With visiting Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz the target of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s wrath in recent days, Turkey – in addition to Gaza, Syria, Iran and the Palestinian Authority – was among the topics he discussed with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday.
Kurz, in an interview with The Jerusalem Post, said that he spoke with Netanyahu – himself often a subject of Erdogan’s anger and diatribes – about Turkey, though he would not go into details about what was discussed.
The Austrian leader has been subject to Erdogan’s insults and threats since Friday because of his country’s moves to shut down seven mosques and expel 40 imams funded by Turkey.
Erdogan has warned that Austria’s actions could lead to a war between the “crescent and the cross,” that he would retaliate against any such moves, that the 31-year-old Austrian leader is young and “inexperienced,” and that “behaviors like these can cost you heavily.”
An estimated 250,000 Turks live in Austria.
Kurz, who met with the Post
after delivering a speech to the American Jewish Committee Global Forum, was unmoved by the Turkish leader’s rhetoric.
“It is nonsense,” Kurz said of Erdogan’s reaction. “We have religious freedom – which is important. But we want everyone in our country to respect our laws, and our laws on Islam say it is not acceptable to have influence abroad on the Muslim community in Austria, and it is not acceptable that Islamic organizations or imams are financed from abroad.”
Kurz continued: “President Erdogan will have to respect our laws.”
The chancellor said that Erdogan’s threats will “not change our opinion and will not change our decisions.” He declined to speculate whether Erdogan’s reaction had to do with the upcoming election in Turkey, a fact Israeli officials sometimes use to explain the Turkish leader’s outburst against Israel and Netanyahu.
Netanyahu praised Kurz after their meeting on Monday for making a visit to the Western Wall a day earlier, a step not often taken by visiting European leaders.
Asked by the Post
why he decided to visit the Wall, Kurz responded: “I think the question is ‘Why should I not have done it?” he said. “I also visited the Western Wall as foreign minister, and for me personally it is a very spiritual place.
I respect those who do not go there, but I also think it is legitimate to go there.”
Kurz made clear, however, that Austria has no intention of moving its embassy to Jerusalem, saying: “We think the basis for such a decision should be negotiations between the two parties, and as long as we don’t have an outcome here, then we will not move our embassy.”
During his speech at the AJC, Kurz reiterated comments he made in Austria earlier this year about his country’s special responsibility to Israel and its security because of Austria’s role in the Holocaust.
He also owned up to his country’s actions during World War II.
“We are not only responsible for what we do, but also for what we do not do,” he said.
“And as the representative of Austria I have to admit there were there were many people in Austria who did nothing to fight the Nazi regime, far too many actively supported those horrors and even were perpetrators.”
Kurz acknowledged that “it took Austria a long time to be honest about its past,” but that “to remember means to admit the truth.”
“We all know that history cannot be undone,” he said. “But let me assure you that we Austrians know that because of our history we have a great responsibility,” and that responsibility also extends to Israel’s security.
“Only if Jewish people can live without restrictions in peace and security, then the eternal call ‘Never Forget,’ can truly become ‘Never Again,’” he said.
Earlier in the day, after the meeting with Netanyahu, Kurz said Israel’s neighbors are not like Austria’s – Liechtenstein and Switzerland – and for that reason Vienna will try to raise the awareness of Israel’ security concerns inside the European Union.
When Netanyahu joked that Austria and Israel should trade neighbors for a couple of weeks, Kurz – whose country will assume the rotating presidency of the EU next month – replied, “I’m not sure about that.”
Saying that Austria will support Israel’s security needs, and acknowledging that it lives in a “dangerous neighborhood,” Kurz said, “We will try to raise awareness in Europe for the special situation and the special security needs of Israel.”
Kurz, who said that Israeli- Austrian ties today are “extremely good” and that the tourism and trade levels between the two countries has never been better, remarked that Austria “has a special responsibility towards Israel and the Jewish people.”
Kurz is in a coalition government with the far-right Freedom Party, which has a history of antisemitism and with whom Israel refuses to engage.
“I can assure you that Austria will fight all forms of antisemitism in Europe with determination,” he said, both the existing antisemitism and “also new imported antisemitism,” a reference to antisemitism that has emerged with the influx of refugees from the Middle East.
Netanyahu characterized as “very important” Kurz’s comment that Europe needed to take Israel’s security concerns very seriously, adding that “this is not always the case.”