Arabs Protest Vienna’s Plans for Square

VIENNA, Austria – Plans to name a Vienna square after Zionist Theodor Herzl drew protest Tuesday from the Arab League, which urged city fathers to reconsider for the sake of continued “good relations” with the Arab world.

Representatives of Vienna’s Islamic community also opposed the plan to honor the founder of Zionism, the movement to establish the state of Israel.

But municipal officials said Islamic opposition came late and was unlikely to derail the plan, which is part of celebrations to commemorate the 100th anniversary of his death on July 3.

The plan is expected to be put to a vote this week in the council, which is dominated by Social Democratic allies of Mayor Michael Haeupl. Most other parties in the council also back the proposal.

The Vienna mission of the 22-nation Arab League sent a letter to Haeupl expressing its “regret” at the decision to honor a man whose name “represents a sad memory for Arabs and Muslims.”

The letter, which was dated April 29, also suggested the plan could lead to terrorism.

“We believe that this plan is bad timing because of the tense situation in the Middle East and Iraq and therefore will not serve the cause of good relations between Austria and the Arab-Islamic world,” said the letter, made available to The Associated Press.

It contrasted the plan with the “clever politics that has protected Austria up until today from conflicts and problems.”

But Arab League spokesman Ali Maan conceded that “we can do nothing” beyond urging the Austrian capital to reconsider.

With Austria moving from denial to acceptance of its part in the Holocaust over the past two decades, Vienna’s decision to commemorate Herzl is the latest in a series of posthumous honors bestowed on the country’s famous Jews.

Carna Amina Baghajati, a spokeswoman for Vienna’s 120,000-strong Islamic community, also criticized the plan.

She suggested a square be named instead for Mohammad Asad, the Austrian-born Jew who changed his name from Leopold Weiss, converted to Islam and went on to become an honored 19th century Muslim scholar.

Officials with Vienna’s Jewish community — which backs the plan to honor Herzl — declined to comment about the Arab protests. The Israeli Embassy did not return calls seeking reaction.

The Hungarian-born Herzl’s campaign for a Jewish state grew out of the anti-Semitism he experienced, first in Austria, then as a journalist covering the French trial of Alfred Dreyfus, a Jewish army captain framed by anti-Semitic conspirators.

A little more than four decades after his death, Herzl’s dream was realized with the founding of Israel. His remains were unearthed from a Vienna cemetery in 1949 and reburied in the Jewish state.

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