Swiss Muslim activists took to the streets of Bern over the weekend to protest policies they characterize as discriminatory. But it wasn’t their demonstration that got the attention, rather their wearing yellow stars on their clothing resembling the symbol Jews were forced to wear during the Nazi era.
The Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) reports some 2,000 showed up to Saturday’s rally sponsored by the Islamic Central Council of Switzerland (ICCS):
Protesters wore a yellow star sticker printed with the word "Muslim" reminiscent of the one that the Nazis forced Jews to wear during the Third Reich. Some protesters constructed a plastic model of a mosque with minarets, which are banned in Switzerland.
Edith Bino, president of the Jewish community in Bern, told the Basler Times that she found the use of the yellow star "so obviously wrong that it could not be taken seriously."
And Yves Kugelmann, editor in chief of the Jewish newspaper Tachles, said he found the choice of symbols "simply idiotic."
"It is regrettable when legitimate concerns are raised using false comparisons," Kugelmann told the Basler Times. He said that discrimination against Muslims is a theme that must be taken seriously in Switzerland, "but not in this cheap way."
The star that ICCS designed has eight points, not six as in the Star of David. In the middle, the word “Muslim” appears as opposed to “Jude” that European Jews under Nazi rule were forced to wear in the years leading up to and including the Holocaust.
Two mainstream Muslim groups in Switzerland called the star usage “unethical” and a “cheap provocation” and told supporters to stay away from the rally.
JTA quotes ICCS head Nicolas Blancho defending the symbol choice to the Tages Anzeiger newspaper. He said:
"Muslims are treated as second-class citizens and are discriminated against, for example because they wear a headscarf or because of their name when they look for an apprenticeship or are looking for an apartment."
It reported that among the speakers was Lauren Booth, sister-in-law of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. An outspoken pro-Palestinian activist and a journalist for Iran’s PressTV, Booth is a Muslim convert and wears a veil.
According to the BBC, 400,000 Muslims live in Switzerland, making it the second most prominent religion in the country after Christianity. In 2009, Swiss voters approved a referendum banning the construction of any new minarets. The sponsors of the proposal said “minarets are a sign of Islamization.”
One English language news site in Switzerland, The Local, reports that ICCS was founded by Swiss converts to Islam shortly before the referendum to ban minarets:
The organisation, which has more than 2,000 members, professes a conservative interpretation of Islam and has often made headlines in Switzerland for its provocative campaigning.
The adoption of the Nazi symbol is particularly ironic in light of the rampant Holocaust denial in the Muslim world whom these activists, including Lauren Booth, regularly defend. The most prominent denier: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in his doctoral thesis titled “The Other Side: the Secret Relationship Between Nazism and Zionism” described Nazi persecution of the Jews as a “Zionist fantasy, the fantastic lie that six million Jews were killed.”
The latest example: the UN agency that runs the schools for Palestinian refugees is facing a major backlash in Gaza, the West Bank and Jordan for its efforts to introduce the subject of the Holocaust to history lessons.