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Uproar After Davos-Area Ski Town Bars Jews From Rentals

6 min read
Uproar After Davos-Area Ski Town Bars Jews From Rentals

A winter sports rental shop in the Swiss Alps, near the exclusive ski town of Davos, is under fire after posting a sign on the window that bans Jews from renting their ski and sled equipment. Though the sign has since been replaced, regional Swiss police opened an investigation into possible violation of incitement to hatred and discrimination laws.  

The sign, written in Hebrew, read: “Due to several very upsetting occurrences including the theft of a sled, we are not renting out any more equipment to our Jewish brothers. This applies to all equipment, including sleds, airboards, ski gear and snowshoes. Thank you very much for your understanding.” 

The contretemps over the sports shop is the latest example of tensions between the alpine townsfolk and fervently Orthodox Jews, who vacation en masse in the area. Some of the townsfolk complain that the Jews are impolite and disruptive guests, while Jews complain they are being singled out for discrimination. 

On Sunday, Zurich city council member Jehuda Spielman posted a picture of the Hebrew sign and a German translation on X, formerly known as Twitter, sparking a fiery backlash. “I am speechless! Is this real?” Freelance journalist Lotte Maier commented on the post. 

The sign, in Hebrew, said that the sports shop would not rent to Jews. Twitter

The Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities (SIG) denounced the sign on Monday, and said it “launched its own legal action”, the BBC reported. The mayor of Davos, Philipp Wilhelm, told Swiss media, “Any and all forms of antisemitism, racism and discrimination must be condemned. This does not belong in Davos.” The popular ski town in the Swiss Alps is known for hosting the World Economic Forum every year in January, since 1971.    

The rental shop is part of a hotel and restaurant establishment, Pischa Davos Bergrestaurant-Hotel, located on Pischa mountain that offers “fun-tours” and winter activities, such as skiing, sledding, ice carving and airboarding, a popular sport where people race down mountains on their stomachs, holding on to inflated bodyboards. But apparently, Jews are now excluded from the fun – at least on Pischa mountain.   

The establishment responded with a written statement to 20minuten, Switzerland’s most widely read tabloid paper. “We don’t want the daily hassle anymore and are therefore exercising our right to decide who is allowed to rent our property and who is not.” The Swiss tabloid added that some Jewish guests are being accused of absconding with sleds and airboards, or often returning them in broken conditions. 

The liberal Swiss national paper, Neue Züricher Zeitung, described the “hassle” in more detail. According to their report, very pregnant Jewish women “don’t want to accept” when they are refused airboards or sleds. Also, “We have Jewish guests,” a staff member told NZZ, “who want to rent sleds in street shoes. Then they leave the sleds on the slopes and call the rescue service, even though they are not injured. We, then, have to collect the sleds, if we can still find them.” 

Ruedi Pfiffner, who runs the establishment, told the Swiss tabloid paper, Blick and other Swiss media that the sign has “nothing to do with antisemitism,” and that “we treat all our guests the same,” regardless of their nationality or religion. “If they don’t adhere to the rules,” Mr. Pfiffer explained, or if the staff feels they are being reckless or could harm themselves in any way, they don’t get a sled.

Mr. Pfiffner apologized for the “badly worded” sign. He said he was not at the shop on the day the “unfortunate sign” was posted on the window.  Events escalated and a frustrated employee took measures into her own hands.        

“We had the restaurant full of guests.” He told Blick. Meanwhile a group of Orthodox Jews, who keep kosher and can only eat at certain restaurants, “blocked the entire terrace” without ordering food. Other guests began to complain. There was a commotion in the rental shop. “Not everyone got a sled right away,” he said. He repeated that the reaction of his employee was not “right” and that he “would have worded it differently.” 

When the reporter asked Mr. Pfiffer if he was aware that the language on the sign violated the law, Mr. Pfiffer asked in return, “Is it really that bad?” He added that he wished the Jewish community would also apologize for their rude behavior, and that he’d like to have an open discussion without being accused of antisemitism. 

The general secretary of SIG, Jonathan Kreutner, told Swiss media, “even if the company has had isolated bad experiences, that is no reason to generalize” all Jews. 

The Swiss foundation against racism and antisemitism, GRA, said in a public statement, “To imagine Swiss people were treated similarly in places abroad, because their countrymen had behaved inappropriately.” 

The BBC report points out that no British tourists have been exempt from anything because other Brits get drunk, are obnoxious and loud. Neither have bankers from Zurich, who are “noted for their wild partying and cocaine habits” ruined winter gear access for other travelers from Zurich. “None, it seems, have been specifically targeted the way the Pischa ski hire shop targeted its Jewish customers,” the BBC writes. 

The situation with Jewish guests is nothing new in Davos. In an interview with NZZ from last September, a Swiss wholesaler of kosher chocolate and cheese, Orthodox Jew Simon Bollag, who has been vacationing in Davos for over 40 years, told the newspaper that “the same spiteful debates” have existed for decades. 

According to swissinfo, Orthodox Jews have been vacationing in Davos since 1870, when patients with lung conditions sought the healing powers of fresh mountain air. Today it’s estimated “that during the peak season in summer around 3,000 to 4,000 Orthodox Jews spend holidays in Davos,” swissinfo reported. 

Mr. Bollag agreed that some of the criticism against “certain” Orthodox Jews is justified. “We also had problems with these people in the synagogues. They think they own the world,” he told NZZ. “They leave the prayer books lying around everywhere, instead of properly storing them.” He continued that they sometimes cut lines in the stores and manhandle vegetables they aren’t going to buy. “There are black sheep everywhere.”     

Mr. Bollag published articles with advice to his Jewish “brothers and sisters.” Because many of them live “in large communities”, they are often “not used to dealing with a non-Jewish environment.” He explained to them that if they want to use the bathroom in a non-kosher restaurant, where they can’t order anything, they can at least buy a bottle of apple juice. 

Another point of contention are the stoves in rental apartments. Orthodox Jews have to “make the stove kosher”, which they do by letting the stove tops get so hot they glow. That can break the stoves, causing trouble with the landlords. Mr. Bollag said that not turning all stove tops on at the same time, and rather heating them up one after the other, would avoid the problem.       

But to judge all Jews on the behavior of a few, Mr. Bollag said, is not right. The overall “atmosphere” in Davos, he told NZZ, was extremely antisemitic. 

The Swiss foundation against racism and antisemitism, GRA, offered the simple solution to ask customers for an ID and a deposit, when they rent any kind of equipment. It seems the establishment did not follow their advice.    

The Hebrew sign on Pischa mountain has been replaced by a new sign, written in German, informing customers that “due to security reasons” renting sleds, airboards or other ski gear is only permitted to people with “suitable winter clothing.”  Whether or not Orthodox Jews’ winter attire is considered “suitable” remains to be seen.  

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