Accompanied by IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi, President Reuven Rivlin, on the second leg of his tristate visit to Europe, arrived in Austria on Wednesday to more than the formal red-carpet welcome. His plane was escorted by two fighter planes of the Austrian Air Force.
Rivlin was welcomed by Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen in the presence of a gray-coated and red-capped military honor guard. Later in the afternoon the two presidents attended a memorial event for Austrian victims of the Holocaust at the Judenplatz (Jewish Square). The commemoration took place three weeks before Rivlin is due to lead a virtual March of the Living on April 8.
Van der Bellen wrote on his Facebook page: “Welcome – baruch haba! It’s a visit from a good friend and a sign of strong relations between Israel and Austria – President Reuven Rivlin also arrives in Vienna during these challenging times on his European journey between Berlin and Paris. Today’s talks focus on the special relationship between our two countries and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic with their health, economic and social consequences.”
The two presidents know each other well. In October 2018, Rivlin, en route to Israel from Denmark, stopped off in Vienna to have a working meeting with Van der Bellen. In February 2019, Rivlin welcomed Van der Bellen in Jerusalem. Rivlin again welcomed his Austrian counterpart to Jerusalem in January 2020 for the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, and in November 2020 Van der Bellen and German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, whom Rivlin met in Berlin on Tuesday, joined Rivlin in an online commemoration of Kristallnacht, and a condemnation of the resurgence of antisemitism.
During his visits to Israel, Van der Bellen reiterated Austria’s shared responsibility for the Holocaust, and also reiterated Austria’s commitment to fight antisemitism and all forms of racism.
Following the welcome reception, Rivlin and Kohavi had a working meeting with Van der Bellen at the Presidential Palace, where Kohavi briefed their host on regional security in the Middle East, focusing mainly on the dangers posed by the Iranian nuclear project.
Kohavi, who has been outspoken about the failure of the current Iranian nuclear deal, which allows Iran to significantly increase its number of centrifuges and the quantity and quality of uranium enrichment in coming years, did so again, going into great detail.
Rivlin also emphasized the threat posed by Iran, both with regard to its nuclear ambitions and its support for terrorist organizations.
Declaring that the State of Israel reserves the right and the duty to protect its citizens from all threats, from Iran and from terrorist organizations that are active in the region, Rivlin called on the international community to recognize the situation, and to take an uncompromising position on Iran’s nuclear plans and its support of terrorist organizations.
“This is where we need the intervention of the international community,” Rivlin insisted – “not in the field of international law, which is being cynically exploited for political means in order to weaken the State of Israel.”
Rivlin also conveyed Israel’s appreciation to the Austrian government and its leaders for standing with Israel in international arenas, and for their commitment to Israel’s security.
Van der Bellen noted that Austria and Israel “are bound together in a special bond. On one hand we share the terrible memory of the Holocaust. Thousands of Jews were murdered, and many Austrians took part in these crimes. We have taken responsibility for our role in the Holocaust, and we intend to continue working for Holocaust remembrance.”
He promised that Austria would continue to be committed to working for Holocaust remembrance and taking care of Holocaust survivors, as he is personally, so as to ensure that there is zero tolerance for antisemitism.
Fast-forwarding to the present, Van der Bellen said: “The coronavirus pandemic teaches us about the importance of international cooperation. Over the past few weeks, the whole world has looked in wonder at Israel’s vaccination program, and I am happy that there is cooperation between us on this matter, and that we are sharing experience in the field. Israel and Austria continue to work on cooperation that has existed for many years.”
He also mentioned the normalization of relations with Arab states such as Bahrain and Morocco, which he regards as “a significant and positive development.”
Later in the day, Rivlin met with Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who was recently in Israel to study Israel’s COVID-19 vaccination process.