British Jews concerned as far-right get key posts in Austrian government

British Jews concerned as far-right get key posts in Austrian government

Freedom Party to hold interior, defence and foreign ministries in the new coalition government, with its leader as vice chancellor

Heinz-Christian Strache of the Freedom Party,
Heinz-Christian Strache of the Freedom Party,

British Jews have issued concern after the far-right Freedom Party were awarded key posts in the new Austrian coalition government. 

The party will hold the interior, defence and foreign ministries in partnership with the conservative People’s Party in Austria.

The far-right group garnered the third-highest vote total in the October elections, behind the centre-right People’s Party and the centre-left Social Democrats. The results appear to be a result of the refugee crisis in Europe.

People’s Party head Sebastian Kurz, who at 31 becomes Europe’s youngest leader, focused his campaign on the issue of limiting migration, while the Freedom Party ran on a hardline anti-Islam platform. Austria accepted one of the highest proportions of refugees during the 2015 crisis.

The new government will be sworn in next week. Freedom Party head Heinz-Christian Strache will serve as the country’s vice-chancellor under Kurz.

The Jewish Community of Austria has said that the Freedom Party, which was founded in the 1950s by a former Nazi SS officer, is tainted by fascist tendencies and rhetoric, and that the anti-Islam party’s public rejection of anti-Semitism is lip service.

Some 9,000 Jews live in Austria, according to the Jewish Virtual Library figures for 2016, making them about 0.1 percent of the country’s population.

Senior Vice president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews Richard Verber issued concern about their appointment. He 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. 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.”

The European Jewish Congress also outlined their worry, saying: “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.

“However, we hope that rather than as expected, that the Freedom Party will have a problematic 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.”

The Freedom Party last joined the Austrian government in 2000. At the time, Israel recalled its ambassador from Austria and downgraded relations between the two countries. Israel is not expected to react the same way this time, due to common interests in fighting radical Islam and stemming illegal immigration.

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