish community Jonathan Kreutner told the Post on Wednesday: “Hamas is included on the EU’s terrorism list. We are more than skeptical about whether contact with Hamas is productive. We have always said that.”
Yves Kugelmann, editor-in-chief of the Swiss-Jewish magazine Tachles, echoed Kreutner’s view.
“It remains more than doubtful whether this is the right way at this time for conflict resolution and whether the approach was agreed to with the other parties in the conflict,” Kugelmann told the Post.
In December, the Jerusalem Post reported that the Swiss government in a joint venture with a Finnish NGO spent close to $85,000 on a two-day event in Geneva aimed at bringing warring factions Hamas and Fatah together to seek a reconciliation deal.
At the time, Palestinians on social media panned the Swiss initiative as a “waste of money,” according to the daily Basler Zeitung. The report added that the Swiss government “maintains friendly relations with Hamas.”
Swiss lawmakers have met with several Hamas officials over the years.
In 2012, the National Palace (Bundeshaus), which houses the Swiss parliament, hosted Hamas spokesman Mushir al-Masri.
Israel’s then-chargé d’affaires Shalom Cohen told the Jerusalem Post at the time that it was “a big mistake” to invite al Masri.
“It is counterproductive and gave them [Hamas] legitimacy to continue their terrorist activities [and] to continue to work on their basic ideology: the destruction of Israel,” Cohen said.
In a separate controversy, Switzerland’s foreign ministry caused a firestorm for providing funds to NGOs reported to be anti-Semitic or call for boycotts against Israel.
“Switzerland finances in different ways organizations in Israel and the Palestinian territories that call for the annihilation of Israel and for the death of Jews,” Basler Zeitung’s senior editor Dominik Feusi wrote in February.
According to the report, since 2013 the Swiss government has allegedly given $700,000 to a Ramallah-based human rights organization that is a front for the anti-Israel and anti-Semitic activities of its partner NGOs.
Earlier this year, the foreign ministry refused to hand over information about funds to NGOs that support boycotts of Israel, claiming that doing so will negatively “affect the interests of Switzerland in matters of foreign policy and international relations.”