April 29: To Israel, come to Austria!

letters 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
letters 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
To Israel, come to Austria!
Sir, – Youreditorial “From Hungary and Austria, come to Israel!” (April 28) hasun-made my day. That’s not because of criticism toward my country, as Iam always open to founded criticism, but because of the factual errorsand mistakes, as well as outdated comments and distorted conclusionsexpressed in the article. It’s just too simple to apply incorrectstereotypes to Austria as a whole.
While your readers can easilycheck the correct results of last Sunday’s presidential election inAustria on our embassy’s Web site(http://www.bmeia.gv.at/en/embassy/tel-aviv.html) – in fact, PresidentHeinz Fischer was reelected by 78.49 percent, while overseas ballotsare still to be counted – some of the assumptions related to Austria inthe editorial are clearly to be contested.
Yes, it is true thatfor too many years following World War II, too many Austrians havetried 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 birthof Austria’s Second Republic. But the republic grew strong, and sincethe speech of Chancellor Franz Vranitzky in 1991 before the AustrianParliament in Vienna and in 1993 at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem,the Austrian government has clearly demonstrated its determination toaddress the country’s darkest years and its readiness to engageproactively in order to work for the future.
Remembrance of andreflection on the Shoah, as well as restitution efforts, are today verymuch present in Austrian official and individual minds. Austria has,for instance, recently been lauded internationally for its successfulpresidency of the Task Force for International Cooperation on HolocaustEducation, Remembrance and Research in 2008-09. The government ofIsrael and Israeli institutions, such as Yad Vashem and LohameiHagetaot, are very much aware of this.
Austria’s consequent andmaintained position against denial and forgetting is also reflected inone of the most stringent laws against Nazi and neo-Nazi ideologies andactivities (Prohibition Act). The public discussions that took placeduring this presidential election campaign have very much focused onthis fact.
Today’s Austrian Jewish community’s size is painfullysmall, compared to what it was at the turn of the 20th century. But itis growing, flourishing and very much alive.
So Israelis, checkout the “Tel Aviv beach” at the heart of Vienna this summer, celebratewith us in style the 150th birthday of Theodor Herzl, or come to theEuropean Maccabi Games Vienna 2011, and get your own picture – Austriais waiting for you!
MICHAEL RENDIAmbassador of Austria to IsraelTel Aviv
Sir,– It is very sad that from time to time, Israeli journalists writearticles about Austria and the situation of its Jews without properknowledge of the situation. It is a fact that anti-Semitism in Europeis rising from the Left and from the far Right and that there areplenty of incidents in almost every country in Europe. The highestincrease of anti-Semitism is seen in Spain and Sweden (see reports bythe ADL and American Jewish Congress).
In Austria, we have thetoughest laws against neo-Nazism and Holocaust-denial. Dozens ofneo-Nazis have been sent to jail for five to 10 years, andanti-Semitism from the Right is decreasing.
In the last 20years, the Austrian authorities have spent tens of millions of euros tohelp build a Jewish infrastructure. In 2009 the president and thechancellor opened the largest Jewish Campus of Europe in Vienna. TheAustrian government just decided to spend €20 million to refurbishAustria’s Jewish cemeteries. In Vienna, you can attend up to 300 Jewishcultural events every year. The city’s 15,000 Jews have no reason atthis point to consider leaving Austria. The Jewish community isnegotiating a program with the government to invite Jews from otherEuropean countries to move to Austria.
Concerning the electionof the Austrian president, Dr. Heinz Fischer, he was elected by nearly80%. His wife is of Jewish descent. The conservative parties decidednot to run a candidate because Fischer’s success was evident. The onlycandidate, Ms. Rosenkranz, a declared extreme right-wing “Kellernazi,”was attacked by almost everyone in Austria and got far fewer votes thanher own party (FPÖ). This party has a large number of right-wingfunctionaries, but its voters mostly vote out of protest against theeconomic crises, unemployment and fear of globalization.
Totallyunlike Jobbik in Hungary, in Austria there are no anti-Semitic slogansor anti-Semitic propaganda. Attacks on Jews are almost nonexistent (andcannot be compared to Hungary, France or Sweden). FPÖ leader Strachetries very hard to disassociate himself from Nazism (although nobodybelieves him). He has absolutely no chance of becoming the next mayorof Vienna (right now he expects 15%-25 % of the votes), and no otherparty in the city will make a coalition with him.
It is truethat Austria has taken a long time to own up to its past. Only in 1991did Chancellor Vranitzky declare Austria’s responsibility for the Naziera. Since then, many steps have been taken (i.e., €2.4 billion hasbeen paid to victims of the Nazis). None of this is enough, and none ofthis sufficient in relation to the crimes committed against AustrianJews. But articles such as yours cause only harm, especially sinceAustrian Jewry has always taken strong positions against any kind ofright-wing politics.
DR. ARIEL MUZICANTPresident of the Jewish Communities of Austria
Larry Derfner’s prophet
Sir,– Larry Derfner laments Judge Richard Goldstone’s foreseeablepredicament in showing his face at his grandson’s barmitzva in Johannesburg (“Yasher Koah, Judge Goldstone,” April22). He declares, incredibly, that a mediocre South African judge trulyis the “one of the greatest Jews of our time... the secular equivalentof a Jewish prophet.” He surges against an unfair treatment ofGoldstone by the ungrateful “Zionist and Orthodox Jewish establishment”and imagines that “the South African Jewish machers” are already sorryfor offending an honorable judge.
In the same vein, Derfnerinsinuates that South Africa’s Jews and the State of Israel wereculpable in cooperating with the Pretoria racist regime. He bemoans the“occupation” and suggests that one day “it will be difficult to find aJew who ever said a bad word about Judge Richard Goldstone.”
Iwonder whether Derfner ever contemplated a scenario in whichPalestinian terrorists have the upper hand in the Holy Land and whatthe fate of Jews would be. These thoughts may cool his righteous ardor.
Thetruth of the matter is that Goldstone’s report severely damagedIsrael’s ability to defend itself against the worst kind of terrorism,and no amount of dithyrambs sung in his honor will change thisregrettable fact.
Applause for the Nablus girls
Sir,– As a retired teacher who taught the inventive process for 20 years inthe US and Israel, I applaud the three students from Nablus for theircreativity and perseverance in bringing their idea to fruition andqualifying to attend the Intel science fair (“Nablus girls win trip toIntel science fair in California for ‘laser cane,’ April 28).
However, I find it strange that the UN workers had to pool their meagerresources to fund the third girl’s trip to the US. With all themillions of dollars the UN, EU, US and others give to the PalestinianAuthority, and the personal wealth of some of the PA leaders, I fail tounderstand why the money could not have been forthcoming from one ofthese sources.
I wish Asil Shaar, Nour al-Arda and Asil Abu Lil success in this contest and other future endeavors.