NEW YORK (Sep. 11)
The Austrian government and the American Jewish Committee (AJC) have agreed to establish a joint working group to implement a program to stem anti-Semitism in that country, leaders of the AJC, who have just returned from a mission to Austria, announced at a press conference here Wednesday.
“This is the first time in 40 years that the Austrian government has agreed to the establishment of such joint working group with any Jewish organization,” said Rabbi Marc Tanenbaum, the AJC’s director of international relations, who was part of the six-member delegation.
Tanenbaum said the program to reduce anti-Semitism in Austria includes three elements: a major conference involving academic research institutes on anti-Semitism in Austria; a symposium on the contribution of Jews to Austria and to American culture; and an Austrian symposium on combating anti-Semitic tendencies that would incorporate experiences in Austria, West Germany and the U.S.
Leo Nevas, chairperson of the AJC’s Board of Governors, who headed the delegation, noted that the group was the first from an American Jewish organization to visit Austria since the election of Kurt Waldheim as President following a bitter campaign with many anti-Semitic overtones in the wake of revelations concerning Waldheim’s Nazi past.
Nevas said the delegation met with Chancellor Fran Vranitzky and Foreign Minister Peter Jankowitsch, leaders of the major political parties and leaders of the Austrian Jewish community.
“We did not ask to meet Waldheim nor were we asked to meet with him,” Miles Jaffe, chairperson of the AJC’s international commission said.
Nevas and Jaffe said that in their discussions with the Austrian leaders they expressed concern over the use of anti-Semitism as a “political currency” in Austria’s recent Presidential campaign, “The use of political anti-Semitism was a terrible shock to Austria’s Jewish community,” Jaffe asserted. Nevas noted, however, that currently there is no fear or panic of anti-Semitism among the some 9,000 Jews in Austria. “They are concerned that the use of political anti-Semitism will be used in the future, unless it is stopped now,” Nevas said.
According to Jaffe, the Austrian officials and leaders did not contradict the assertion that there was a wide use of political anti-Semitism in the Presidential campaign.
Citing research by Austrian social scientists, Nevas said it was found that anti-Semitism affected 10 to 15 percent of the Austrian population and was largely rooted in the older generation, in rural areas, and among the less educated.
Nevas also pointed out that the “AJC group acknowledged in its meetings in Austria that Austria is a Western democracy and the role it’s played in assisting Soviet Jewish emigrants.”
Other members of the delegation were Edward Elson, chairperson of the AJC’s board of trustees; David Gordis, AJC’s executive vice president; and William Trosten AJC’s associate director. The mission was initiated and organized by the AJC’s international relations department.