Austria’s election, Jews and Israel

Austria has elected a new president. Israel’s foreign policy makers and the Jews of Vienna are merely bystanders.

By SAMUEL LASTER
May 24, 2016 22:07
2 minute read.
Vienna Austria

Vienna, Austria. (photo credit: REUTERS)

It was a successful exercise in political spin. Austria’s “stand-still chancellor,” Werner Faymann, resigned two weeks ago and was replaced by Christian Kern.

For a few days, the appointment of the authoritative manager deflected attention from the presidential election campaign which pitted a Green professor against a hard-line right-winger. Professor Alexander Van der Bellen from Tyrol represented a cosmopolitan Austria while his opponent Norbert Hofer wanted to position the Alpine republic politically somewhere between Poland and Hungary, with a pinch of Putin added.

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Austria’s Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz recently was in Israel where he tried to explain a possible Hofer victory.

On the day of his talks in Israel, Chancellor Faymann resigned and a government reshuffle took place. This was the moment the head of the Austrian Jewish community, Oskar Deutsch, who traveled with Kurz, should have spoken – but he remained speechless. Until a few days ago, there was no positioning of the Jewish community vis-à-vis the right-wing populists Strache and Hofer.

But suddenly, with the formation of the new government, this changed. Deutsch published an op-ed in an Austrian newspaper which listed a few demands, a kind of preamble.

The new chancellor, Christian Kern, who is widely regarded as a friend of Israel, appointed Muna Dudzar as new state secretary, thus giving a signal of openness.

In the past, the Social Democratic Austro-Palestinian Dudzar was a strong critic of Israel in the upper house of Austria’s parliament, the Federal Council.

Now, Muna Dudzar will be in charge of Jewish community affairs in the government, among other things. The Jewish community appeared shocked about the appointment, but will remain quiet for the time being.

Things are no better when it comes to Israel’s policy toward Vienna. The diplomat Ilan Ben-Dov was in Vienna and held talks with the Jewish community.

Israel, it appears, does not want to jeopardize the good relations it has enjoyed with Austria in recent years, but maintains its boycott of the Freedom Party.

There won’t be a repeat of the reaction to Waldheim’s 1986 election as president or the coalition between Wolfgang Schüssel and Jörg Haider in 2001. Today, it’s all about refugees and not Jews – in that, both right wing of the Likud and the Jews of Vienna are closer to the Freedom Party than they would ever admit in public.

All the rest is lip service – except that the “the other Austria” of Van der Bellen prevailed in Vienna. Freedom Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache might in fact prefer such an outcome because it might make it easier for him to become chancellor of Austria in the near future.

The author is a veteran observer of Austrian- Israeli relations. He moved to Austria the year Bruno Kreisky was elected chancellor (1970), returned to Israel to serve in the army, exploring the Bekaa Valley in a tank in 1982. He founded the online newspaper Die Juedische (www.juedische.at) in 2003.


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