In most of Europe, the days when cigarette smoke was part of every dining experience are gone. Smoking bans are spreading all over the continent; on January 1, even France and Germany will join the crowd, banning tobacco in virtually all public entertainment facilities. Britain, Ireland, Italy and a score of other countries have already done so over the past few years, and the few remaining smoker havens — which unfortunately includes my home country of Austria — are expected to give way soon.
Last week John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt came here to Vienna, as well as to Frankfurt and Berlin, to promote the German-language version of their controversial book “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy.” The two American academics had reason to expect a warmer reception than they had received back home, and true to expectations they filled lecture halls in all three cities, and bookshops are reporting brisk sales of their oeuvre.
When France’s foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, suggested last month that war may be the only way to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, he sounded more like a Washington hawk than your typical French politician.
A fortnight ago, my 13-year-old daughter Isabel staged the biggest rebellion in her life: She celebrated her bat mitzvah. In receiving an aliyah and reading from the Torah like any of her male Jewish peers, Isabel put on a demonstration of equality that, at least in this proud father’s eyes, may help make Vienna’s small Jewish community a bit more tolerant and open.
For all the headlines they grab, the kidnapping of European and Asian hostages in Iraq and Afghanistan is far from the worst of the many woes afflicting the two countries. But the damage caused by these incidents goes far beyond individual human tragedy, mostly thanks to the hapless reactions of the victims’ governments. Their willingness to pay huge ransoms for their citizens has turned hostage-taking into a highly profitable industry in both war zones. That has helped to finance the insurgencies, slowed down reconstruction and put even more Westerners at risk.
Ralph Giordano’s recent criticism of a mosque being prominently constructed in Cologne earned him denunciations from fellow Jews and liberals for supposedly supporting the racist agenda of right-wing extremists. The respected German writer, however, is hardly the only Jewish liberal to finds himself with strange new bedfellows.
For two decades, Kurt Waldheim was the most ignominious name associated with modern Austria and a permanent black spot on its international reputation. But even though the former Austrian president and U.N. secretary general, who died last week at age 88, never showed true remorse for lying about his past, he inadvertently turned out to be a blessing for his country.
Poland and Russia are now experiencing a backlash against the liberal and democratic values that flourished after the fall of communism nearly two decades ago. Not surprisingly, the targets of these forces in both countries are often Jewish.
When Nicolas Sarkozy, the conservative frontrunner in the French presidential elections, goes into the runoff with his socialist rival Ségolène Royal on May 6, he can count on strong support from the largest Jewish community in Western Europe.
For more than a year, the European Union and its member states toed the harsh Israeli line in boycotting the Hamas-led Palestinian government. But since the unity government of Fatah and Hamas was sworn in earlier this month, the Europeans have parted ways with Jerusalem and are seeking direct contacts with the Palestinian Authority — and they are right to do so.