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August 25, 2017

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, AUGUST 25, 2017 PAGE 7A By Cnaan Liphshiz Custom Printing Invitations & Announcements Digital & Offset Printing Brochures & Booklets Direct Mail Services Forms & Letterheads Envelopes Business Cards 2o5 North Street Longwood, FL 3275o Bring in this ad and receive 18~ Discount (JTA)--A chuckle tickled my throat as Ruth Thomann, a Swiss hotelier who posted signs urging her "Jewish guests" to shower before entering the pool, assured me that she has "nothing against Jews." To be clear, I don't find racism particularly amusing, especially not these days. But there was something comical about how her ear- nestvoice--she was speaking in broken English with a thick Swiss-German accent--con- trasted with the glaringly discriminatory character of the laminated signs that she posted in her Paradise Apartments in Arosa hotel near Zurich last week, which provoked outrage in Israel and beyond. Besides, in over a decade of reporting about Europe, I have heard more variations of this weak defense than I can remember including by people who immediately contradicted themselves. Last year alone I heard it from the professional anti-Semite Dieudonne M'bala M'bala and from a Belgian cartoonistwho proudly accepted an award at Iran's Holocaust denial and mockery festival. The shower signs, which Israel's Foreign Ministry escalated into a diplomatic incident with Switzerland, seemed to me an open-and- shut case ..... ?--,,. L - But as I listened earlier this-- Technically, excluding]ews many apartment owners who weektoThomann'spassionate wotfid be illegal in Switzer- usedtorentroomstothevisi- explanations and apology--- land. But an anti-Semitic "the signs should have been hotelier could get around it, addressed to all the guests in- since Orthodox Jewish tour- steadofJewishones.'shesaid, ists typically book hotels in near tears--I realized that the Alpine country through despite the damning evidence ........... travel agencies. and anger against her, she was, And so in principle, all a Swiss probably a tolerant person who, for lack of tact, wasbeing pilloried internationally with devastating consequences for her business. And so what began as a clear-cut expression of Eu- rope's growing anti-Semitism problem turned, in my mind, into a reminder of how im- portant it is precisely during these times to judge people innocent, even of hate crimes, until proven otherwise. In addition to the sign about the pool, Thomann also posted one instructing "our Jewish guests" on when they could access a hotel refrigera- tor. Both signs circulated on social media, where Israeli journalists found them. "You have to understand," she pleaded with me, "the sign about the refrigerator goes to Jews because I kindly allowed only the Jews to keep their food in the staff's refrigerator because I know they bring their own food," she said. Her Orthodox Jewish guests needed to store their food there because of kosher issues, she explained. "My God, if I had something against Jews, I wouldn't take them as guests!" she said. hotel needs to do to "lose" its Orthodox guests would be to inform their travel agent of some imaginary deal breaker say a nocturnal pulled pork bake-off contest, or zero accommodations for storing kosher food, So what about the shower signs, I asked. "Well," Thomann paused, searching for words. "I'm sorry to say but I know the hotel, and the only people who go in without taking a shower are the Jewish guests." And how exactly does she know that, I inquired, bracing for comments on body odor. "They go in wearing their T-shirts!" Thomann said, adding that the behavior drew complaints from other guests, who found it unsanitary. I have notverified the claim about T-shirts. But in my ex- tensive travels across Europe, and especially to places that receive many Jewish visitors, I have seen culture clashes between secular Europeans and vacationing members of insular haredi communities from Israel and beyond In Uman, a Ukrainian city where each year 30,000 Jews convene for a Pilgrimage, tots have stopped because of damages and fires. Last year, the Uman City Plaza hotel also adopted this policy, citing the same reason. Before filing my story on Thomann apologizing for the signs it was shared nearly 3,000 times on Twitter--I said goodbye to the hotelier, add- ing that I found it regrettable that some of my colleagues didn't bother to get her side of the story before reporting about the signs. But that was only the beginning of the Swiss hotel saga. Responding to calls by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the reservations service Booking. corn dropped Thomann's hotel a painful financial blow to any business in the industry. The Wiesenthal Center's intervention is understand- able on many levels. Especially in Europe, signs singling out Jews inevitably evoke memories of the slo- gans that proliferated across the continent during the Nazi occupation of most of its ter- ritory, from the laconically demeaning ("No dogs and Jews allowed") to theviciously "humorous." It didn't help that in the same week as the Swiss hotel affair, news emerged that Switzerland's federal parlia- ment was about to vote on a bill that would make it the first cotintry in Europe to ban the import of kosher meat. (Ritual slaughter ofcows was outlawed in Switzerland in 1894 in legislation that the local Jewish community to this day views as essentially anti-Semitic.) Tzipi Hotovely, Israel's deputy foreign minister, escalated the matter even further in a move that may be connected to her govern- ment's ongoing fightwith Eu- ropean countries supportive of the Palestinian cause. (In June, Switzerland's foreign minister, who in the past has refused to disclose funding for anti-Israel groups, reluc- tantly agreed to an audit fol- lowing pressure by pro-Israel lawmakers.) Hotovely demanded the Swiss government publicly condemn Thomann's actions, which she said indicated the prevalence of anti-Semitism throughout Europe, a con- tinent of some 750 million residents. As is often the case when Jerusalem wades into the complicated debate about anti:Semitism in Europe, I felt that Hotovely's claim was not only overblown and cynical, but also based on ignorance of the facts of the case at hand. But almost immediately, 1 had to reconsider that judg- ment, too. In the latest twist of a story that began with two laminated A4 sheets of paper, a Swiss lawmaker, the Socialist Roger Deneys, came along and proved Hotovely's point. If anyone should apologize for the Swiss hotel incident, he wrote on Facebook, then it is Israel, "for its excessive tolerance of ultra-Orthodox Jews who prevent peace in Palestine." Following an outcry, Deneys deleted the remark and apologized. After all, he said, he has nothing against Jews.