The Swiss parliament has blocked a move to criminalise the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign aimed at Israel's abuse of human rights in occupied Palestine. Although MPs voted in favour of a motion calling on the government to review its regulations to ensure organisations involved in "racist, anti-Semitic or hate-motivated actions" do not receive funding from the state, the final text of the Bill was stripped of all references to BDS and the Middle East.
The Bill was regarded openly as an anti-BDS measure. It was changed on the recommendation of the foreign affairs committee of the upper house. The measure to criminalise the BDS campaign for Palestinian rights was thus thwarted.
During the debate on the issue, Switzerland's foreign minister criticised the original anti-BDS motion, saying that it threatened the essential right of civil society to criticise governments, reported The Electronic Intifada. Didier Burkhalter told the upper house on Tuesday that sufficient controls on financing of foreign organisations were in place and he backed the amended motion removing all references to BDS.
"We should not throw away the baby with the bath water," explained the minister. "Swiss values must not be abandoned, especially when democracy and civil society are supported, in accordance with the constitution, which provides general support for peace, democracy and civil society."
Burkhalter told lawmakers that the problem with the original motion was that it threatened the right to challenge governments. "Such a measure would obviously sweep away all possibility for civil society to criticise governments. That is something that is definitely not desirable and it is above all something that goes against progress."
The anti-BDS motion had been sponsored in the lower house of the Swiss parliament by the right-wing People's Party. It urged the government to ban any funding to non-governmental groups "implicated in racism, anti-Semitism, incitement to hatred or BDS campaigns."
In rejecting the People's Party motion, Switzerland joins the European Union, Ireland, the Netherlands and Sweden in resisting pressure to curtail BDS as a tool to defend the rights of the Palestinian people.