Austrian chancellor slams anti-Israel ad

Extreme right-wing Austrian Freedom Party publishes ad saying it "vetoes EU accession of Israel."

werner faymann 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
werner faymann 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
The extreme right-wing Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) bashed Israel in a tabloid newspaper advertisement on Sunday, prompting Social Democratic Chancellor Werner Faymann to term the party anti-Semitic for targeting the Jewish state ahead of June 7's European Union election. "FPÖ veto against EU accession of Turkey and Israel," the populist Kronen Zeitung newspaper titled the advertisement. The debate over the ad in the mass circulation Kronen Zeitung erupted in the Austrian media in raucous, dueling exchanges between Faymann and the Freedom Party, whose leader, Heinz-Christian Strache, took part in paramilitary activities with neo-Nazis in the late 1980s and has been known to use the Nazi salute. Faymann told the liberal Standard newspaper, "It is completely nonsensical for Israel to be mentioned here. Israel is not a candidate for accession. There isn't even an accession process. The only reason to mention Israel here is to satisfy anti-Semitic prejudice. It's a scandal. We have no sympathy for such agitation. I strongly condemn this agitation. "In our country it can't become merely a triviality to try to distinguish yourself in connection with Israel and religious sentiments by fomenting hatred in order to gain a few votes." The FPÖ called Faymann's criticism a "rampage," and FPÖ general secretary Harald Vilimsky said he had damaged the "image of the office of chancellor even more than was already the case." A spokesman for the Israeli Embassy declined to comment on the FPÖ advertisement. While the Vienna-based European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights identifies improperly singling out Israel as a manifestation of modern anti-Semitism, most Austrian politicians and many academics frequently do not equate bias against Israel with anti-Semitism. According to observers in Austria, Faymann's criticism caught many off-guard because he had addressed that modern form of anti-Semitism. The late Jörg Haider, a Nazi admirer, helped lead the Freedom Party into a coalition government with the conservative People's Party in 2000, prompting Israel to temporarily sever diplomatic relations with Austria. Strache followed in Haider's footsteps as Freedom Party chairman and scored a high-turnout election victory in September, catapulting the FPÖ into the third-largest party in the Austrian parliament. Faymann has described Strache as a "hate preacher" and charged the FPÖ with stoking hatred against Muslims in Austria. Michael Howanietz - who works in the office of FPÖ national press spokesman Karl Heinz Grünsteidl - told The Jerusalem Post that Faymann's statement was a "distortion of reality" because "Muslims have a background" as preachers of hate. When asked why Israel had been targeted in the full-page ad even though it had not applied for EU membership, Howanietz conceded that "it is not imminent," but added that "there are indications" that Israel was seeking entry into the EU. He cited Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman as articulating interest in joining the organization. Howanietz also mentioned a statement from the People's Party EU candidate Ernst Strasser, who said in 2004 that "Israel fits into the the EU's broader outlines." The FPÖ ad shows a map of Israel and the pro-Israel quote from Strasser. Meanwhile, the FPÖ has called for the resignation of the head of the Vienna Jewish community, Ariel Muzicant, because he compared the FPÖ's Herbert Kickl to Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels. According to the Standard article, FPÖ head Strache played down the seriousness of last week's incident in which a group of young Austrians attacked French Holocaust survivors at the former concentration camp at Ebensee, an annex of the Mauthausen concentration camp. The attackers showed the Nazi salute and fired plastic bullets at the Shoah survivors.