Diversity Macht Frei
December 5, 2016
Jewish leaders in Europe have expressed relief that Austrian voters have rejected a far-right politician as president in Sunday’s election.
With 53.3 per cent of the vote, Alexander Van der Bellen – former spokesperson for Austria’s Green Party – pulled off a significant win against far-right candidate Norbert Hofer of the Freedom Party who at last count had polled 46.7 per cent.
Reacting to the news, Moshe Kantor, President of the Brussels-based European Jewish Congress, said he was looking forward to working with Mr Van der Bellen. He joined others in “breathing a sigh of relief that the first openly racist and xenophobic head of state was not elected on our continent.”
Mr Kantor said it would have been a disaster for Austria and Europe had Mr Hofer won, because it “might have given a strong tailwind for other similar extremists, like the National Front leader Marine Le Pen.”
The Conference of European Rabbis, headed by Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt of Moscow, said they were “delighted” with Mr Hofer’s defeat and hoped the results “will strengthen political forces in Europe which are committed to combat racism, antisemitism and xenophobia.”
Austria’s Jewish leaders had expressed concern about a possible Hofer presidency. Oskar Deutsch, head of the community, recently endorsed Mr Van der Bellen, despite the fact that some Austrian Jews reject the Green Party’s stand on the Middle East conflict. He insisted Mr Van der Bellen was clearly the preferred candidate.
The presidential post is mostly ceremonial, but a right-populist victory in Austria could have fed into what some pundits see as a growing tendency of right-populist parties across Europe to join forces.
Austria’s official Jewish community numbers some 8,000, but there may be up to twice that number unofficially. About 2,000 Jews in Austria come from the former Soviet bloc states of Bukhara and Georgia.
For the first time in history the Israelite religious community saw itself impelled to express a clear recommendation on how to vote. “Van der Bellen is not the lesser evil, he is the most appropriate candidate and for many years has been a friend of the Jewish community and Israel,” explained community community leader Deutsch last week.