Muzicant’s Praise for Ferrero-Waldner and Haupt

Die Presse (10/23/04)

Michael Fleischhacker and Rainer Novak

Following the visit of Israeli President Katzav, Ariel Muzicant, head of the Israelite Religious Community (IKG), explains why he is again on speaking terms with the government. And he speaks about Europe’s hostility to Israel.

Die Presse: Israeli President Katzav paid a visit to Vienna. Can this be interpreted as reconciliation with Austria?
Ariel Muzicant: We, of the Religious Community, initiated and engineered this visit. President Katzav was in Vienna because in January I had asked him to come. Today we are like little children, happy that it went so well and that the shambles could be repaired. That is sensational when one considers how the basis of discussion was four years ago.

Apparently it is the first time that you and Wolfgang Schüssel speak with each other again after a long time.
Muzicant: We have met on a number of occasions. I have a number of things which I would like to discuss with the new Foreign Minister as well as with the Federal Chancellor. For example, the topic of Turkey. The Jewish World Congress and the European Congress are very interested that one not alienate Turkey. We consider the threat by extreme Islamists as immanent. The real Christian-Jewish world must understand what is happening with terrorism.

You support Turkey’s membership in the EU: Should Israel one day also join the European Union?
Muzicant: Yes, it would be good. But Israel will not be able to enter the European Union as long as the conflict with the Palestinians has not been resolved.

That was the topic of discussion with President Katzav...

Muzicant: The Israelis made a very bad mistake over the last twenty years by having given Europe the cold shoulder. Katzav is the first Israeli statesman who has said: "We must fight for the heads and hearts of Europe." One mustn’t condemn Israel because of its wall. It might be that the wall was built in the wrong place. The fact is, however, that it has saved the lives of hundreds of Israelis.

But the wall has been built in the wrong place.
Muzicant: Alright. But, actually, the topic is the wall and not where it was built. The Israelis would be condemned, no matter where they had built the wall.

That’s, however, an hypothesis. Israel built it on land that was annexed. Israel’s need for protection is, however, a matter recognized by everybody.
Muzicant: No, it isn’t. The Israelis say, ‘The line of ceasefire is a line of ceasefire. That is not a border recognized under international law. The Palestinians have never recognized this line. That is the reason there are, according to Israeli diction, disputed areas and not occupied areas.’ The fact is that the Supreme Court of Justice has forbidden building the wall at specific places, and the wall will be torn down and relocated in the direction of the line of ceasefire. We don’t move about in a state of lawlessness.

Do you believe that Europe is on the side of the Palestinians?

Muzicant: It is a fact that the majority of Americans see the conflict differently from the Europeans. Just look at a report by German or Austrian television and one by American television. Here, it is emphasized that during an assault on Hamas, an innocent child was killed. Every innocent child who has ever been killed is a catastrophe. But when the Palestinians consciously kill Israeli children for the reason that they could one day become soldiers, people find that, of course, abhorrent, but they are relativizing: The Israelis also are guilty of doing bad things.

Does Israel expect Europe to take on America’s position?
Muzicant: No. What the Israelis expect from the Europeans is that they force the Palestinians to stop the terror.

Does that mean withdrawing aid?
Muzicant: When the Europeans say to the Palestinians, ‘You have now six weeks time to catch all the terrorist groups and to see that terror comes to a stop. If not, then we will do A, B, C and D.’ That need not mean a sudden withdrawal of aid. But the Europeans must take the appropriate measures so that the Palestinians get the feeling that they mean it seriously. The Europeans, however, condemn terrorism and say at the same time,...’but.’

Do you sense from the discussions with the Federal Chancellor and the Foreign Minister that there is willingness on their part?
Muzicant: I was strongly impressed by Ferrero-Waldner. She didn’t always share the same opinion as we, but she has been extremely committed over the last one or two years. If there is a strong dynamic within the EU regarding this question - from Germany’s Joschka Fischer to Ursula Plassnik in Austria, and also Poland and Italy, then something can change.

What has changed? Where is the new change in wind coming from?
Muzicant: There is no change in wind. Diplomatic relations between Austria and Israel have been resumed - also, because the Jewish Community sent a report in 2002 explaining why diplomatic relations are important.

Wolfgang Schüssel was not your favorite partner at the conference table.
Muzicant: I will never approve of a coalition with Austria’s Freedom Party (FPÖ). I will always say that the FPÖ is made up of Mr. Strache, Mölzer and Stadler. But I will be wary of making any accusations against Herbert Scheibner or Ursula Haubner. I have not changed my position.

But was your personal relationship to the Chancellor difficult?
Muzicant: I am in a position where one must live with pragmatism. There are simply issues that have priority - such as questions regarding Turkey or the Middle East. I have worked out the question of kosher butchering with Minister Herbert Haupt. We can now go to other communities within Europe and say, ‘Look what kind of law we have here. You will find that in no other European country!’

As to the new climate of change. What about the unresolved questions accompanying restitution?
Muzicant: I assume that the questions regarding restitution will one day be resolved. Currently I am not carrying on any discussions on the topic of restitution.