Ariel Muzicant, 56, an Israeli-born real estate businessman who lives in Vienna, has since 1998 been the leader of the country’s largest association of Jews, which numbers more than 7,000. Muzicant has been in Jewish politics for the past 39 years and is also a member of the European Jewish Congress, of which he was once vice president. He was in New York recently and spoke to The Jewish Week about rising anti-Semitism in Europe and the future of Jews there.
Q: We’re hearing reports of an increasing number of anti-Semitic incidents in Europe that were triggered by Israel’s recent military offensive in Gaza.
A: There has been rising anti-Semitism in France and in Italy after what happened in Gaza. In
Italy and Spain, shops put out signs saying don’t buy from Jews. In some countries like Poland, Spain and Italy — and to some extent Hungary — it’s getting uncomfortable. … In Austria it’s not as bad. My son and grandson wear a kipa [in public] and are not afraid.
What brings you to New York?
To announce the launching of the Society of American Friends of the Jewish Community of Austria. We are starting it in New York because there is a concentration of Jews here.
What is the purpose of the group?
To foster a relationship between former Austrian Jews, their children and grandchildren here and the Jewish community in Austria. It will have a financial aspect and a moral and historical aspect.
The Viennese Jewish community was one of the most important. There were 200,000 Jews there before 1938, and now there are between 15,000 and 20,000. My efforts are to ensure a Jewish community in Austria not just for 10 or 15 years but longer than that.
What do you see as the future for the Jews of Europe?
In 1938, the Jewish community in Europe numbered 2.5 million Jews and statistically half will disappear in the next 20 years due to assimilation and emigration.
Which Jewish communities are in danger of disappearing?
Take the Jewish communities in Milan, Copenhagen, Vienna, Stockholm, Prague and Bratislava — all are in danger of disappearing in the next 20 years. The Jews will not all be gone, but there will no longer be a functioning Jewish community.
So what is your plan?
We hope to be able to establish institutes and different events here and there through fundraising … What we need in the next 10 or 15 years is to attract people to move back to Vienna, and not necessarily just from the United States. We offer an environment where you can live a Jewish life with the necessary infrastructure, including a Jewish education.