Israel and the Nazis in the basement

Should Israeli politicians continue to disassociate themselves from Europe’s extreme right-wing populists?

SUPPORTERS OF the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) react after first exit polls in the general election during a party meeting in Vienna, Austria, in October. (photo credit: REUTERS)
SUPPORTERS OF the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) react after first exit polls in the general election during a party meeting in Vienna, Austria, in October.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
For months a debate has been taking place in Israel, especially in the print media, as to why Israeli politicians should continue to disassociate themselves from Europe’s extreme right-wing populists.
Those actively engaged in this debate are former or current Likud officials (Rafael Eitan, Michael Kleiner, Ayoob Kara), journalists of the Right and extreme Right camp in Israel (Ariel Kahana) and in Berlin (Eldad Beck), the settlement movement and regrettably, also the former WJC vice president, Isi Leibler.
It must be questioned whether these gentlemen are aware of Europe’s history of the past 80 years. Unfortunately, Austria has always played a special part in that history: if antisemitism had not already existed for over 2,000 years, one could be forgiven for assuming it had been invented in Austria: Maria Theresia, Georg Schönerer, Viennese mayor Karl Lueger and, more recently, Adolf Hitler, Adolf Eichmann, Brunner, Kaltenbrunner, etc.
Following the murders of six million Jews (of whom 65,000 were Austrians) the “de-Nazification” from 1945 onwards took not more than two years before Austria defined itself as the first victim of Nazi Germany and started the “Schlussstrichdebatte” (debate on putting an end to the past).
The subsequent 40 years saw the Social Democrats (SPO) with federal president Adolf Schärf and interior minister Oskar Helmer (“I am in favor of drawing this out” – meaning any restitution); Bruno Kreisky and his colleagues in the showdown with Simon Wiesenthal; Bruno Kreisky’s anti-Israel statements: “Begin, the Polish shyster,” “the Jewish people, if they are a people, it is a rotten people”; the making of many former SS and SA members federal ministers, the nomination of Friedrich Peter, a member of the Nazi murder brigades, president of the Austrian Parliament.
Federal chancellor Josef Klaus (OVP) referred to himself as “the genuine Austrian”; Kurt Waldheim “only did his duty”; other OVP MPs Mock, Schwimmer and Graff attacked the “East Coast Lobby” and ran a pro-Waldheim campaign (“Now more than ever”), etc.
But the champion of neo-Nazism was the VdU (the party of former Nazis), which soon became the FPO and which has used hundreds of antisemitic slogans, codes, and racist and inflammatory sayings in the past 70 years. There are far too many to list here.
Let me therefore highlight a single one: Jörg Haider, leader of the FPO from 1986, said of me, at the time president of the Austrian Jewish community, in a speech in 2001: “I do not understand how someone can be called Ariel [a reference to a brand of detergent] and have so much dirt on him.”
In the legal disputes that ensued, Haider ultimately had to retract his statement, apologize and promise to cease and desist from any attacks on the Jewish community and any form of antisemitism.
When Haider and his BZO party separated from the FPO a few years later it was important for him to use this step to get rid of the neo-Nazis and the most extreme right-wing fraternity members. And that is why today’s FPO is dominated by extreme right-wing fraternity members.
As it later transpired, the author of the “dirt on him” statement was Herbert Kickl, secretary general of the FPO for many years and now the newly-installed Austrian interior minister.
And this brings us back to our current problem: never before have so many members of extreme right-wing fraternities sat in the Austrian Parliament and the Municipal Council of Vienna – and those who have no political jobs are brought into the relevant offices by FPO ministers (to the ministries and to key positions in the country).
The spokesman for Infrastructure Minister Norbert Hofer, Herwig Götschober, was seen at a memorial function for the Nazi war criminal Walter Nowotny and has a close relationship with the Nazi Gottfried Küssel. René Schimanek, Norbert Hofer’s new principal private secretary, was formerly a member of a neo-Nazi group. This is the same Norbert Hofer who a few years ago demanded the abolition of the Austrian National Socialism Prohibition Act [Verbotsgesetz] (against the Auschwitz Lie) and then retracted this demand during his career as the third president of the Austrian Parliament and presidential candidate.
Herbert Kickl appointed Alexander Höferl, former editor of the “” platform, which has close ties to the FPO and has repeatedly presented racist content, conspiracy theories or antisemitic content, as his communications manager. The list can be extended ad nauseam.
Today around 15,000 Jews live in Austria, half of whom are members of the Jewish community (IKG).
People always ask us how it was possible that our parents settled in Austria in light of the above.
Everyone will probably have to give their own answer to this. However, what developed in this hostile climate was a vibrant Jewish community which is mainly based on two foundations: a distinct Jewish identity and a close relationship with the State of Israel.
In the past both have been synonymous with a clear and unmistakable disassociation from rightwing extremism and a decided stance against any form of antisemitism, whether it be from the Right or the Left, from the Church or, most recently, from Muslim immigrants.
And now we see Israeli politicians who seem to have never heard of the Gothians, the Olympians, the Teutonians and other fraternities and therefore have no idea of so-called “Keller Nazis” pushing for cooperation with the FPO.
Keller Nazis are people that have learned to keep their antisemitic jokes, speeches and songs to their own “dens”, i.e. in cellar pubs, to avoid potentially lengthy prison sentences. Maybe those proponents of a joint policy with the Austrian Keller Nazis will themselves wonder whether the ends really do justify the means, whether it is permissible to become involved with the FPO to obtain political support for the current Israeli government policy, and whether the relocation of an Austrian embassy to Jerusalem justifies a common cause with the heirs of the Nazis.
The writer is vice president of the European Jewish Congress/World Jewish Congress.