Jerusalem, Israel - Feb. 4, 2019 - President Reuven Rivlin and his wife Nechama today. February 4 / 29 Shevat, held an official welcome ceremony for President of Austria Dr. Alexander Van der Bellen and his wife Doris Schmidauer at the beginning of their state visit to Israel. The President of Austria was welcomed in a red carpet ceremony during which the two anthems were played and the two presidents reviewed an IDF honor guard. They then gave joint statements and held a working bilateral meeting where they discussed strengthening relations between the two countries and the regional situation.
President Rivlin welcomed the Austrian president and his wife to Jerusalem, the capital of Israel. “We are delighted to welcome you here in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, as a true friend of the State of Israel and of the Jewish people. You have told your own story as a refugee child many times, and that it took you time to feel at home in your country, the same country of which you are now president. Our past is the basis for our values, our beliefs, the choices we make. The Jewish people also grew out of its past and today is building its future here in the State of Israel, a Jewish and democratic state, democratic and Jewish. I believe that cooperation between Israel and Austria can benefit both our economies and contribute the world at large.”
The president also added, “Israel is a strong and stable democracy. We will never compromise either on our values or on the security of our citizens. We yearn for the day that Israel will be at peace with all its neighbors. In the Middle East, just like in Europe, peace between peoples must be based on confidence-building measures and long-term cooperation based on shared interests.”
The president referred to the Iranian question, stressing “the Iranian regime is the key source of instability and of terrorism in the Middle East and Europe. We see the Iranian regime as an enemy that wishes to destroy Israel. The Iranian threat is not just its nuclear program. It continues to build missiles and to spread its influence across the region, particularly in Syria and Lebanon, via Hezbollah and others. We must take this threat seriously. We must stop Hezbollah’s aggression before we find ourselves dragged into a conflict that none of us wants.”
In the afternoon, President Rivlin accompanied President Van der Bellen on his visit to Yad Vashem: “Unfortunately, anti-Semitism is not disappearing. It is raising its head across the world, and even more so in the last year. In your own country, there were some fifty anti-Semitic incidents last years, some of which are being investigated by the police. On the other hand, Austria led European support for the EU’s statement against anti-Semitism. This statement stresses the importance of education for Holocaust memory, and calls on governments to take steps to ensure the safety of their Jewish communities, organisations and citizens. It would be a tragedy if Jews were afraid to express their beliefs in Europe. The statement also calls on other states to adopt the new definition, in full, of anti-Semitism issued by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). Austria and eleven other European countries have already done so. The way to stamp out anti-Semitism has two elements – taking responsibility for the past and an uncompromising fight against any hint or act of anti-Semitism or xenophobia of any kind.”
The Austrian president thanked President Rivlin for his cordial welcome, saying “Austria and Israel share a special history. In the Declaration of Independence of the State of Israel, Theodor Herzl is mentioned. He was a great Austrian and the seer of the Jewish state, the spiritual father of the State of Israel.”
Referring to Austria’s responsibility for the Holocaust, he said, “our terrible history also connects us. Tens of thousands of Austrian Jews were murdered by the Nazi regime, and many others were expelled and found a new homeland, building the state and fighting in its wars. I say here loud and clear: Austria bears shared responsibility for the Holocaust. Many Austrian citizens took part, and we bow our heads in memory of the victims in humility and respect. We admitted our shared responsibility too late and that caused problems in our relations at the beginning, but today we Israel is a stronghold of liberty and stability here in the Middle East.”
He continued, saying “our aim is to ensure that Jews everywhere feel safe. It is our responsibility as Austrians to the victims of the Holocaust to ensure that we live in peace and agreement with Israel.”
The Austrian President and his wife signed the Israeli official guest book after the two Presidents talked inside privately and outside in the Beit Hanasi gardens on a warm and sunny Jerusalem winter day.