Foreign Minister Kurz: „Sincere Commemoration has to call things as they are and has to be a commitment to the future“

Israel and Austria celebrated 60 years of diplomatic relations at Vienna’s Palais Lichtenstein on Friday. Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz took the occasion to talk about the past as well as to emphasize the joint and promising future for both countries.

Photo: Dragan Tatic

Israel-Austria deepen the bilateral relations further

Right before his visit to Israel on May 13 Minister for Foreign Affairs and Integration Sebastian Kurz attended a symposium on the occasion of the 60-year anniversary of Austrian-Israeli diplomatic relations at Palais Lichtenstein. In his speech, Sebastian Kurz talked openly about the past and emphasized the significance of a joint future: “Sincere Commemoration has to call things of the past as they were and has to acknowledge them. However, it is not sufficient to look back. Instead, we have to see commemoration as a mission for the future: We have to learn the lessons from the (Austrian) past and firmly stand by Israel’s side as a partner.” Kurz emphasized that Jewish life was, is and has to remain an integral part of Austria and Europe and sees an obligation of Austrian and European political circles to advocate for that. You can read the entire speech below.

Trip to Israel: Bilateral talks and cultural exchange

The multi-day visit to Israel will begin on Sunday, May 15. “My visit will help to further deepen our good relations. Not only will this trip include important political talks but it will also contribute to getting to know people better”, states Sebastian Kurz. In addition to bilateral talks with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his ministerial colleague Riyad Al-Malki, cultural exchange will also be a focus of the visit. On site, the “Working Holiday Programme” agreement will be signed. This agreement will allow young people to work in the other country for up to six months during their vacation. Another important exchange program in the context of the visit is youth exchange: 30 young people from Austria will get to know Israel during five days, promoting mutual understanding.

The journey will lead the Foreign Minister from Tel Aviv via Ramallah to Jerusalem. To express Austria’s special historical responsibility, the holocaust memorial Yad Vashem will be visited. Subsequently, Sebastian Kurz will meet with holocaust survivors. Moreover, the foreign minister will participate i.a. in a wreath-laying ceremony at the gravesite of Theodor Herzl, the intellectual “father” of the State of Israel.

On the occasion of the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Austria and Israel, the Israel Museum in Jerusalem will host a reception. Oskar Deutsch (President of the Vienna Jewish Community), Dr. Danielle Spera (Director of the Jewish Museum Vienna), Dr. Ilan Knapp (Head of the Jewish Vocational Training Center Vienna and member of the Austrian Expert Board on Integration) and Daniel Kapp (Chairman of the Club of the Friends of Israel) will also be part of the Austrian ministerial delegation.

The speech by Minister Sebastian Kurz, held on May 13:

Translation: Austrian Press- & Information Service

Mrs. Ambassador [of the State of Israel], President Deutsch [of the Vienna Jewish Community], Ladies and Gentlemen!

I am honored to be present today to commemorate the 60 years of diplomatic relations between Austria and Israel. The relationship between our two countries is special in a variety of ways: Not only because of our shared history, but also because of the fact that diplomatic relations resumed only 11 years after the end of the Shoah, a time during which there hadn’t been a real and sincere debate about Austria’s role. Today, I am very glad to be living in a country where a lot has changed. Discussing our past has become increasingly important and today’s generation not only learns extensively about World War II but also about the grim details of our country’s darkest hours. I am part of a generation that visits the concentration camp memorial in Mauthausen during school trips regularly and yet, I personally feel that one can hardly fully understand the extent of this dark period in our past until having talked with a survivor. During such a conversation, I have come to realize that I am probably part of the last generation to have the chance to talk to survivors of the Holocaust. I think this should serve as a reminder of our responsibility to openly address our past and to acknowledge that on 15 March 1938, the cheering people who gathered on the Heldenplatz were definitely no victims. When commemorating sincerely, it is not only important to look back but also to learn the lessons and to draw the right conclusions for the politics of the future:

First of all, due to our historical responsibility, it is our obligation to engage in an intense dialogue with Israel. I am humbled to be in Israel over the weekend [15-16 May] and I am grateful to be accompanied by a large delegation as our economic relations have reached an all-time high and tourism is flourishing. It is crucial for our bilateral relationship to lead this dialogue and Austria has to continue to foster it.

Secondly, our historical responsibility should shape our foreign policy. We are a small, neutral country and home to thirty-seven international organizations. We serve as a place of dialogue and we aim at building bridges. As a result, we see the need to talk to all players active on the international stage, but not without being firm on our basic principles. It is crucial for Austria to function as a place of dialogue and to be in touch also with countries of which Israel might not always approve. However, it is equally important to adhere to fundamental principles, like the need for the security of Israel; principles that are not debatable and that we have always stressed and will always stress when talking to those third parties.

Finally, the lessons learnt from the past constitute a mission for Austria: There are still dangers for Jewish life in Austria and Europe. During the last few years, it has become clear that life has not necessarily become better or safer. Therefore, it is our responsibility to ensure that Jewish life is secured in Austria and I am determined, as the Minister for Integration, to not only tackle existing but also newly imported antisemitism.

I am aware, Mrs. Ambassador, that the Austrian-Israeli history and the history of Austria and Judaism has seen bright but also very dark hours. But it is my firm belief that those past 60 years of diplomatic relations do not mark the end but rather the beginning of even more progress. As foreign minister, I would like to make a contribution to this development and continue to work together towards this goal. Thank you for this invitation and congratulations on this anniversary!