Revisionists, rightists and a national disgrace


WHILE MUCH OF the international community prepares to isolate Austria for including the far-right Freedom Party in its next government, the greatest offender to the memory of the Holocaust has quietly evaded punishment.

Last week, Syria became the world's first Holocaust-denier state. An editorial in the official Damascus newspaper, Tishreen -- the leading mouthpiece of Syrian dictator Hafez el Assad -- proclaimed that Zionists "created the Holocaust myth to blackmail the world and terrorize its intellectuals and politicians."

The editorial, written by Tishreen's editor, Mohammed Khair al Wadi, labeled Israel "the plague of the third millennium" and added that "what Israel is doing today against the Arab states is worse than the Nazi system." The logic is classic totalitarian: Israel's crimes outdo the Holocaust, which never happened.

Is world opinion ready to react with outrage over Mr. Assad's obscenity -- a far more blatant desecration of the Holocaust than Austria's readiness to legitimize the Freedom Party?

The answer, of course, is that the Syrians have to be placated for the sake of a dubious peace agreement with Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak has played tough guy against Austria, leading the charge against the Freedom Party. Yet, like the Clinton administration, he is wary of upsetting the Syrians, who he is trying to lure back to the negotiating table. Most of all, he is afraid of reminding the Israeli public about the nature of the regime to which he proposes yielding the strategic Golan Heights in exchange for a peace likely to be as trustworthy as Tishreen's sense of history.

Joerg Haider, Freedom Party leader and a past apologist for the Nazis, is an Austrian problem and a European problem; he is not a Jewish problem. Unlike Mr. Assad, whose Islamic fundamentalist proxies in Lebanon ambush Israeli soldiers and sometimes shell Israeli towns, Mr. Haider has no apparent appetite for killing Jews. He has been careful not to be caught in any overtly anti-Semitic statement and even has a token Jew in his party's leadership. By focusing on an imagined threat to Jews from Austria, Mr. Barak and Diaspora Jewish leaders are fighting yesterday's war.

That is not to say Austria shouldn't be punished. Mr. Haider is a threat to democratic values and to the integrity of the new Europe.

Israel and Jews everywhere should join a boycott of Austria -- as part of an international struggle for political decency, not a battle over imaginary Jewish interests.

Including Mr. Haider's party in its next government may even be good for the long-term moral rehabilitation of Austria, which, unlike Germany, has never fully acknowledged its criminal past. Instead, Austria has eagerly promoted the "Sound of Music" image of a brave little people absorbed against their will by the Third Reich -- the land of Hitler and Eichmann as Nazi victim. Maybe now decent Austrians will be forced to finally confront the fact that their parents and grandparents overwhelmingly welcomed the Nazis as liberators, not invaders, and that they bear equal responsibility with the Germans for the Holocaust. Alternatively, Austria will continue to indulge in defensiveness and self-pity and become an international pariah. That, too, is acceptable.

If Mr. Barak is concerned about Jewish honor, he should begin defending it closer to home. Until the Tishreen editorial, the notion of Israel surrendering its most strategic territory, along with one-third of its water sources, to an old, sick dictator whose regime may not outlast him was merely an insane gamble with the country's future. Now it is also a national disgrace.

Klein Halevi is a senior writer for the Jerusalem Report.

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