On his recent state visit to Israel, shortly before the outbreak of the latest Israeli war, now into its 20th day, the Austrian President Dr. Heinz Fischer was accompanied by Ariel Muzicant the President of the Austrian Jewish Community (IKG).
The whole state visit business was a very civilized affair. The Austrian President was grandly feted and was awarded an honorary degree or some honour of that ilk. Many photographs were taken to show a series of happy diplomatic handshakes. A short excursion into the West Bank resulted in more smiley photos. Relations between Israel and Austria have never been so good we were told.
And so we all settled back with our popular anti-EU ski-report tabloid with its 8,9 or 10 pages of daily ski-reports and colourful photos. But then came the war. And everything changed. Or did it?
President Dr. Heinz Fischer has been, except for one brief conspectus early on, conspicuously silent about it all, or if he has spoken the skiers on Austria's snowy slopes, concerned about the possibilty of new ski-helmet requlations and speed limits for downhill skiers, are not aware of it. You would think that a man, a President, recently returned from an area now plunged into barbarity would have something to say about it.
As I type this I'm listening to reports of two hospitals in Gaza bombed; a Red Crescent hospital and a Red Cross hospital. I'm listening to reports of a United Nations compound now ablaze following an Israeli attack. I'm listening to reports of countries breaking off diplomatic ties with Israel. I'm listening to reports of 1,050 dead on one side and 13 dead on the other side. What I'm not listening to is President Heinz Fischer. His silence is, as they say, quite deafening. Almost as deafening as the bombs falling around the Aljazeera press office in Gaza.
I am, however, listening to President Ariel Muzicant of the Austrian Jewish Community. Ariel Muzicant, unlike Fischer, is not completely silent. On the contrary he is noted for being outspoken. In today's Daily Ski tabloid for example Muzicant blames the European Union for the current ongoing war situation. He bemoans the fact that the EU has not put enough 'Cease-fire' pressure on Israel. And that may well be true.
In the broadsheet Die Presse he says that critics of the Israeli invasion of Gaza lack empathy for a Jewish State. Now that is not true Mr Muzicant. The critics of Israel's conduct are critical both with and without empathy. They are to be found all over the empathy spectrum. What the critics are mostly critical of is the unbridled brutality and savagery of the Israeli response. Muzicant cannot expect the critics to support Goliath when he is raining down clouds of white phosphorous on a densly populated city. Muzicant might change his tune if he was a Palestinian child and not allowed to flee the war zone.
"When one sees Arab television crews running around trying to find injured residents of Gaza..." begins another line of Muzicant propoganda. But here again he is being blinkered by empathy. After 20 days there are 5,000 wounded Palestinians in Gaza. One Norwegian surgeon, working around the clock, going 72 hours without sleep, described the scene in his hospital as "a conveyor belt of wounded".
Muzicant goes on to ask the big question, the question that's really troubling him, "After 3,000 years of persecution, we must constantly ask ourselves the question; where can we flee in the worst case?" And to that there's no answer.
A eurocent for your thoughts Dr. Fischer. The bomb party goes on.
*title of a novel by Graham Greene