Postponement of Vienna Conference Could Further Sour Ties with Jews

Relations between Austria and world Jewry, which many thought would improve with President Kurt Waldheim’s decision not to run for re-election, could be further soured by Vienna’s decision to postpone a conference on anti-Semitism.

The issue, which is receiving considerable news coverage in Austria, simmered at the surface of a breakfast news conference with the Austrian foreign minister held here last week at the offices of the American Jewish Committee.

During the session, Foreign Minister Alois Mock also stood steadfastly behind Waldheim, who has been shunned by most Western leaders since revelations surfaced that he had served during World War II in a Nazi army unit linked to atrocities against civilians.

Mock was a guest of the AJCommittee as part of its annual program of bringing together the Jewish community with international political figures, many of whom are here to attend the opening of the U.N. General Assembly session.

The foreign minister was challenged to explain the Austrian government’s role in what has now become a third postponement of a conference on “Countering Anti-Semitism in Central and Eastern Europe.”

The conference, a joint project of the AJCommittee and the city of Vienna that has been in the planning since October 1989, was last slated to have been held Oct. 27 to 29.

A principal coordinator of the conference, Rabbi Andrew Baker, Washington area director of the AJCommittee, says he was rebuffed by Vienna Mayor Helmut Zilk after he flew there last month to finalize arrangements.

Baker said he was placed in “a very awkward situation” between two aides to the mayor who disagreed on the reasons for the postponement. And Zilk would not meet with him.

ANXIETY OVER GALLUP SURVEY

AJCommittee figures involved in the planning say the Austrian government is displeased with a survey on anti-Semitism in Austria that the AJCommittee has been conducting.

The survey, designed by AJCommittee with the Gallup research organization and the University of Vienna, is the latest poll on anti-Semitism that the Jewish group has been conducting in countries of Central and Eastern Europe.

It was made clear to Baker that the poll was eliciting anxiety.

“I had, at the end of August, a frantic telephone call from an aide to the mayor, who expressed the sentiment that this was a survey designed to portray Austria in a bad light,” he said.

But he was told that the reason for postponing the conference was its proximity to the parliamentary elections taking place Nov. 10.

The postponement could have a ripple effect far beyond the disappointment it has created.

“This isn’t just a conference in Vienna on anti-Semitism and xenophobia,” said Rabbi A. James Rudin, director of interreligious affairs for the AJCommittee.

“This has an effect on Austrian-U.S. relations in the post-Waldheim era, has implications for Austria and Israel, has tremendous implications for Austrian-Jewish relations and Austria’s relations with Austrian Jews.”

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