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(photo credit: AP)
BERLIN – Ariel Muzicant, the head of Austria’s Jewish community, on Wednesday became the first major European Jewish leader to boycott a Holocaust commemoration event, because of the pro-Iranian policies of the Austrian government.
According to the Graz-based Kleine Zeitung daily, Muzicant said his decision to stay away from the annual Mauthausen concentration camp event held in the Austrian parliament constituted a “silent protest.”
Will the Austrian Jewish community’s decision to not participate in the Mauthausen event affect Germany, where the five-year anniversary of the Berlin Holocaust memorial will be marked on Monday?
Defending his boycott of the event in Vienna, Muzicant cited Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger’s cordial welcome of Iranian Foreign Minister Manoucher Mottaki, a key speaker at the infamous 2006 Teheran Holocaust-denial conference, in Vienna late last month; the flourishing Austrian-Iranian trade relationship; and the refusal of Austria’s representatives to leave the UN General Assembly meeting last year during Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s anti-Semitic tirade against Israel.
Commentators, for example, in The Wall Street Journal Europe
, have argued over the years that German Jews and non-Jews concerned about advancing the security of Israel and Diaspora Jewry should cease their participation in Holocaust memorial events in the Federal Republic.
According to this line of reasoning, Germany has done little to end its massive economic relationship with Teheran (totaling roughly €4 billion in 2009, the largest in Europe). Germany also allows Iranian proxy Hizbullah, which has 900 active members in the country, to operate within its borders. All of this means that alarm bells should be ringing about Germany’s sincerity in mourning dead Jews while it fails to protect living Jews.
Some saw hypocrisy when Uwe Neumärker, the director of the Holocaust memorial, criticized the idea of a pro-Israeli protest at the memorial site during the nascent phase of anti-Ahmadinejad activism in Germany. “The political co-option of the site is worrisome,” Neumärker said in early 2007.
While the number of visitors to Europe’s largest Holocaust memorial – measured by the number of people visiting the Berlin site’s Information Center – is increasing each year (from 456,500 in 2008 to 457,000 in 2009), Israelophobia and expressions of modern anti-Semitism are mushrooming in Western Europe, according to recent studies such as the report issued by Tel Aviv University’s Stephen Roth Institute for the Study of Contemporary Anti-Semitism and Racism in April.
The Berlin Holocaust memorial has been shrouded in controversy because many consider it a memorial that best serves Germans interested in improving their country’s reputation on the international stage and in a feel-good exercise in cleansing pangs of guilt about the crimes of the Shoah.
During the discussions about the proposed memorial in the 1990s, a German diplomat told a reporter for the Der Spiegel
newsweekly, “We need the memorial to present ourselves to the world, above all to the USA.”
Then-German chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s statement in 1998 that the Holocaust memorial should be a place “where people like to go” also seemed to set the stage for a memorial devoted more to Germans than to the victims of the Holocaust.
All of this helps to explain that the preoccupation with memorials in Germany and Austria is riddled with contradictions about their past and their current relations with Israel’s No. 1 enemy, the Islamic Republic of Iran. Germany and Austria were the first European countries – in 1984 – to jump-start diplomatic relations with Iran, and remain two of the countries in Europe that are, according to insiders, blocking tough European Union sanctions against a US-designated terrorist organization – the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.
The Austrian Jewish community’s decision to pull the plug on its
attendance at a Holocaust memorial event might very well trigger a
long-overdue debate about the disconnect between mourning the victims
of Nazism and foreign policy toward Teheran, which has made aggressive
anti-Semitism a cornerstone of its foreign relations. European Jewish
leaders have bitterly complained, particularly in Germany, about the
political inertia toward confronting Iran.
European countries that boast about their Holocaust commemorations and
exhibits, such as France, continue to supply the Iranians with gasoline
and technology. French energy titan Total SA is still wedded to Iran,
as is German engineering transnational The Linde Group.
Muzicant’s message appears to be that shows of penitence that fail to
translate into crippling sanctions toward Iran, with its genocidal
threats against a UN member state, the grave danger it poses for the
West and its illegal nuclear program, are not grounded in reality.