Mr. Chancellor, before I begin my prepared remarks, I would address a few comments on a matter of major immediacy. You are no doubt aware that it was not with unanimity that the Governing Board of the World Jewish Congress, a human rights organization from its very beginnings, chose to meet in Vienna. On the very eve of our meeting, a man convicted for crimes against humanity was not only repatriated to Austria, but received what was tantamount to a hero’s welcome!
To say that we are devastated is to put it mildly. Shocked, furious, and deeply angered is our mood. [Walter] Reder represents all that was unspeakably evil about Nazism and Austrian participation therein.1 Your government has promised to teach its young about the horrors of a past era. I cannot think of a worse example. We ask how Nazism can be dead anywhere such a disgusting display can take place? I hope, Mr. Chancellor, I have adequately conveyed to you the depth of our feelings.
Convening this World Jewish Congress Governing Board session here in Vienna reflects a historic milestone. We cannot— we must not— ever forget what happened in the past, but the central meaning of our presence here lies in what we hope will be the reality of tomorrow. It is in the future that the importance of this gathering of Jews from so many nations will be found.
Two months ago, this city was host to a remarkable series of multi-media exhibitions celebrating and mourning the “Vanished World” of pre- Holocaust Europe. Its impact must not be underestimated. It came at a time when many Austrians are confronting their country’s anti-Semitic past and when Jews are undertaking the task of building a viable community for the future. The Austrian Jewish community, though but a fraction of its past size, is a proud, dynamic, and thriving component of the World Jewish Congress. Through its president Ivan Hacker, we thank the community for serving as gracious and generous host for this meeting.
Vienna is influenced not only by history but by geography as well. Austria stands between East and West, on the geo-political boundary line that has divided Europe since the end of World War II. The Jewish people, too—in both East and West—have been challenged by the political realities of this divided world. Our passionate determination to maintain the unity and vitality of our people is manifested in the presence here of Jews from both Eastern and Western countries, and indeed from every continent on this globe.
In the last year we have witnessed significant changes impacting on the Jewish world. Developments affecting Israel remain central in the concerns and the hearts of Jews everywhere. We will be discussing the situation in the Middle East at length during the sessions of this Governing Board. But let me state here that the emergency airlift of Ethiopian Jews to Israel represented all that is best in the Jewish moral tradition. It is the manifest refutation of that base slander against the Jewish people that Zionism is racism. We salute the State of Israel and former Prime Minister Begin for undertaking this noble endeavor and pledge that the entire Jewish world will not rest until all Ethiopian Jews are rescued.
The course of events in Latin America—specifically the move toward democracy— has been welcomed not only by Jews in the region but by Jewish communities everywhere. I have met this past year with President Alfonsín of Argentina, President Lusinchi of Venezuela, and President Monge of Costa Rica and sensed the anticipation and excitement with which these three great exponents of democracy have imbued their nations. As the plenary assembly of the Latin American Jewish Congress declared in São Paulo, we express full support for this commitment to human rights.
I am pleased to report also that during the last year we have met with some success in efforts to quash the pernicious lie that Zionism is a form of racism. Through the good offices of various world leaders with whom we intervened, the meeting of the Inter-Parliamentary Union this year did not adopt that heinous anti-Zionist resolution.
In discussions with President Reagan, we received assurances that the United States would vigorously oppose any insertion of an anti-Zionist text at the upcoming Nairobi conference on the UN Decade for Women. In fact, he told a small group under WJC auspices that should such resolutions be adopted, the US delegation would be under his instructions to walk out. Perhaps most significantly, even the enabling resolution for the forthcoming UN Decade to Combat Racism no longer refers to the Zionism-racism canard. These are moves in the right direction. They indicate the growing worldwide recognition that the true struggle against racism cannot afford to be diverted by extraneous political matters.
We must continue to guard against political extremists of all shades. The World Jewish Congress has made clear that it condemns the anti-democratic philosophy that Meir Kahane expounds, and accordingly, through its Institute of Jewish Affairs in London, has— at the request of Israel’s Attorney General— sent documentation to the Israel Minister of Justice to assist in preparing anti-racism legislation to be brought before the Knesset.
In Europe, economic and social problems have engendered a disturbing increase in neo-fascist trends and personalities. These extremists still represent a small minority to be sure, but they merit increased vigilance. History demonstrates that radicalism of both right and left are always a threat to the stability of democracy in general and to the well-being of Jews in particular.
There are still, sad to say, Jewish communities which as a whole find themselves in precarious conditions. They and the world must know that they are not forgotten. No matter how small or isolated they may be, the Jewish people everywhere are committed to safeguarding their interest.
We are moved by the Talmudic injunction: “He who saves but one life, it is as if he saved the entire world.” It has been—and remains—the credo of the World Jewish Congress that our efforts to strengthen the security and unity of the Jewish people pose no threat to the political or social system of any country. We will continue to follow this principle in expressing our concern for the dignity of our brothers and sisters wherever they need our help. We have done this with particular energy with respect to Jews in the Soviet Union. I have done so directly in dealings with Soviet officials. I will continue on this course unrelentingly. At the same time, the World Jewish Congress has made clear that our concern is not motivated by any anti-Soviet disposition. We reject enlistment as Cold Warriors, and it serves no purpose for the World Jewish Congress to be involved in East-West struggles.
World Jewry and the Soviet Union share much common emotional ground and mutuality of past interest. The victory over the Nazis and fascism forty years ago was a historic moment for both the Jewish people and the Soviet people. One million Jews fought in the Red Army against Nazi barbarism. In remembering the Holocaust, we cannot forget that brave Soviet troops liberated most of the tattered remnant of European Jewry from the death camps. In my talks with Soviet officials, the possibility has been raised that the USSR join with world Jewry in the various events that will commemorate the fortieth anniversary of the defeat of the Nazis. Let us hope that cooperation in this endeavor will bring positive movement in other areas as well. There is no doubt that constructive development toward easing the plight of Soviet Jewry will help ease the tension between East and West, just as we believe that diminishing tensions between East and West will improve the condition of Soviet Jews. And in this not only Jews, but the entire world would benefit.
In concluding, I wish to express our gratitude to the government of Austria for serving as a national host for this gathering. We are a people with long memories. While we may speak often here of past deprivations and horrors, we would fail morally if we ignored what the Austrian government has done in recent years on behalf of the Jewish people. Austria’s record in assisting the flow of refugees is shining testimony to a national spirit of humanity and good will. In that same spirit, and on behalf of the World Jewish Congress, I look forward to a continuing dialogue with the Austrian Government and people in addressing matters of mutual concern and those present-day problems that demand a just resolution.
We all recognize that we must establish many more milestones especially in countries where Jewish life is threatened. As all of you know, the World Jewish Congress is committed to that course. It is not an easy road, but I am confident that if we find mutual understanding and respect along the way, it will lead us to security and peace.