Austrian envoy to attend Knesset debate on boycott of far-right Freedom Party
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Austrian envoy to attend Knesset debate on boycott of far-right Freedom Party

Former Labor party leader Amir Peretz intervenes after Israeli Foreign Ministry opposes Ambassador Martin Weiss taking part in meeting

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin (R) attends a ceremony for the incoming Austrian ambassador to Israel, Martin Weiss, at the President's residence in Jerusalem, February 1, 2016.  (Issac Harari/Flash90)
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin (R) attends a ceremony for the incoming Austrian ambassador to Israel, Martin Weiss, at the President's residence in Jerusalem, February 1, 2016. (Issac Harari/Flash90)

Austria’s ambassador will participate in a debate on Israel’s ban on official contacts with the right-wing Freedom Party, despite Foreign Ministry opposition, following the intervention of a Zionist Union lawmaker, Channel 10 News reported Sunday.

Amir Peretz, a former defense minister and Labor party leader, currently serving as Chairman of the Israel-Austria Parliamentary Friendship Society, told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee’s administrator that he had personally invited Ambassador Martin Weiss to take part in the discussion, and that the foreign ministry’s position was unacceptable.

Weiss confirmed that Peretz had invited him to Monday’s debate and said he had “happily agreed.”

Avi Dichter (Likud), chairman of the committee, said the debate was open anyway. “Anyone authorized by the Knesset guard to enter the Knesset plenum can attend this meeting,” he said.

Former Labor party leader Amir Peretz casts his vote at a polling station in Dimona on July 4, 2017. (Flash90)

Israel’s policy since last year’s Austrian elections has been to keep contacts with right-wing Freedom Party-led ministries at the level of the civil service only.

In December, the party’s leader Heinz-Christian Strache said it was hoped the ban on contacts would be overturned, although he said he “fully respects” Jerusalem’s decision.

The Freedom Party (FPOe) is the junior member in Austria’s governing coalition, sitting in government with Sebastian Kurz’s right-of-center People’s Party.

Founded in 1956, it emerged from the short-lived Federation of Independents, launched after World War II by former Nazis who had been stripped of their voting rights. Its first chief was an ex-officer from the Waffen SS and its last one, before Strache, was Joerg Haider, the controversial son of a former Nazi party official.

Haider attracted negative publicity by praising the Third Reich’s “orderly” employment policy, calling SS veterans “decent people” and describing concentration camps as “punishment camps.” He was killed in a car crash in 2008.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache, from left, wait for the start of a commemoration on the occasion of the 80th anniversary of the connection to Hitler Germany, the so-called Anschluss, at the Hofburg palace in Vienna, Austria, Monday, March 12, 2018. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak)

Under Strache, now Austria’s Vice Chancellor, the anti-immigration FPOe has made efforts to distance itself from pro-Nazi views and has also adopted strong pro-Israel positions.

In December, Strache said, “We are striving for an honest, sustainable and friendly contact with Israel,” adding, “It will be our task to do a good job at home as well as to convince abroad. I am optimistic that we will dispel all concerns.”

He also said, “My party will be an essential partner in Europe´s fight against anti-Semitism,” according to a tweet from Martin Weiss.

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