In Switzerland, Supermarket Labels Spark Memories Of “Jew” Passport Stamps

Essay: Swiss supermarket chain Migros plans to introduce a special label for products imported from Jewish settlements in occupied Palestinian territory. This attempt at "transparency"instead recalls the 'J' that Nazis

Swiss supermarket chain Migros wants to apply a label to products from Israeli settlements. (Mike Knell)
Swiss supermarket chain Migros wants to apply a label to products from Israeli settlements. (Mike Knell)
Henryk M. Broder

Herbert Bollinger, head of Swiss supermarket chain Migros, has explained why his company will begin to use labels designating the origins of products from Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian areas.

The point, he said in an interview with the Swiss-based Jewish weekly magazine Tachles (Straight Talking), was "transparency" – and that transparency is "a global trend" that enables responsible customers "to freely decide what they do, and what they don't, want to buy." Bolliger added that Migros, which will begin the labeling in 2013, "takes no position in the Israel-Palestine conflict, doesn't boycott any products from these areas, and is not calling for boycotts."

But what the Migros boss would like to see as a kind of customer service, unrelated to any position in a political conflict, has a historical precedent: in 1938, the German Reich introduced the so-called Judenstempel (Jew Stamp) – a large red "J" that was stamped into the passports of German Jews.

The measure was taken as a result of an agreement between the German Reich and Switzerland. It was a way for Switzerland to block streams of Jewish refugees, which allowed Germany to avoid introducing a visa requirement for all German citizens.

Granted, labeling people is different from labeling agricultural products. But if you follow Bolliger's logic, you could say that the big red "J" also did not represent a position on the conflict between the German Reich and its Jews – it was just a measure to ensure transparency. Responsible border officials should be in a position to decide who they let in and who they don't.

Darkest hour

The way Jewish refugees were treated by the Swiss is one of the darkest chapters in Switzerland's history. Even those Jews who were allowed in were not welcome.

Poet and playwright Else Lasker-Schüler, for example, who won the prestigious German Kleist literature prize in 1932, resettled in Zurich in April 1933. Swiss immigration authorities, however, apparently took the view that the writer was going to be taking work away from Swiss writers – and they forbade her to publish, forcing her to live on the charity of others. Swiss authorities upped their harassment after Lasker-Schüler was stripped of her German citizenship in 1938, until she finally left Switzerland for Palestine where, penniless and ill, she died in 1945.

But of course that's history -- and for a company like Migros, that generates 25 billion Swiss francs ($26 billion) of revenue a year, pretty much irrelevant. But one could ask some questions, such as why responsible customers who should be able to freely decide what they wish and do not wish to buy shouldn't also have the right to know where the store's pistachios come from.

From Iran? Where adulteresses are stoned and homosexuals are hanged on construction cranes? Shouldn't the store also be letting customers know that Iran, with the money it makes selling pistachios, supports terrorist organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah?

That wouldn't be taking sides, or a position, either – just a little customer service in the interests of transparency.

Read the original article in German.

Photo - Mike Knell

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Preparing a COVID-19 vaccine booster in Huzhou, China.

Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Ciao!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where Brazil's senate backs "crimes against humanity" charges against Jair Bolsonaro, the UN has a grim new climate report and Dune gets a sequel. Meanwhile, German daily Die Welt explores "Xi Jinping Thought," which is now being made part of Chinese schools' curriculum.



• Senators back Bolsonaro criminal charges: A Brazilian Senate panel has backed a report that supports charging President Jair Bolsonaro with crimes against humanity, for his alleged responsibility in the country's 600,000-plus COVID-19 deaths.

• Gas crisis in Moldova following Russian retaliation: Moldova, one of Europe's poorest countries, has for the first time challenged Russia's Gazprom following a price increase and failed contract negotiations, purchasing instead from Poland. In response, Russia has threatened to halt sales to the Eastern European country, which has previously acquired all of its gas from Gazprom.

• New UN climate report finds planned emission cuts fall short: The Emissions Gap Report 2021 concludes that country pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions aren't large enough to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5 °C degrees this century. The UN Environment Program predicts a 2.7 °C increase, with significant environmental impacts, but there is still hope that longer term net-zero goals will curtail some temperature rise.

• COVID update: As part of its long-awaited reopening, Australia will officially allow its citizens to travel abroad without a government waiver for the first time in more than 18 months. Bulgaria, meanwhile, hits record daily high COVID-19 cases as the Eastern European's hotel and restaurant association is planning protests over the implementation of the vaccination "green pass." In the U.S., a panel of government medical advisors backed the use of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for five to 11-year-olds.

• U.S. appeals decision to block Julian Assange extradition: The United States said it was "extremely disappointed" in a UK judge's ruling that Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, would be a suicide risk of he traveled across the Atlantic. In the U.S., he faces 18 charges related to the 2010 release of 500,000 secret files related to U.S. military activity.

• Deposed Sudan prime minister released: Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok has been released from custody, though remains under heavy guard after Sudan's military coup. Protests against the coup have continued in the capital Khartoum, as Hamdok has called for the release of other detained governmental officials.

Dune Part 2 confirmed: The world will get to see Timothée Chalamet ride a sandworm: The second installment of the sci-fi epic and global box office hit has officially been greenlit, set to hit the screens in 2023.


Front page of the National Post's October 27 front page

Canadian daily National Post reports on the nomination of Steven Guilbeault, a former Greenpeace activist, as the country's new Environment minister. He had been arrested in 2001 for scaling Toronto's CN Tower to unfurl a banner for Greenpeace, which he left in 2008.


Chinese students now required to learn to think like Xi Jinping

"Xi Jinping Thought" ideas on socialism have been spreading across the country since 2017. But now, Beijing is going one step further by making them part of the curriculum, from the elementary level all the way up to university, reports Maximilian Kalkhof in German daily Die Welt.

🇨🇳 It's important to strengthen the "determination to listen to and follow the party." Also, teaching materials should "cultivate patriotic feelings." So say the new guidelines issued by the Chinese Ministry of Education. The goal is to help Chinese students develop more "Marxist beliefs," and for that, the government wants its national curriculum to include "Xi Jinping Thought," the ideas, namely, of China's current leader. Behind this word jam is a plan to consolidate the power of the nation, the party and Xi himself.

📚 Starting in September, the country's 300 million students have had to study the doctrine, from elementary school into university. And in some cities, even that doesn't seem to be enough. Shanghai announced that its students from third to fifth grade would only take final exams in mathematics and Chinese, de facto deleting English as an examination subject. Beijing, in the meantime, announced that it would ban the use of unauthorized foreign textbooks in elementary and middle schools.

⚠️ But how does a country that enchants its youth with socialist ideology and personality cults rise to become a world power? Isn't giving up English as a global language the quickest way into isolation? The educational reform comes at a time when Beijing is brutally disciplining many areas of public life, from tech giants to the entertainment industry. It has made it difficult for Chinese technology companies to go public abroad, and some media have reported that a blanket ban on IPOs in the United States is on the cards in the next few years.

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"I'm a footballer and I'm gay."

— Australian soccer player Josh Cavallo said in a video accompanying a tweet in which he revealed his homosexuality, becoming the first top-flight male professional player in the world to do so. The 21-year-old said he was tired of living "this double life" and hoped his decision to come out would help other "players living in silence."


Why this Sudan coup d'état is different

Three days since the military coup was set in motion in Sudan, the situation on the ground continues to be fluid. Reuters reports this morning that workers at the state petroleum company Sudapet are joining a nationwide civil disobedience movement called by trade unions in response to the generals' overthrow of the government. Doctors have also announced a strike.

Generals in suits At the same time, the military appears firmly in control, with deposed Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok allowed to return home today after being held by the coup leaders. How did we get here? That's the question that David E. Kiwuwa, a professor of international relations at the University of Nottingham, takes on in The Conversation:

"Since the revolution that deposed Omar el-Bashir in 2019, the military have fancied themselves as generals in suits. They have continued to wield enough power to almost run a parallel government in tension with the prime minister. This was evident when the military continued to have the say on security and foreign affairs.

Economy as alibi For their part, civilian officials concentrated on rejuvenating the economy and mobilizing international support for the transitional council. This didn't stop the military from accusing the civilian leadership of failing to resuscitate the country's ailing economy.

True, the economy has continued to struggle from high inflation, low industrial output and dwindling foreign direct investment. As in all economies, conditions have been exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19. Sudan's weakened economy is, however, not sufficient reason for the military intervention. Clearly this is merely an excuse."

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471 million euros

Rome's Casino di Villa Boncompagni Ludovisi, better known as Villa Aurora, will be put up for auction in January for 471 million euros ($547 million). The over-the-top price tag is thanks to the villa having the only known ceiling painting by Renaissance master Caravaggio.

✍️ Newsletter by Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Who wants to start the bidding on the Caravaggio villa? Otherwise, let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world!!

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