ADL strategy on Austria calls for dialogue, not boycott

NEW YORK — The Anti-Defamation League is setting itself apart from Israel and most other American Jewish organizations in its refusal to boycott Austria.

"I don't think the way you deal with the problem" is to isolate Austria, said Abraham Foxman, the national director of the ADL, in response to the Freedom Party's participation in Austria's governing coalition.

"The way you deal with the problem is to interact with the Austrians."

The inclusion of Jorg Haider, who has praised Hitler's employment policies and members of the Nazi SS, but later apologized for the remarks, has sparked international condemnation and calls for Austria to be diplomatically isolated.

Israel recalled its ambassador to Austria, and the 14 governments of the European Union downgraded diplomatic relations with Vienna.

A number of Jewish organizations, including ADL's founding organization, B'nai B'rith International, have issued statements calling for the Austria's diplomatic isolation.

The ADL is one of the only major American Jewish organizations with an office in Austria. Also, the ADL rents office space at United Nations Plaza in New York to several tenants, including the Austrian mission to the U.N.

But Foxman, who said his group receives no money from the Austrian government, said these facts had no impact on his group's opposition to the isolation campaign.

"If a country that rented space from us became a neo-Nazi dictatorship, yes, we'd evict them, but that's not where Austria is," said Foxman.

Haider is an opportunist, a xenophobe and a demagogue, Foxman said, "but he is not an anti-Semite or a neo-Nazi."

Isolating Austria is "a mistake," he said, noting that "all that would do is strengthen Haiderism" in Austria.

"When we isolated them last time, they elected Kurt Waldheim president," Foxman said, referring to the former Nazi who served as president of Austria from 1986 to 1992.

Instead, he advocates "engaging and challenging" Austrians, "saying let's work together to develop programs which deal with the past, deal with democracy and fight xenophobia."

Not everyone agrees with the ADL's move.

"The ADL's been wrong in the past and they're wrong now," said Rabbi Avi Weiss of New York. "The Jewish community is like a symphony — there are softer voices like the ADL, and then there are stronger voices."

Weiss' group, Coalition for Jewish Concerns — Amcha, organized a protest attended by about 40 people Monday at the Austrian Consulate in New York.

Foxman points to the tolerance programs the ADL helped establish in Germany as an example of what could be done.

Since his election, Haider has pledged in writing to work toward creating an atmosphere "in which xenophobia, anti-Semitism and racism have no place."

On Sunday, though, he said ethnic Germans expelled from Czechoslovakia at the end of World War II should be entitled to the same compensation as Jews who were persecuted by the Nazis.