Israel loses close friend in Austria... for now - analysis

The Austrian parliament on Monday sent youthful Chancellor Sebastian Kurz packing in a no-confidence measure one day after the EU parliament elections.

By
May 29, 2019 01:50
2 minute read.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) shakes hands with Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (L)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) shakes hands with Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (L) during a meeting on June 11, 2018. (photo credit: OHAD TZVEIGENBERG‏/POOL)

If you think Israeli politics is crazy, take a look at Austria.

There, the Austrian Parliament on Monday sent youthful Chancellor Sebastian Kurz packing in a no-confidence measure one day after his party – the People’s Party – did extremely well in the EU Parliament elections, while the opposing Social Democratic Party had its worst ever showing in an EU Parliament vote.

The no-confidence vote followed a video that emerged earlier this month showing vice chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache, from the far-right Freedom Party, discussing giving state contracts to a woman posing as a Russian oligarch’s niece in return for financial or political favors.

Strache quit, Kurz called for a snap election in September, and then he fired the Freedom Party’s interior minister. As a result, the other Freedom Party ministers quit, and that party – together with the Social Democrats – voted Kurz out of office in Monday’s no-confidence motion, the first time this has happened in post-war Austria.

Austria’s President Alexander Van der Bellen is now expected to appoint a caretaker chancellor until the September elections.

And why should any of this matter to Israel? Because Kurz has emerged as one of Israel’s best friends in Europe, giving pro-Israel speeches, tweeting his support, visiting the Western Wall during a visit, standing up for Israel in various EU forums, and developing a close relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

For instance, Kurz last year took to Twitter to condemn comments by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who called Israel a “cancerous tumor” and urged for its destruction.

“I strongly condemn the unacceptable statements by President Rouhani regarding Israel. Questioning Israel’s right to exist and calling for its destruction is absolutely unacceptable,” Kurz wrote on Twitter.

And during a visit last June, he said Austria was not only a victim of Nazism – as the country widely portrayed itself up until the 1990s – but also a perpetrator of Nazi crimes. As such, he said, the country has a responsibility not only to its Jews but also to the country of the Jews.

What was groundbreaking in these words was not acknowledgment of Austria’s crimes during the Holocaust, but saying this gave the country a special responsibility toward Israel.

What made Kurz unique for Israel on the European stage is that unlike some of Israel’s other good friends in Europe – such as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Italy’s Deputy Premier Matteo Salvini – Kurz is not on the far Right and not suspect of harboring non-democratic tendencies.

He is someone, one source in Jerusalem said, who Israel can feel comfortable being seen out with in public. He is proof that it is possible to be a conservative European leader who is strongly pro-Israel, and at the same time neither anti-EU nor a populist.

That Kurz lost Monday’s no-confidence motion and is being forced from office is a loss for Israel, and Jerusalem is at least one capital in the world which – at least privately – will be pulling for him to win re-election in September, perhaps to return with an even stronger mandate.


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