Austria’s Jewish Chancellor, His Relationship with Israel, and His Enthusiasm for Arab Dictators

Having served as Austria’s chancellor from 1970 to 1983—the longest anyone has served in that position—Bruno Kreisky was, in Liam Hoare’s words, the “most significant Austrian political figure of the postwar era.” He was also Jewish and a committed secular socialist, a fact examined by Daniel Aschheim in his book Kreisky, Israel, and Jewish Identity. Hoare writes in his review:

Kreisky’s views on Jews and Judaism were often expressed in stark, provocative, and rather ugly terms. “If the Jews are a people,” he once told an Israeli journalist, “then they are a lousy people.” Kreisky did not believe in the notion of a Jewish race or Jewish peoplehood, for as he saw it, a Jew in Mannheim had nothing much in common with a Jew in Casablanca or Tel Aviv, and a notion of some larger commonality was antithetical to his humanism and agnostic outlook. While he did not deny Israel its right to exist, he was not a Zionist either, describing Israel as “a strip of desert with which I have no ties.” Judaism to Kreisky was a religion, one from which he was both formally and philosophically divorced.

That Kreisky was reticent to be seen as Jewish had a lot to do with the realities of post-war Austria, an anti-Semitic country that did not want its Jewish returnees. Kreisky delayed his return from exile [in Sweden, where he spent the Nazi years], until 1950 because the SPÖ, [the Austrian Socialist party] did not wish to be branded a “Jewish party.” During the 1970 election campaign, the conservative People’s Party (ÖVP) insidiously labelled their candidate for chancellor a “true Austrian.” Kreisky never challenged the doctrine that Austria was the “first victim of National Socialism” or the reassimilation of former Nazis into the body politic for fear of drawing attention to his Jewishness, but also out of a kind of crude Realpolitik. The SPÖ could not win an election in Austria without the votes of former Nazis.

[When it came to Israel, Kreisky’s policies were] guided partly by his emotions. “Kreisky’s criticism of Zionism was radical,” Aschheim writes. He did not believe Jews were entitled to Zionism or a homeland and “considered Zionism as being in a kind of league within anti-Semitism.”

His criticism of Israel [also] had practical purposes. The first was to defuse the notion in the eyes of the Austrian public that Kreisky would be partial to Israel because he was Jewish. The second, so the former prime minister Shimon Peres among others in Israel believed, was to “tighten Austrian connections with Arab countries” and improve his standing with people like Anwar Sadat, Yasir Arafat, and Moammar Gaddafi as part of his dream of becoming an arbiter in the Arab-Israeli peace process, a notion that Israel found in turns horrifying and amusing.

Read more at Fathom

More about: Anti-Semitism, Austria, Austrian Jewry, Nazism, PLO

What Israel Can Achieve in Gaza, the Fate of the Hostages, and Planning for the Day After

In a comprehensive analysis, Azar Gat concludes that Israel’s prosecution of the war has so far been successful, and preferable to the alternatives proposed by some knowledgeable critics. (For a different view, see this article by Lazar Berman.) But even if the IDF is coming closer to destroying Hamas, is it any closer to freeing the remaining hostages? Gat writes:

Hamas’s basic demand in return for the release of all the hostages—made clear well before it was declared publicly—is an end to the war and not a ceasefire. This includes the withdrawal of the IDF from the Gaza Strip, restoration of Hamas’s control over it (including international guarantees), and a prisoner exchange on the basis of “all for all.”

Some will say that there must be a middle ground between Hamas’s demands and what Israel can accept. However, Hamas’s main interest is to ensure its survival and continued rule, and it will not let go of its key bargaining chip. Some say that without the return of the hostages—“at any price”—no victory is possible. While this sentiment is understandable, the alternative would be a resounding national defeat. The utmost efforts must be made to rescue as many hostages as possible, and Israel should be ready to pay a heavy price for this goal; but Israel’s capitulation is not an option.

Beyond the great cost in human life that Israel will pay over time for such a deal, Hamas will return to rule the Gaza Strip, repairing its infrastructure of tunnels and rockets, filling its ranks with new recruits, and restoring its defensive and offensive arrays. This poses a critical question for those suggesting that it will be possible to restart the war at a later stage: have they fully considered the human toll should the IDF attempt to reoccupy the areas it would have vacated in the Gaza Strip?

Although Gat is sanguine about the prospects of the current campaign, he throws some cold water on those who hope for an absolute victory:

Militarily, it is possible to destroy Hamas’s command, military units, and infrastructure as a semi-regular military organization. . . . After their destruction in high-intensity fighting, the IDF must prevent Hamas from reviving by continuous action on the ground. As in the West Bank, this project will take years. . . . What the IDF is unlikely to achieve is the elimination of Hamas as a guerrilla force.

Lastly, Gat has some wise words about what will happen to Gaza after the war ends, a subject that has been getting renewed attention since Benjamin Netanyahu presented an outline of a plan to the war cabinet on Thursday. Gat argues that, contrary to the view of the American and European foreign-policy elite, there is no political solution for Gaza. After all, Gaza is in the Middle East, where “there are no solutions, . . . only bad options and options that are much worse.”

Read more at Institute for National Security Studies

More about: Gaza Strip, Gaza War 2023, Israeli Security