On his recent visit to Israel, Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz vowed to fight antisemitism and admitted his countries responsibility for the atrocities of the Nazis. In addition, Kurz announced significant financial and institutional support for Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial. The sincerity of the Austrian administration’s commitment to recognize anti-Semitism at home and to stand up against it has seriously been questioned, however, when its ambassador to Israel, Martin Weiss, complained to Yad Vashem about a critical remark that one of its representatives made in regard to Austria’s right wing Freedom Party (FPÖ).
Giving Kurz and his entourage a tour of Yad Vashem, Deborah Hartmann, head of the German desk at the memorial’s International School for Holocaust Studies, indicated that the Freedom Party, which is part of Kurz’s government collation, still includes politicians “that need to be explained what the Holocaust was, what kind of catastrophe we’re talking about.” The FPÖ has been the political home of former Nazis and SS functionaries, some of which served as its leaders and representatives. Even though today, the party pledges to reject antisemitism, cases of its members’ involvement in antisemitic incident continue to surface.
The antisemitism problem of the FPÖ is well known and widely debated. Hartmann’s remarks, therefore, should have not struck the Austrian Chancellor by surprise. Who else should criticize the antisemitism among the junior-partner of Austria’s government, if not a representative of Yad Vashem, an organization that has been established for the sole purpose of remembering the Shoah and fighting antisemitism? It would have greatly added to the credibility of the Austrian Chancellor, if he and his administration would have embraced Hartmann’s criticism. Instead, Austria’s ambassador to Israel, Martin Weiss, as has been revealed by Times of Israel diplomatic correspondent Raphael Ahren, complained to Yad Vashem about what he called Hartman’s “inappropriate” behavior. One could hardly think of a better example to illustrate the meaning of the term “Chutzpah “. Who truly behaved inappropriately wasn’t Hartmann, but rather Weiss, when presumptuously reprimanding her for doing her job. Why would Kurz visit a Holocaust memorial site if he wouldn’t want to hear about antisemitism? However, the ambassador’s complaint about Hartmann’s remarks also did a great disfavor to the Austrian government. By trying to discredit Hartmann’s rather moderately formulated criticism of a well-known fact, the Austrian administration missed a great opportunity to prove that its commitment against antisemitism and its friendship with Israel is sincere and not just a strategic maneuver to whitewash FPÖ government participation.