Amid jitters over far-right, Austria’s Kurz vows no anti-Semitism in coalition
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Amid jitters over far-right, Austria’s Kurz vows no anti-Semitism in coalition

Incoming chancellor, reportedly in talks with nativist Freedom Party, says zero-tolerance for anti-Semitism a precondition for joining government

Sebastian Kurz, left, is handed a document by Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen during a ceremony of Austria's outgoing government formally to tender their resignations in Vienna, Austria, on October 17, 2017, following general elections.  (AFP /APA/HANS PUNZ)
Sebastian Kurz, left, is handed a document by Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen during a ceremony of Austria's outgoing government formally to tender their resignations in Vienna, Austria, on October 17, 2017, following general elections. (AFP /APA/HANS PUNZ)

Austria’s election winner Sebastian Kurz, who may form a coalition with the far right, vowed “zero tolerance” on anti-Semitism in any future government, in an interview published in Israel on Tuesday.

“The battle against anti-Semitism and our policy of zero tolerance against all anti-Semitic tendencies is very important to me,” Kurz told the right-wing Israel Hayom newspaper.

“It is a clear precondition for the formation of any coalition under my leadership,” the 31-year-old conservative told the paper, which is a firm backer of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Kurz’s People’s Party (OeVP) won 31.5 percent of the vote on Sunday, near-complete results show, and his most likely coalition partner is seen as the populist Freedom Party (FPOe), third at 26%.

Media reports said the two parties were already engaged in intensive behind-the-scene talks, with the FPOe demanding key ministerial positions.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz in Jerusalem, on May 16, 2016. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

When the FPOe last entered government, in 2000 under former head Joerg Haider, who praised Hitler’s “orderly” employment policies and praised SS veterans, Israel suspended relations.

They were normalized in 2003 under prime minister Ariel Sharon and the FPOe’s party head since 2005, Heinz-Christian Strache, has moved to soften its image and improve relations with the Jewish state.

Leader of the right-wing Austrian Freedom Party (FPOe) Heinz-Christian Strache (C) stands next to his wife Philippa Beck and FPOe members Norbert Hofer (L) and Johann Gudenus (3rdL) at the end of a campaign event for the country’s parliamentary elections on October 13, 2017 in Vienna. (AFP Photo/Joe Klamar)

Strache, 48, has visited Israel several times, the last time in April 2016 when he met members of Netanyahu’s government and laid a wreath at the Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry stressed at the time that it was a “strictly private visit” that included no official meetings.

Anti-Semitic influence?

Before the election Strache wrote to Netanyahu that Israel “possesses the right to build wherever is required in the Land of Israel” and that Austria’s embassy should be moved to Jerusalem.

Kurz said in the interview that “it is not the time to talk about such a sensitive question” as moving Austria’s representation to the disputed city from Tel Aviv.

The FPOe was created by ex-Nazis in the 1950s and campaigners say that incidents of anti-Semitism and racism by party officials continue.

Leader of Austria’s center-right People’s Party (OeVP) Sebastian Kurz waves to supporters during a party event following the general elections in Vienna, Austria, on October 15, 2017. (AFP Photo/Joe Klamar)

Austria’s Jewish Community (IKG) organisation warned Kurz on Tuesday that a coalition with the FPOe could see people with “anti-Semitic, racist and eurosceptic beliefs” influence the government.

“The FPOe behaved itself during the election campaign. But what the FPOe says and what the FPOe does are two different things,” IKG chief Oskar Deutsch said.

Netanyahu congratulated Kurz in a telephone call on Monday night while calling for the fight against anti-Semitism to continue.

An Israeli official speaking on condition of anonymity said Tuesday it was “premature to take any position while the Austrian coalition is not yet formed.”

Kurz was due to meet on Tuesday afternoon Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen, who is expected to give Kurz a mandate later in the week to form a government.

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