Austria Israel Relations
After the establishment of the State of Israel, Austria sought diplomatic relations with the Israel, and although somewhat tense at first, Austria's support for Israel in the Six Day War of 1967 helped strengthen ties.
In 1986, Austrians elected Kurt Waldheim as President of Austria. During World War II, Waldheim had served as an interpreter and intelligence officer for the German army unit that was responsible for the deportation of the Jews of Salonika, Greece, and for brutal action against Yugoslav partisans and civilians. The election campaign in 1986 of President Waldheim, former U.N. Secretary General, provoked an outburst of anti-Semitic feelings. Since 1987, after the Waldheim Affair, the federal government and municipal authorities in Austria have sought to improve relations with Austrian Jews, world Jewry, and Israel. There has been a notable increase of support for Jewish museums, synagogues, research projects, and scholarly conferences on Jewish topics, as well as the beginning of a serious educational effort to counteract anti-Semitism and to improve understanding and knowledge about the Holocaust. In the late 1980's, the Austrian government began reexamining its role in the Holocaust. In July 1991 the Austrian government composed a statement, communicated by Bundeskanzler Franz Vranitzky to the Austrian Parliament acknowledging Austria's participation in the crimes of the Third Reich. On a visit to Israel in 1993, Chancellor Franz Vranitzky, acknowledged Austria's complicity in the Holocaust.
The Austrian government established in 1995 the National Fund to provide modest payments to Holocaust survivors; and created an official historical commission of inquiry to investigate the issue of Jewish property in Austria confiscated during World War II. The National Fund of the Austrian Republic for Victims of Nazism was established in order to "remember all the immense wrong inflicted on millions of human beings by Nazism as well as the fact that Austria, too, was involved in these crimes." Approximately 20,000 former Austrians all over the world, most of them Jewish, have received payments from the Nationalfonds.
Despite government efforts to acknowledge the past and make promises for a better future, Jews still face anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism is manifested in both public and state levels by vandalism, swastika graffiti and attacks in the press.
In the national elections in September 1999, the anti-immigration and ultra-nationalist Freedom Party (FPÖ), then led by Jorg Haider, obtained twenty-seven percent of the votes. Subsequently, the Freedom Party joined the new coalition government. Israel withdrew its ambassador in 2000. However, relations between the two countries have warmed following Austria's offer of compensation for Holocaust survivors and their descendants, as well as the Freedom Party's slide in popular support at the elections in 2002. After three and a half years, the Israel government decided to restore full diplomatic relations with Austria. Israel announced its decision during the visit of Austrian Foreign Minister Benita Ferrero-Waldner on July 29, 2003, the first high-level official visit in three years.
In 2004 Israeli President Moshe Katsav visited Austria and was the first Israeli Head of State to visit Austria. Mr. Katzav met President Heinz Fischer and visited the Mauthausen concentration camp. His visit followed Israel's appointment of an ambassador to Vienna earlier.