NEW YORK, Feb. 8 (JTA) The Anti-Defamation League is setting itself apart from Israel and most other American Jewish organizations in its refusal to boycott Austria.
“I don’t think the way you deal with the problem” of the extreme-right Freedom Party’s participation in Austria’s governing coalition is to isolate Austria, said the national director of the ADL, Abraham Foxman.
“The way you deal with the problem is to interact with the Austrians.”
The inclusion of Jorg Haider, who has praised Hitler’s employment policies and members of the Nazi SS, but later apologized for the remarks, has sparked international condemnation and calls for Austria to be diplomatically isolated.
Israel recalled its ambassador to Austria, and the 14 governments of the European Union downgraded diplomatic relations with Vienna.
A number of Jewish organizations, including ADL’s founding organization, B’nai B’rith International, have issued statements calling for the Austria’s diplomatic isolation.
The ADL is one of the only major American Jewish organizations with an office in Austria, and the ADL rents office space to the Austrian mission to the United Nations, one of several tenants including the European Union and Spain at its building at United Nations Plaza in New York.
But Foxman, who said his group receives no money from the Austrian government, said these facts had no impact on his group’s opposition to the isolation campaign.
“If a country that rented space from us became a neo-Nazi dictatorship, yes, we’d evict them, but that’s not where Austria is,” said Foxman.
Haider is an opportunist, a xenophobe and a demagogue, “but he is not an anti-Semite or a neo-Nazi,” Foxman said.
Isolating Austria is “a mistake,” he said, noting that “all that would do is strengthen Haiderism in Austria.
“When we isolated them last time, they elected Kurt Waldheim president,” Foxman said, referring to the former Nazi who served as president of Austria in the late 1980s.
Instead, he advocates “engaging and challenging” Austrians, “saying let’s work together to develop programs which deal with the past, deal with democracy and fight xenophobia.”
Not everyone agrees with the ADL’s move.
“The ADL’s been wrong in the past and they’re wrong now,” said New York Rabbi Avi Weiss. “The Jewish community is like a symphony there are softer voices like the ADL, and then there are stronger voices.”
Weiss’ group, Coalition for Jewish Concerns Amcha, organized a protest attended by about 40 people Monday at the Austrian Consulate in New York.
“We’ll take the battle into Austria,” Weiss told the crowd.
“We stood in Ballhaus Platz in ’86 when Kurt Waldheim was inaugurated as president,” Weiss said, and he promised to pursue Haider in the same way.
Foxman points to the tolerance programs the ADL helped establish in Germany as an example of what could be done.
Since his election, Haider has pledged in writing to work toward creating an atmosphere “in which xenophobia, anti-Semitism and racism have no place.”
On Sunday, however, he also said ethnic Germans expelled from Czechoslovakia at the end of World War II should be entitled to the same compensation as Jews who were persecuted by the Nazis.
(JTA intern Brianne Korn contributed to this report.)