A leading voice in European Jewry has admitted that Austrian Jews voted for the country’s presidential candidate Norbert Hofer, who last month almost became Europe’s first far-right head of state.

Pinchas Goldschmidt, head of the Conference of European Rabbis (CER), told Reuters that “a not insignificant part of the [Jewish] community here voted for Hofer,” adding: “When God gave out intelligence, not everybody stood in line.”

Anti-immigration candidate Hofer lost out to his Green Party rival by the narrowest of margins – around 30,000 votes – in the country’s presidential election in May, and Goldschmidt said his message would have been attractive to Austria’s security-conscious Jews.

“When those parties come with a populist message to the Jews and say ‘We’re going to save you from the Muslims,’ … propaganda is effective,” said the CER chief.

Recent years have seen a similar shift in support among Jews for French far-right parties such as Front National, which is often seen as ‘anti-Muslim,’ and Goldschmidt said the free movement of people within Europe was a source of discontent.

“Populist right-wing parties raised real concerns of people… Unless the mainstream parties address those issues, they’re going to lose.”

He added that “moderate Muslims” were “our natural ally,” saying: “They are as much the victims of radical Islamism as we Jews. It is the populism, the generalisation, which is dangerous and destructive.”