Statement by Deputy Prime Minister and
Minister of Foreign Affairs Silvan Shalom

on the occasion of the Visit to Israel of
Austrian Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner

Jerusalem, July 29, 2003

Excellency, the Foreign Minister of Austria, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The State of Israel was established in 1948, only three years after the end of the Second World War and the terrible Holocaust that was inflicted upon the Jewish people.

The events of the Holocaust have no parallel in the history of mankind, and they are engraved on the collective consciousness and identity of the Jewish people and the State of Israel – the home of the Jewish people.

The memories of the past are a fundamental element of Israel’s relations with the entire world, in general, and with the countries of Europe, in particular.

Indeed, through remembering and internalizing the lessons of the past, we can build a bridge for friendly relations in the present and in the future, on the basis of cooperation in the fight to prevent the recurrence of such tragic and horrific events.

Within a few months of the establishment of the State of Israel, in July 1948, Israel and Austria established consular ties, and later in 1959, the two countries enjoyed full diplomatic relations. Over the years, our two countries have witnessed ups and downs in our relations, impacting on their nature and substance.

In the year 2000, Israel announced that it would be recalling its Ambassador from Vienna, and imposed a series of restrictions on the relations between the two states.

At the same time, the EU as well imposed a series of protest measures, including restrictions in their relations with Austria an unprecedented measure against an EU member state.

This crisis disrupted a gradual rapprochement between Israel and Austria, which began with a speech by the former Austrian Chancellor Franz Vranitzky in July 1991, in which he called for Austria to confront its history during the Nazi era.

Over the last three and a half years, Israel has continued to follow developments in Austria. During this period, Austria has taken important strides forward in confronting its past and recognizing its responsibility towards Holocaust victims.

Agreements have been signed and laws have been enacted regulating the issue of compensation for the victims of Nazism. Furthermore, the Austrian Government under the leadership of Chancellor Schuessel has expressed its sincere commitment to teach the lessons of the Holocaust and pass them on to the younger generation. During the visit of Foreign Minister Ferrero-Waldner to the Auschwitz Death Camp, in May 2002, she stated the following:

"In deep sorrow, I stand at the place representing the blackest period in European history and the greatest crime in the history of mankind: the slaughter of the Jewish people by the Nazi regime and its accomplices."

Foreign Minister Ferrero-Waldner’s words emphasized Austria’s responsibility for the events of the past, and its obligation to fight anti-Semitism at any time and in any place. The Austrian Foreign Minister added that anyone who has not visited Auschwitz would be unable to understand the meaning of the State of Israel as the homeland and the cradle of the Jewish people.

During our meeting today, I was pleased to hear Dr. Ferrero-Waldner clearly reiterate that Austria accepts its responsibility arising out of the tragic history of the 20th century and the horrendous crimes of the National Socialist regime. I was pleased to hear of Austria’s commitment to commemorating and teaching the lessons of the Holocaust, and to fight anti-Semitism wherever and whenever it occurs.

In the last three and a half years, Austria has conducted a fair and balanced policy towards Israel, while reiterating its condemnation of terrorism against innocent people and its support for the peace efforts in our region.

The Austrian Foreign Minister has also initiated together with other European counterparts steps to improve relations between Israel and the European Union. Austria supported Israel during the Durban Anti-Racism Conference, and strongly opposed any attempt to belittle the Holocaust and to revive comparisons between Zionism and racism.

During our working meeting today, Dr. Ferrero-Waldner reiterated Austria’s commitment to Israel’s right to exist in peace and security and to our struggle for a just and lasting peace in the Middle East.

I was also pleased to hear the Foreign Minister’s ideas for promoting bilateral ties between Austria and Israel in the educational, cultural and economic realms.

During our meeting today, we decided to open a new chapter in our relations a chapter that would emphasize the historic ties of friendship between our two peoples. After three and a half years, we have decided to restore full diplomatic relations with Austria. Israel will now appoint an Ambassador to Vienna, and will today remove all the restrictions that were imposed on its relations with Austria.

Israel will continue to follow events in Austria and elsewhere, and will maintain its policy of shunning politicians of any political party who espouse anti-Semitic positions or ideas. As the cradle and home of the Jewish people, the State of Israel has the moral obligation to fight any manifestations of anti-Semitism, wherever they may appear.

Throughout the crisis in our bilateral diplomatic relations, Israel has emphasized that it has no quarrel with the Austrian people. There are common threads running through the history of both our countries: We recall that historic events of importance to the Jewish people and the Zionist movement took place in Austria.

Thus, Vienna was the birthplace of the Zionist idea, as outlined by Theodor Herzl in Der Judenstaat (The State of the Jews). Jewish artists and thinkers were a central pillar in the Austrian culture of the early twentieth century, and they still are.

Austria is a friendly country in the heart of an enlarged Europe. Austria enjoys close ties with its neighbours those countries about to join the European Union. Israel is now engaged in a process of enhancing its relations with the enlarged European Union.

Austria and Israel have much in common, and I sincerely hope that this step we are taking today will open a new chapter in our relations. This is our first stride on a difficult path, to rebuild and improve our bilateral relations.

Please allow me to conclude by thanking the Austrian Foreign Minister, and conveying to Dr. Ferrero-Waldner, Chancellor Schuessel and the Austrian people our hope that from now onwards, we may look forward to a positive future, just as we continue demonstrating an awareness and deep responsibility for the past.