July 2, 2018 | The Jerusalem Post

Austria’s Kurz under fire for planned Rouhani meeting

Israeli diplomats complained about Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s planned meeting on July 4 with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in Vienna while The Simon Wiesenthal Center and an Austrian organization opposed to Iran’s radical regime on Friday slammed the chancellor for courting an antisemitic regime.

“It is high time that European leaders start treating leaders of Iran as a genocidal regime that openly expresses its desire to wipe Israel off the map,” Dr. Efraim Zuroff, the head of the Wiesenthal Center’s Jerusalem office, told the Post. “The invitation to Rouhani is in stark contrast to the concern that Kurz expressed for Israel’s security.” Kurz visited Israel in June.

Israeli diplomatic sources told The Jerusalem Post that they “expressed concern about the visit.”

Zuroff asked of the Austrian government: “Would they have invited Hitler if they knew what he was going to do?” Zuroff, the chief Nazi-hunter for the Wiesenthal Center, termed Iran’s regime the worst of the “Islamic fundamentalists and a rogue terrorist regime bent on Israel’s destruction.”

The NGO Stop the Bomb said “Rouhani is not a ‘moderate bearer of hope’ but the friendly face of terror, and the supreme leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei , threatens Israel openly with destruction.”

Stop the Bomb said if Kurz and Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen meet with Rouhani, they are legitimizing a regime in Tehran that terms Israel a “cancerous tumor” and promotes each year the Al-Quds march that calls for the elimination of Israel.

The Vienna-based organization noted that under Rouhani’s presidency “more people have been executed per year in Iran than under his predecessor [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad. The Iranian regime is heavily investing in its military buildup and is financing antisemitic terrorist organizations like Hezbollah and Hamas. In Rouhani’s and Khamenei’s Iran, there are state-sponsored festivals for Holocaust denial, homosexuals are threatened by the death penalty, [and] women are brutally oppressed. In Iran’s war for Syria’s [President Bashar] Assad, hundreds of thousands people have already been killed.”

The Austrian group called for increased sanctions against Iran because of the clerical regime’s drive to obtain nuclear weapons “has in no way ended since the 2015 Iran atomic agreement.”

The anti-Iran regime organization will launch two demonstrations against Rouhani on Wednesday against the Kurz meeting and a business event with Rouhani. The protests include a broad-based coalition of groups, including Kurdish, Christians and Jewish organizations. Rouhani is also slated to meet with the Austrian Economic Chambers to boost business ties.

When asked about the criticisms leveled at Kurz and Van der Bellen, a spokesman for Austria’s government wrote the Post by email that “Austria takes the concerns and the security needs of Israel very seriously. Sebastian Kurz will therefore clearly address these concerns and the role of Iran in the context of the visit.”

The spokesman said the chancellor will also express clear words regarding the human rights situation in Iran. When asked if the visit with Rouhani should be canceled, he added that “Austria has, as a bridge-builder, also a long tradition of dialogue with difficult discussion partners, in which there are in part fundamental differences.”

He added that “for example, it is absolutely unacceptable when Israel’s right to exist is questioned or the destruction of the State of Israel is called for.”

When questioned if Kurz internalized a false lesson from the Holocaust because he is slated to, according to critics, make Rouhani respectable with the visit, he said “I entirely reject that  because the opposite is true. Under Chancellor Kurz – as previously outlined – there has been a paradigm change and he has a very strong, pronounced consciousness for the historical responsibility of Austria. We sharply condemn every activity in Iran that plays down or denies the Holocaust.”

Kurz said during his Israel visit that “It’s our moral obligation, that this is part of our ‘Staatsräson,’ meaning in the national interest of my home country. This means: the security of Israel is not negotiable to us. We understand the serious security threats Israel is facing. We therefore fully condemn all acts of violence, inside Israel, at its borders and beyond.”

Benjamin Weinthal reports on human rights in the Middle East and is a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow him on Twitter @BenWeinthal.

Follow the Foundation for Defense of Democracies on Twitter @FDD. FDD is a Washington-based nonpartisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.