BERLIN – Dr. Shimon Samuels, the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s director for international relations, has called for the resignation of Austria’s Defense Minister Norbert Darabos.

The minister has been playing down the Iranian nuclear threat against Arab Gulf countries and Israel and singling out Israel for biased treatment, he said.

Darabos “should resign” because “he has discredited Austrian impartiality in terms of Iran, especially as Austria is host to the International Atomic Energy Agency and this is extremely dangerous,” Samuels told The Jerusalem Post in an exclusive interview on Tuesday.

Samuels “finds it very strange” that Darabos continues to be defense minister, because the “Austrian government has disassociated itself from the minister, and logically he should have no standing on defense.

“It is extremely worrisome to see Austria take any role in Iran negotiations through this mouthpiece,” he added.

At the EU human rights agency in Vienna, Samuels said Darabos’s attacks on Israel meet the EU’s definition of modern anti-Semitism, and they are even more disturbing “when you take into context his statement playing down the Iranian threat.”

In an interview with the the Vienna-based Die Presse over the weekend, Darabos called Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman “unbearable,” downplayed the Iranian threat, and accused Israel of using it – and the Palestinian issue – to sidetrack attention from domestic problems.

“Mr. Liberman is unbearable for me as a member of the Israeli government,” Darabos said in the interview. In connection with Iran, he said that Israel’s “threats” were “unnecessary” because “Iran is not ready to build the bomb.”

When asked if Darabos plans to resign, Stefan Hirsch, a spokesman for the Austrian Defense Ministry, wrote the Post by email on Wednesday that the “call to resign is ridiculous. A resignation is not being discussed in Austria. The minister has, in contrast, received support.”

Chancellor Werner Faymann and Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger have, however, distanced themselves from Darabos’s statements, saying his comments do not reflect the position of the Austrian government. Austria’s largest daily, Kronen Zeitung, slammed Darabos in a commentary by the popular columnist Michael Jeannée. He compared Darabos to the former Waffen SS member and writer Günter Grass and his anti-Israel tirades. Darabos has “damaged Austria’s official policies,” Jeannée wrote.

Darabos remained defiant on Wednesday. He told the Post that Liberman is an “ultra-right politician” and in an interview with an Austrian paper earlier in the week, he said he stands “100 percent” behind his criticism of the Jewish state.

Yacov Stiassny, from the Israel-based Central Committee for Jews in Austria, wrote the Post by email on Wednesday that in connection with Darabos that though anti- Semitism is no longer respectable in Europe since the end of the Third Reich (and legally prohibited in Austria), “criticism of Israel is popular. Therefore, the new anti-Semites dress themselves up as critics of Israel and guardians of the Palestinians.”

He added, “I do not want to contend that Darabos is anti- Semitic, but he is certainly no friend of Israel.”

Abraham H. Foxman, national director, Anti-Defamation League, wrote to the Post on Tuesday, “The Austrian government did the difficult but right thing of publicly criticizing one of its ministers. We had been in contact with the Austrian government and received a similar response.”

Deidre Berger, the head of the American Jewish Committee office in Berlin, told the Post on Wednesday, “Castigating the work of an Israeli cabinet minister as insufferable is an attack on core values of dignity and civility. Denouncing the foreign minister of an allied country in this manner is irresponsible, manifesting double standards and raising troubling questions of perceptions of Israel in Europe. Those who dabble in anti-Semitic imagery by delegitimizing the officials of a democratic government should not be surprised at the results.”

She continued, “Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman is a staunch supporter of German- Israeli relations. He has made a praiseworthy contribution to strengthening this important relationship. One can only hope that his efforts to create a deeper level of German-European- Israeli understanding would be recognized and not condemned by European counterparts.”

Oskar Deutsch, the head of Austria’s Jewish community, told the Post on Tuesday that Darabos’s statements were “unnecessary” and that he was pleased that Austria’s Foreign Ministry dismissed the remarks as not reflecting the positions of its government.

According to Die Presse, Israel’s Ambassador Aviv Shir-On said, “What we wanted to say, the Austrian Foreign Ministry has already said.”

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