PRAGUE (Feb. 19)
Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman has denied comparing Yasser Arafat to Hitler during an interview with an Israeli newspaper.
Zeman, who sparked worldwide controversy after his published comments appeared this week in Ha’aretz, said on Tuesday that his comments had been misinterpreted.
Zeman said in a statement that he had never made an Arafat-Hitler comparison.
When asked by Ha’aretz “about the possibility of such a comparison, I replied: ‘Of course it is not my duty to pass judgment on Arafat.’ However, the published text read: ‘Of course. It is not my duty . . . ‘ “
“I did not want to speak on the question of comparison between Arafat and Hitler. I only wanted to express my natural readiness to answer the given question,” Zeman added.
Zeman also stressed that his government, in line with the joint foreign and security policies of the European Union, considers a peaceful solution to conflict in the Middle East as “the only realistic way” out of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.
“I regard as desirable the return of all the parties involved to the negotiating table,” Zeman said. “The peace negotiations must take into account the Palestinians’ legal rights, including the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, and the security needs of the State of Israel.”
Earlier Tuesday, Czech President Vaclav Havel said he was “deeply troubled” by the remarks that appeared in Ha’aretz as Zeman wrapped up his visit to Israel on Monday.
In a statement, Havel said it was “unacceptable” to take out of context “different historical experiences.”
“Such emotive and simplistic statements can only lead to a further stepping up of tension between the parties involved in the conflict in the Middle East,” Havel added.
Zeman’s published comments also were criticized by E.U. foreign ministers meeting Monday in Brussels.
Czech Jewish leaders appeared more than happy to put the whole incident behind them.
The Czech Federation of Jewish Communities and the Prague Jewish Community said in a joint statement: “Despite the imprecise interpretations” of Zeman’s comments in Ha’aretz, “the Jewish community welcomes the fact that the Czech prime minister has expressed his support for the State of Israel and condemned terrorism.”
The Czech Jewish representatives recalled how members of the Czech Jewish community had made Israel “their second home” after the Holocaust and how the former Czechoslovakia had “stood by” the Jewish state at its birth.
“The tradition of Czech-Israeli relations is as a result long and deep,” the statement continued. “We hope that it will be like this in the future, and that political negotiations will allow a just solution to be found for everyone who is connected with the lengthy and tragic conflict in the Middle East.”