Bilateral relations between Switzerland and Israel are good, marked by mutual trust and close cooperation in culture, science and, more recently, innovation. In addition, thanks to good economic relations, Israel is a major trading partner in the MENA region.
Bilateral relations Switzerland–Israel
On 14 October 2020 the Federal Council adopted a specific strategy for the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA Strategy) for the 2021–24 period. It identifies five thematic priorities: peace, security and human rights; migration and protection of people in need; sustainable development; economic affairs, finance, science; and digitalisation and new technologies.
These priorities are weighted differently across the various regions and countries. Switzerland's three priority thematic areas for the Middle East region are armed or political conflicts, economic development and governance. Switzerland is also addressing the needs of young people by promoting the development of vocational training, thus facilitating access to the labour market.
Switzerland's priorities in Israel
The MENA Strategy 2021–24 identifies the following priorities for Switzerland in Israel:
1. Peace, security and human rights
Switzerland offers its good offices to facilitate the Israeli-Palestinian dialogue. It calls on the main actors in the region to pursue dialogue and to respect international law.
2. Economic affairs, finance and science
Within the framework of existing agreements and declarations of intent, relations in the economic and financial services sector are being deepened to improve market access for Israeli and Swiss companies.
Switzerland and Israel enjoy a high volume of trade. Israel is Switzerland's third-largest trading partner in the Middle East and North Africa. A free trade agreement was concluded between the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) and Israel in 1993. In general, bilateral economic and financial relations have intensified in recent years, with the aim of promoting trade and collaboration between Swiss and Israeli companies.
3. Digitalisation and new technologies
Scientific cooperation in various sectors – fintech, cybertech, medtech, Tech4Good, climate, etc. – based on a bottom-up principle can also facilitate the trust-building needed to successfully tackle the geopolitical challenges.
Researchers and artists who are citizens of Israel can apply to the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI) for a Swiss Government Excellence Scholarship.
4. Sustainable development
Implementing joint climate and environmental projects, i.e. green diplomacy, fosters the knowledge-transfer required to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Agenda.
Other areas of cooperation
Switzerland regularly participates in events to promote the French language as part of the International Day of La Francophonie and also the Italian culture week (Settimana della Lingua Italiana nel Mondo). It also organises various cultural events.
Swiss nationals in Israel
In 2020, there were 21,115 Swiss citizens living in Israel.
History of bilateral relations
The founding of the state of Israel is closely linked to Switzerland: the first Zionist Congress was held in Basel in 1897, and 15 of the 22 subsequent Zionist Congresses were also held in Switzerland.
Before the state of Israel was established in Palestine, Switzerland maintained a consulate in Jerusalem (accredited to the British Mandate authority) and a consular agency in Tel Aviv.
In 1949, Switzerland recognised the new state and opened a consulate in Tel Aviv, which was upgraded to an embassy in 1958.