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Austrian Chancellor Pledges Israel Support, Draws Praise for Admitting Austria's pro-Nazi Past

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, right, and Austrian Ambassador to Israel Martin Weiss lay a wreath at Yad VaShem Holocaust Memorial, Photo, AP

JERUSALEM, Israel – Shortly after his arrival in Israel earlier this week, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz visited Jerusalem's Yad VaShem Holocaust Memorial, where he laid a wreath in memory of the six million Jews killed during the Nazi reign.

Yad VaShem chairman Avner Shalev, Austrian Ambassador to Israel Martin Weiss, and Austrian Holocaust survivor Victor Klein, who came with the delegation, joined him for the ceremony.  

The next day before meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Kurz visited Jerusalem's Old City and prayed at the Western Wall.

Following a private meeting with Netanyahu, the two leaders met with members of the Austrian delegation and Israeli officials, among them Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis and Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi.

In his welcoming remarks, Netanyahu praised Austria's latest efforts to combat anti-Semitism.

"We deeply appreciate the steps taken by the Austrian government and the Austrian parliament in recent months, most notably among them your speech, a wonderful speech on the 80th anniversary of the Anschluss – the annexation of Austria into Nazi Germany in March 1938 depicted in Rogers and Hammerstein's 1965 film, The Sound of Music.

Netanyahu particularly praised Kurz for admitting Austria's history with the Nazis with his acknowlegement that "Austria was not only a victim but also a perpetrator."

"These are courageous and bold words and I think they chart the course that you're leading in Austria and our relationship, one that I support very, very much," Netanyahu said.

"You have backed up your words with actions," he continued. "You have shown zero tolerance toward anti-Semitism. You established a place of remembrance in Vienna listing the names of all 60,000 Austrian Jews who perished in the Holocaust."

Netanyahu also cited the Austrian government funding trips for its youth to the Mauthausen concentration camp. Austria is also establishing education and memorial projects in remembrance of the Holocaust.

"Yesterday you announced in Yad VaShem a 4 million euro fund for a heritage center in Yad VaShem," he continued, adding that Israel is "deeply grateful for these and other important steps and for your leadership."

Austria will assume the presidency of the European Union on July 1, which Netanyahu called "a breath of fresh air."

"Today the relations between Austria and Israel are extremely good," Kurz responded. "The trade relations are growing and tourism is at an all-time high," he said.

"We Austrians know that in light of our own history, we have a special responsibility toward Israel and the Jewish people. I can assure you that Austria will fight all forms of anti-Semitism in Europe with determination, be it the still-existing one or also new imported anti-Semitism," Kurz said, perhaps referencing Austria's recent decision to close seven mosques and deport a dozen imams.

"We took these steps because the imams and also the mosques did not respect the Austrian law on Islam," Kurz later said in an interview with the Israeli daily Israel Hayom.

He has reportedly received death threats, particularly on social media, for that decision.

At a working meeting Tuesday with President Rivlin at his Jerusalem residence, Kurz reiterated Austria's support for Israel's security.

"I and my government are committed to being a supportive player for Israel and its security," he said. He also spoke about his government's commitment to the Austrian Jewish community, saying, "I'll continue to make sure the streets of Austria are safe."

Kurz reportedly asked Netanyahu to end Israel's boycott of the Freedom Party, founded by former Nazis, saying the party has left its past behind.

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