Diversity Macht Frei
December 19, 2017
Whenever Europeans try to defend their countries against Muslim invasion, Jews rally to the defence of their Semitic brothers. The Jew as Ally of the Muslim is a story as old as Islam itself.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who also holds the foreign affairs portfolio, said Monday that Israel will boycott Austria’s far-right ministers, instructing Israeli ministers to work only with lower-ranking officials.
Seeking to cool ties with the Austrian government were officials at the Foreign Ministry, while officials at the Prime Minister’s Office were inclined to accept statements by the far-right Freedom Party that it has broken with its anti-Semitic roots, political sources said.
The new Austrian government took office Monday following two months of negotiations between Sebastian Kurz, the new chancellor and head of the center-right People’s Party, and Heinz-Christian Strache, whose Freedom Party came in third in the October election after the People’s Party and Social Democrats.
When Strache’s party joined a coalition government in 2000, Israel recalled its ambassador and downgraded relations. But this time the response had been slow.
A statement released Monday at the close of discussions between the Foreign Ministry and Prime Minister’s Office said that “Israel will conduct working relations with civil servants in the ministries now led by Freedom Party ministers …. Israel seeks to stress its responsibility to fight anti-Semitism and to commemorate the memory of the Holocaust.”
The statement added that Netanyahu “has a direct line of communication with the Austrian chancellor-elect,” and that he has instructed Yuval Rotem, director general of the Foreign Ministry, to craft an official stance on how Israel will conduct its relationship with the new Austrian government.
Strache is the successor of the Freedom Party’s longtime leader Jörg Haider, who died in a car accident in 2008. The party’s critics say it has still not disassociated itself from its Nazi and anti-Semitic roots. Some if its supporters greet its leaders with a Nazi salute, and Strache once posted an anti-Semitic political cartoon on Facebook and adorned a campaign poster with a slogan with Nazi overtones.
But in recent years, Strache has tried to portray himself as a friend of Israel. He has promised to move Austria’s embassy to Jerusalem and has supported Israel’s construction of settlements in the West Bank.
He has visited Israel at least three times in recent years, meeting with senior members of Netanyahu’s Likud party and touring the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and museum. But on his most recent visit last year, former President Shimon Peres refused to meet with him, on the recommendation of the Foreign Ministry.
Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress – which was among Jewish groups that had called on Kurz not to include the FPÖ in his government – was vocal in his concern over the new coalition.
In a statement released Sunday, he congratulated Kurz as “a capable man who has shown very positive attitudes toward Israel and the Jewish people.” He said, however, that it was “severely disquieting that, despite the many real concerns known and expressed about the FPÖ, it will now retain a position of serious influence, giving the Austrian government a real push even further to the Right.”
“I hope he [Kurz] will make every effort to ensure that the policies set within his government continue to follow a democratic line and do not dissolve into dangerous populism,” he added.
“The FPÖ is a far-right party whose members have in the past expressed xenophobic and antisemitic sentiments. Yet it has now been charged with overseeing the interior, defense, and foreign ministries, three of the most important and powerful fields of government,” Lauder continued. “We have heard promises since the election that FPÖ has softened its policies, but this will remain rhetoric until actual proof of this is shown.”
The European Jewish Congress echoed this sentiment. “The FPÖ has a long history of antisemitism and xenophobia and we are concerned about the fact that they will control government ministries in the new Austrian Government,” Dr. Moshe Kantor, president of the EJC, said Monday. “However, we hope that rather than as expected, that the Freedom Party will have an undue influence on the direction of the government led by the People’s Party, the chancellor and his party will be able to discipline the intolerant elements within the FPÖ.
“The Freedom Party has tried to correct these elements of its past and ideology and now we need to see concrete steps to show that these are not publicity stunts or they will remain outside of the pale for the Jewish community. The Freedom Party can not use the Jewish community as a fig leaf and must show tolerance and acceptance towards all communities and minorities,” Kantor added.
In an email sent after the elections, Oskar Deutsch, president of the Jewish Communities of Austria, wrote that the Jewish community, as well as the World Jewish Congress and the European Jewish Congress, called on Kurz not to include the FPÖ in the next government because “many representatives of the FPÖ,” including Strache, have “used antisemitic codes, made extreme right-wing statements and have promoted hatred and racism,” including during the recent electoral campaign.
The letter also stated that several of the party’s candidates have in the past “called for the elimination of legislation against Holocaust denial.”
The Board of Deputies of British Jews also expressed “deep concern” on Monday over the coalition agreement.
The board’s senior vice president Richard Verber said: “The far Right brought unprecedented misery on Austria and other European countries in the past. It is up to all European countries, including the new government of Austria, to make sure it does not do so again in the future.”
“We fully support the position adopted by the Austrian Jewish community, European Jewish Congress and World Jewish Congress of non-engagement with the far Right in Europe,” he added. “While some parties claim to have disavowed their antisemitic and racist roots, actions speak much louder than words. We urge the European Union and other international partners to carefully monitor the situation in the coming weeks and months and respond as appropriate.”
Rabbi Menachem Margolin, founder of the European Jewish Association called on the new government to join other countries in appointing a special government representative to initiate and coordinate government action to eradicate antisemitism and xenophobia in Austria, “and to clarify that freedom of religion in Austria will remain unchanged.”