March 21, 2019 — Brussels, Belgium
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz delivered a historic address today at an AJC Transatlantic Institute (TAI) event, which focused on strengthening EU-Israel relations and Jewish life in Europe.
The standing-room-only audience of nearly 300 included dozens of ambassadors from Europe, the United States, and Israel, lawmakers from the European, Austrian and Belgian Parliaments, Jewish and other faith leaders from across Europe, EU officials, diplomats, media and civil society representatives. AJC President John Shapiro welcomed the audience.
The event is available to watch here.
“As I look at our tomorrow, I feel optimism. In spite of all the challenges, EU-Israel relations and Jewish life in Europe have a bright future,” Kurz told the guests.
This event marked the first time an EU head of government ever devoted an entire speech to these vital issues in Brussels.
Chancellor Kurz highlighted that Israel is not surrounded by peaceful nations, but rather by hostile nations such as Syria, Lebanon, and Iran. He continued, “We must not forget that reality whenever we judge Israel’s actions.”
“Israel is under constant pressure to defend itself and protect its citizens. For those of us who have grown up in peace and stability, in Europe, in the U.S., or other privileged regions, this is easy to forget. And many are too quick to judge.”
Underscoring his commitment to strengthening Jewish life in Europe, Chancellor Kurz pointed out that his government strengthened its legislation to prohibit the symbols of extremist organizations, such as Hamas and Hezbollah.
Additionally, Chancellor Kurz discussed Austria’s current membership in the UN Human Rights Council and outlined its shift in policy, stating, “We do our best to oppose one-sided resolutions and actions against Israel on the European and global level. We have decided to vote against the proposed accountability resolution because it seems to be politically biased against Israel.”
AJC CEO David Harris, who has met with Kurz several times in Vienna, Washington, and Jerusalem, praised his remarks. “Sebastian Kurz, first as Foreign Minister, now as Chancellor, has blazed new trails for Austria, in its reckoning with history and in its recognition that the past must inform the future,” said Harris. “I want to thank the Chancellor for a wonderful speech, a necessary speech. I particularly want to thank him for making abundantly clear that when we speak about anti-Semitism today, we cannot do so without referencing anti-Zionism.”
It is not the first time Chancellor Kurz delivered a groundbreaking address at an American Jewish Committee event. At the 2018 AJC Global Forum, in Jerusalem last June, Kurz, before an audience of 2,500 delegates, declared that the Austrian government viewed both the fight against anti-Semitism and the security of Israel as part of his country’s Staatsräson, or national interest. This was the first time the word Staatsräson was ever used by an Austrian leader to describe the country’s relationship to Israel.
Founded in 2004 and headquartered in Brussels, the AJC Transatlantic Institute (TAI) engages EU and NATO officials, as well as diplomatic missions, journalists, think tanks, and civil society leaders, to strengthen the transatlantic bond and EU-Israel link. Underlining the values shared by Europe, Israel, and the U.S., TAI promotes transatlantic cooperation to fight terrorism, extremism, and anti-Semitism, and works for a strategic partnership between the EU and Israel. Robert Elman is TAI Chair and Daniel Schwammenthal is the director.