Austrian Jews to Israel: Respect our stand on far-right Freedom Party

Local Jewish leaders look on nervously, urge Kurz to keep Freedom Party out of coalition.

October 20, 2017 07:16
2 minute read.
Norbert Hofer (L) and Austrian Freedom Party (FPOe) top candidate Heinz-Christian Strache attend the

Norbert Hofer (L) and Austrian Freedom Party (FPOe) top candidate Heinz-Christian Strache attend their party's final election campaign rally in Vienna, Austria, October 13, 2017. . (photo credit: MICHAEL DALDER/REUTERS)

Two days after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz to congratulate him on his Sunday election victory and applaud Austria for the “long way” it has come in remembering the Holocaust and fighting antisemitism, the country’s Jewish community called on Israel to “respect” its call to Kurz not to include the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) in his coalition.

Kurz is considering forming a governing coalition together with the FPO, a party with which Israel does not formally engage because of its Nazi past and the antisemitic and racist leanings of some its members today. In 1999 Israel recalled its ambassador to Vienna for more than three years because the party, then headed by Joerg Haider, joined the coalition.

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In an interview earlier this week with Israel Hayom, Kurz said the fight against antisemitism and “a policy of zero tolerance against any antisemitic tendencies is very important to me.”

This, he said, “is a clear precondition for any coalition that I would lead. There must be no doubt about this at all. None. The FPÖ has in the past shown efforts to fight antisemitism, in its own ranks as well, and I expect them to continue to do so.”

In an email sent on Wednesday to senior officials at the Foreign Ministry, Oskar Deutsch, the president of the Jewish Communities of Austria, wrote that the Jewish community, as well as the European Jewish Congress and the World Jewish congress, have called on Kurz not to include the FPÖ in the next government, because “many representatives of the FPÖ,” including its leader Heinz-Christian Strache, have “used antisemitic codes, made extreme right-wing statements and have promoted hatred and racism,” including during the recent electoral campaign.

Furthermore, the letter read, several of the party’s candidates to serve as a minister have in the past “called for the elimination of legislation against Holocaust denial.”

The letter said that the community “calls on all Jewish organizations, members of the Israeli government, political figures and NGOs to respect our position” on the matter.

It said this is also the position of President Reuven Rivlin, who wrote a letter to Deutsch in December 2016 – which Deutsch attached to the email – saying that he was against Israeli engagement with far-right parties in Europe “tainted with a history of antisemitism, Holocaust denial, restrictions on religious practice or the promotion of racial hatred and intolerance.”

Rivlin, quoting from a speech he delivered on Holocaust Remembrance Day, said that no interest of any kind – including professed support for Israel – “can justify a shameful alliance with groups or individuals who fail to recognize responsibility for the crimes of the Holocaust, who take action to silence such recognition, and who envisage recreating such crimes against any foreigner, refugee or migrant who dares, in his view, ‘to contaminate’ their living space.”

Deutsch attached to his email a document listing some 70 examples of what his committee defined as extreme right-wing statements and actions made by FPÖ politicians.

“The FPÖ agitates in a very vicious way against refugees and minorities,” the document concluded. “Racism is the order of the day … Antisemitism also resurfaces over and over again. The FPÖ is working closely with right-wing extremist forces in Austria and abroad, as well as with the authoritarian Putin regime in Russia. The FPÖ shows time and again a close proximity to the Nazi ideology.”

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