April 29: To Israel, come to Austria!

April 28, 2010 23:56

letters 88. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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To Israel, come
to Austria!

Sir, – Your editorial “From Hungary and Austria, come to Israel!” (April 28) has un-made my day. That’s not because of criticism toward my country, as I am always open to founded criticism, but because of the factual errors and mistakes, as well as outdated comments and distorted conclusions expressed in the article. It’s just too simple to apply incorrect stereotypes to Austria as a whole.

While your readers can easily check the correct results of last Sunday’s presidential election in Austria on our embassy’s Web site (http://www.bmeia.gv.at/en/embassy/tel-aviv.html) – in fact, President Heinz Fischer was reelected by 78.49 percent, while overseas ballots are still to be counted – some of the assumptions related to Austria in the editorial are clearly to be contested.

Yes, it is true that for too many years following World War II, too many Austrians have tried to blot out the past and the realities during the Nazi regime, and that it was also an uneasy restart of political life at the birth of Austria’s Second Republic. But the republic grew strong, and since the speech of Chancellor Franz Vranitzky in 1991 before the Austrian Parliament in Vienna and in 1993 at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the Austrian government has clearly demonstrated its determination to address the country’s darkest years and its readiness to engage proactively in order to work for the future.

Remembrance of and reflection on the Shoah, as well as restitution efforts, are today very much present in Austrian official and individual minds. Austria has, for instance, recently been lauded internationally for its successful presidency of the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research in 2008-09. The government of Israel and Israeli institutions, such as Yad Vashem and Lohamei Hagetaot, are very much aware of this.

Austria’s consequent and maintained position against denial and forgetting is also reflected in one of the most stringent laws against Nazi and neo-Nazi ideologies and activities (Prohibition Act). The public discussions that took place during this presidential election campaign have very much focused on this fact.

Today’s Austrian Jewish community’s size is painfully small, compared to what it was at the turn of the 20th century. But it is growing, flourishing and very much alive.

So Israelis, check out the “Tel Aviv beach” at the heart of Vienna this summer, celebrate with us in style the 150th birthday of Theodor Herzl, or come to the European Maccabi Games Vienna 2011, and get your own picture – Austria is waiting for you!

Ambassador of Austria to Israel
Tel Aviv

Sir, – It is very sad that from time to time, Israeli journalists write articles about Austria and the situation of its Jews without proper knowledge of the situation. It is a fact that anti-Semitism in Europe is rising from the Left and from the far Right and that there are plenty of incidents in almost every country in Europe. The highest increase of anti-Semitism is seen in Spain and Sweden (see reports by the ADL and American Jewish Congress).

In Austria, we have the toughest laws against neo-Nazism and Holocaust-denial. Dozens of neo-Nazis have been sent to jail for five to 10 years, and anti-Semitism from the Right is decreasing.

In the last 20 years, the Austrian authorities have spent tens of millions of euros to help build a Jewish infrastructure. In 2009 the president and the chancellor opened the largest Jewish Campus of Europe in Vienna. The Austrian government just decided to spend €20 million to refurbish Austria’s Jewish cemeteries. In Vienna, you can attend up to 300 Jewish cultural events every year. The city’s 15,000 Jews have no reason at this point to consider leaving Austria. The Jewish community is negotiating a program with the government to invite Jews from other European countries to move to Austria.

Concerning the election of the Austrian president, Dr. Heinz Fischer, he was elected by nearly 80%. His wife is of Jewish descent. The conservative parties decided not to run a candidate because Fischer’s success was evident. The only candidate, Ms. Rosenkranz, a declared extreme right-wing “Kellernazi,” was attacked by almost everyone in Austria and got far fewer votes than her own party (FPÖ). This party has a large number of right-wing functionaries, but its voters mostly vote out of protest against the economic crises, unemployment and fear of globalization.

Totally unlike Jobbik in Hungary, in Austria there are no anti-Semitic slogans or anti-Semitic propaganda. Attacks on Jews are almost nonexistent (and cannot be compared to Hungary, France or Sweden). FPÖ leader Strache tries very hard to disassociate himself from Nazism (although nobody believes him). He has absolutely no chance of becoming the next mayor of Vienna (right now he expects 15%-25 % of the votes), and no other party in the city will make a coalition with him.

It is true that Austria has taken a long time to own up to its past. Only in 1991 did Chancellor Vranitzky declare Austria’s responsibility for the Nazi era. Since then, many steps have been taken (i.e., €2.4 billion has been paid to victims of the Nazis). None of this is enough, and none of this sufficient in relation to the crimes committed against Austrian Jews. But articles such as yours cause only harm, especially since Austrian Jewry has always taken strong positions against any kind of right-wing politics.

President of the Jewish
Communities of Austria

Larry Derfner’s prophet

Sir, – Larry Derfner laments Judge Richard Goldstone’s foreseeable predicament in showing his face at his grandson’s bar mitzva in Johannesburg (“Yasher Koah, Judge Goldstone,” April 22). He declares, incredibly, that a mediocre South African judge truly is the “one of the greatest Jews of our time... the secular equivalent of a Jewish prophet.” He surges against an unfair treatment of Goldstone by the ungrateful “Zionist and Orthodox Jewish establishment” and imagines that “the South African Jewish machers” are already sorry for offending an honorable judge.

In the same vein, Derfner insinuates that South Africa’s Jews and the State of Israel were culpable in cooperating with the Pretoria racist regime. He bemoans the “occupation” and suggests that one day “it will be difficult to find a Jew who ever said a bad word about Judge Richard Goldstone.”

I wonder whether Derfner ever contemplated a scenario in which Palestinian terrorists have the upper hand in the Holy Land and what the fate of Jews would be. These thoughts may cool his righteous ardor.

The truth of the matter is that Goldstone’s report severely damaged Israel’s ability to defend itself against the worst kind of terrorism, and no amount of dithyrambs sung in his honor will change this regrettable fact.


Applause for the Nablus girls

Sir, – As a retired teacher who taught the inventive process for 20 years in the US and Israel, I applaud the three students from Nablus for their creativity and perseverance in bringing their idea to fruition and qualifying to attend the Intel science fair (“Nablus girls win trip to Intel science fair in California for ‘laser cane,’ April 28).

However, I find it strange that the UN workers had to pool their meager resources to fund the third girl’s trip to the US. With all the millions of dollars the UN, EU, US and others give to the Palestinian Authority, and the personal wealth of some of the PA leaders, I fail to understand why the money could not have been forthcoming from one of these sources.

I wish Asil Shaar, Nour al-Arda and Asil Abu Lil success in this contest and other future endeavors.


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