“Austria has become the friend of the Jewish people and the State of Israel in Europe today,” said Ariel Muzicant, the Austrian president of the Brussels-based European Jewish Congress.“Austria appears to have recognized the responsibility it has to take a clear position on the protection of the Jewish population and solidarity with Israel without forgetting the rights of the Palestinians.”
Austria, he added, has now become a “beacon” for the rest of Europe.
“In the 55 years that I’ve been politically active, I’ve never experienced so much sympathy for the state of Israel and the Jewish community,” Muzicant said. “You get the feeling that you’re finally understood.
The only question is whether it will last.
As the longtime leader of Austria’s Central Council for Jews, Muzicant has been a favorite target of Austria’s far-right Freedom Party. In 2001, then-Freedom Party leader Jörg Haider, a pioneer of far-right populism in Europe, said in a prepared speech that he couldn’t understand “how someone so dirty could be called Ariel,” an antisemitic play on Muzicant’s Hebrew first name, which is also a popular brand of detergent.
The man who wrote that line, Herbert Kickl, is now the leader of the Freedom Party, which currently leads national polls with more than 30 percent, putting the anti-immigrant party in a good position to win national elections expected for next fall. Even though the FPÖ has moderated its views on Israel since the Haider days, the party’s racist ideology and authoritarian tendencies continue to unnerve Austria’s small Jewish community.
Asked what a Kickl-victory would mean for Austria’s relations with Israel and the Jewish community, Muzicant didn’t hesitate: “It would be a catastrophe.”