Swiss lower house votes to defund pro-BDS groups
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Swiss lower house votes to defund pro-BDS groups

Bill aims to ensure government money does not go to NGOs calling for Israel's destruction

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

The National Council, the Swiss lower house of parliament. (Attribution: https://www.parlament.ch/, Wikimedia Commons)
The National Council, the Swiss lower house of parliament. (Attribution: https://www.parlament.ch/, Wikimedia Commons)

The lower house of Switzerland’s parliament on Wednesday advanced a bill prohibiting the Swiss government from providing aid to NGOs engaged in boycotts of Israel.

The legislation calls for cutting off foreign aid to any groups that promote “racist, anti-Semitic or incendiary” actions or that call for boycotts of Israel, according to the Basler Zeitung daily.

The bill, which was proposed by Christian Imark of the right-wing Swiss People’s Party, passed in the National Council with 111 votes in favor to 78 against.

The Swiss People’s Party has backed a number of referendums aimed at restricting immigration and supported a ban on the construction of mosque minarets in Switzerland, which became a constitutional amendment following a referendum in 2009.

Imark, who said before the vote that he did not want to take a position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, said that the Swiss government needs to be careful about who it is funding.

The Foreign Ministry in Bern, he said, supports groups that “demand boycotts of and sanctions against Israel and engage in anti-Israel incitement, lawfare as well as campaigns of anti-Zionism and racism, which call for the destruction of Israel and sometimes even have direct connections to terrorist organizations.” He cited in that context Israeli and Palestinian NGOs such as Al-Haq, Adalah and Breaking the Silence.

Olga Deutsch, the Europe Desk director for NGO Monitor, a watchdog and critic of foreign funding for such NGOs, hailed the vote, describing it as “an important precedent in seriously countering BDS campaigns, anti-Semitism, and hatred.”

The Neue Zürcher Zeitung daily said the vote was a great success for NGO Monitor, which had lobbied the Swiss government on the issue and provided information on a number of the pro-BDS groups receiving Swiss funding.

According to NGO Monitor, the Swiss government provided $2.38 million between 2013 and 2016 to the Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law Secretariat — a donor organization sponsored by a number of European governments — which in turn distributed the funding to various Israeli and Palestinian groups, including, allegedly, the terrorist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

The bill will now head to the Council of States — the Swiss parliament’s upper house — where it is expected to be voted on in May.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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