Arson behind Geneva synagogue fire, Swiss authorities rule
The fire at Hekhal Haness Synagogue in Geneva was the work of arsonists and was not caused accidentally, according to an investigation by the Swiss authorities.
The blaze that broke out early in the morning 10 days ago badly damaged the building and is considered the worst blow in recent years to a Jewish institution in Switzerland.
A laconic statement issued Friday by the investigative judge in charge of the case said the synagogue burned down as a result of arson. It noted that a cigarette butt was found at the scene, apparently discarded by the perpetrators, but DNA tests performed on the butt failed to yield good results.
The statement did not detail the findings on which the judge based his conclusion, nor whether the incident was anti-Semitic. No suspects have been arrested, but the police questioned a large number of people, including confirmed pyromaniacs.
Switzerland's president, Micheline Calmy-Rey, issued a statement expressing sadness and concern after the announcement that the fire was an act of arson. She conveyed solidarity with the Jewish community and said anti-Semitic acts are unacceptable and an insult to Switzerland's tradition of dialogue.
The announcement took many by surprise in Geneva's Jewish community, where the fire had already been accepted as accidental. The synagogue's founder, Nissim Gaon, initially said he was convinced that an electrical short circuit was the culprit.
The president of the umbrella organization Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities (FSCI), Alfred Donath, claimed that Friday's announcement proves that the fire was inspired by anti-Semitism. The Jewish community in Geneva, however, has taken a more cautious line.
Johanne Gurfinkiel, secretary-general of the Geneva-based Intercommunity Coordination against Anti-Semitism and Defamation (CICAD), said the community is shocked and greatly concerned, and is calling on the authorities to make every effort to see the investigation through.
The badly damaged synagogue is the largest of six in Geneva, and can accommodate 1,200 worshipers. Most of the damage was in the front part of the building. The Torah scrolls and other religious objects in the synagogue were removed intact by the rescue crews.