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Israeli Attacks on Waldheim Spark Anger in Austrian Circles

May 13, 1986
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Austrian political circles have reacted angrily to attacks by some Israeli officials on Kurt Waldheim, particularly Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir’s recent remark that it would be a “tragedy” if Waldheim were elected President of Austria.

That kind of talk is viewed here as blatant interference in Austria’s internal affairs. Leopold Gratz, the Foreign Minister, called it “clear meddling,” in a statement last Friday. Gratz, who is a Socialist, did not refer to charges that Waldheim, candidate of the conservative People’s Party, has a Nazi past.

But he said it was unacceptable to the orderly, peaceful intercourse between nations if individual governments tried to influence democratic decisions in other countries. He called Shamir’s remarks the second such attempt to influence Austrian voters. The first, he said, was by Chancellor Helmut Kohl of West Germany, who spoke in favor of Waldheim.

Shamir’s statement was also rejected by the president of the Austrian-Israeli Friendship Society, Walter Schwimmer, who is a conservative member of Parliament. Waldheim polled 49.66 percent of the vote in Austria’s Presidential elections May 4 and faces a run-off against his Socialist rival, Kurt Steyrer, on June 8.

But Shamir repeated his provocative remark on Monday. Addressing political correspondents in Jerusalem, he contended that the election of Waldheim would establish “a precedent of rehabilitating people who were involved in Nazi activities.”


Meanwhile, the Austrian Jewish community has spoken out against labeling Austria an anti-Semitic country though it acknowledged, in an advertisement in the Vienna daily Kurier, that certain “calculating politicians” have “tried ruthlessly to mobilize anti-Jewish sentiments for their purposes.” According to the community, this is largely responsible for the tarnished image of Austria abroad since the controversy over Waldheim began. “Before the eyes of the world they have tried shamelessly to make us believe that xenophobia, anti-Semitism and obstinate complacency are signs of patriotism,” the ad said. “To this we say, no. Backed by many declarations of solidarity, especially from young people, from democrats of all political factions, from churches and real patriots, we are convinced that we are able to jointly fight and overcome hatred and intolerance in Austria.”


A report from Tel Aviv Sunday quoted Israel’s President, Chaim Herzog, urging the country to take no official position on Waldheim until it has more information on his war-time activities in the Balkans. He has been accused of participation in atrocities against Yugoslav partisans and the deportation of Greek Jews.

According to the report, Herzog said proof of whether the charges are true must come ultimately from the Yugoslav and Greek governments.


In a related development, Yitzhak Arad, chairman of the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem, flew to New York Monday with a list of some 2,000 suspected Nazi war criminals whose dossiers are held in United Nations archives. The records were compiled by the now-defunct United Nations War Crimes Commission.

The move is a direct outgrowth of the Waldheim affair. After accusations were leveled against Waldheim, who served as UN Secretary General from 1972-1981, the present Secretary General, Javier Perez De Cuellar, agreed to open the archives to interested governments on the basis of strict confidentiality. Officials of the U.S., Israeli and Austrian governments examined the Waldheim file. Israel has insisted that other files be opened to inspection as well.

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