The Commissioner of Major League Baseball, Bud Selig, finally has suspended Atlanta Braves pitcher John Rocker, an ignoramus whose bigotry is an annoyance but hardly a threat to anyone but himself. Politicians, pundits and activists excoriate him with vigor; his miserable fate–a one-month suspension and a fine–is front-page news, especially in New York City’s tabloids. Meanwhile, a truly dangerous racist is poised to enter the Government of Austria–and the response in New York is no louder than a whisper.
Two weeks have passed since Mayor Rudolph Giuliani attended a gala dinner marking the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., where another of the honored guests on the dais was one Jörg Haider, the leader of the Austrian Freedom Party and the idol of Europe’s far right. So far, Mr. Giuliani has kept his opinion of Mr. Haider to himself, although the growing likelihood that the Austrian politician will negotiate an important role in a new coalition government has provoked angry denunciations from London to Jerusalem. The European Union has threatened reprisals against Austria if Mr. Haider succeeds, with member states saying that the country’s ambassadors would receive only perfunctory courtesies. Portugal has announced that it will not conduct “business as usual” with a government in which Mr. Haider is included. The Government of Israel also has talked about reprisals, and the United States has expressed deep concern.
But despite challenges from former Mayor Ed Koch and Representative Charles Rangel, the Mayor of New York–who rarely hesitates to comment on foreign affairs of interest to his constituents–has said nothing except that he didn’t know Mr. Haider had been invited to the Jan. 17 event sponsored by the Congress of Racial Equality. This alibi has been accepted with unaccustomed meekness by the city’s Jewish organizations, usually so fierce and voluble whenever a politician betrays any hint of softness on anti-Semitism.
In fact, for some unknown reason, Jewish leaders in New York have said little at all about the impending coronation of Mr. Haider, whose party captured 27 percent of the vote in last fall’s elections. There have been no press conferences outside the Austrian Consulate, no impassioned statements from the presidents of major Jewish groups, none of the activity that might be expected under these ominous circumstances.
The problem isn’t any lack of familiarity with a man who is known across Europe as “the yuppie fascist.” The Anti-Defamation League, for example, maintains an excellent Web site that currently features a long, heavily researched briefing about Mr. Haider’s unappetizing history: his appeals to racism against immigrants, his praise of Nazis and Nazism, his own family heritage of Nazism. Truncated in most news stories, his statements are truly shocking when repeated in their entirety.
For instance, when he addressed a reunion of Waffen SS veterans several years ago, he called them “decent people who have character and who have stuck to their beliefs through the strongest head winds and who remained true to their convictions until today.” Those old gangsters must have been truly touched, because no prominent person has said anything nice about them since the Nuremberg tribunal, where the Waffen SS was declared a criminal organization.
Yet the ADL isn’t doing much about Mr. Haider right now. “We’re keeping an eye on him,” said a spokesman, who admitted: “We haven’t issued anything specifically” in recent weeks. Neither has the American Jewish Congress or the American Jewish Committee, whose executive director, David Harris, said he is “very much concerned” about the political situation in Austria. He fears that a government including the Freedom Party will lend “a new aura of respectability” to xenophobia, national chauvinism and anti-Semitism. Mr. Harris also said it was “wrong” for the Mayor to remain silent on the subject after the King Day dinner. “We would expect the Mayor to criticize CORE [for hosting Mr. Haider]. He should now, and he should have then.”
Of course, no sane person thinks that Mr. Giuliani endorses the Haider viewpoint on Nazis, immigrants or any other issue. Perhaps the city’s Jewish leaders are simply giving a reliable friend the benefit of the doubt (although Jews are hardly the only group with an interest in combating neo-fascism).
But Mr. Koch offers another, bluntly unflattering explanation for the discreet silence of the Jewish community regarding the Mayor and the Austrian. “They’re afraid!” he exclaimed. “They will do anything they possibly can to avoid criticizing him, for fear that he will use his power to punish them. They are reluctant to say something critical even in a social setting, because they’re afraid it will get back to him.” There are bigger things to worry about in this world than the wrath of Rudy, and one of them is about to happen in Vienna.