Austrian far-right leader hopes to overturn Israeli ban
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Austrian far-right leader hopes to overturn Israeli ban

Freedom Party says it ‘respects’ Jerusalem’s decision to forbid direct contact, seeks ‘honest, sustainable and friendly’ dialogue

Heinz-Christian Strache, leader of Austria's far-Freedom Party, speaks during the first session of the national assembly since elections, on November 9, 2017, in Vienna. (AFP Photo/APA/Georg Hochmuth)
Heinz-Christian Strache, leader of Austria's far-Freedom Party, speaks during the first session of the national assembly since elections, on November 9, 2017, in Vienna. (AFP Photo/APA/Georg Hochmuth)

Austrian Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache on Tuesday said his far-right Freedom Party hopes to eventually overturn an Israeli Foreign Ministry ban on contacts, though he “fully respects” Jerusalem’s decision.

“We are striving for an honest, sustainable and friendly contact with Israel,” he said. “I fully respect this decision. 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.”

“My party will be an essential partner in Europe´s fight against anti-Semitism,”  the vice chancellor added, according to a tweet from Austria’s Ambassador to Israel Martin Weiss.

The new Austrian government, a coalition of the conservative People’s Party (OeVP) and the Freedom Party (FPOe), was sworn in Monday.

An Israeli government statement Monday said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who also holds the foreign ministry portfolio, is in “direct contact” with Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz.

It said Netanyahu had instructed the Foreign Ministry to draw up guidelines on how the Jewish state would “conduct itself” in its dealings with the new ruling coalition in Vienna. In the meantime, Israeli diplomats will only deal with civil servants in offices run by the far-right politicians.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz in Jerusalem on April 23, 2014. (photo credit: Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash 90)

“For the moment, Israel will maintain working relations with the professional echelon of the government ministries headed by a minister from the Freedom Party,” the Hebrew-language statement added.

Founded by former Nazis, the FPOe emerged as Europe’s strongest far-right force in the late 1990s.

“The State of Israel wishes to emphasize its absolute commitment to the struggle against anti-Semitism and commemoration of the Holocaust,” Monday’s Foreign Ministry statement said.

Likud MK Yehudah Glick, who met with FPOe head Heinz Christian-Strache when he visited Israel and is in favor of strengthening ties with the party, called Israel’s decision a “serious mistake.”

“It is too bad that the prime minister succumbed to the traditional positions of Foreign Ministry officials and didn’t listen to those familiar [with the FPOe] from up close,” said Glick on Monday.

“It is difficult to understand why the government saw no problem maintaining ties with the socialist party that headed the previous government, even though its members were identified with Hamas and the Popular Front [for the Liberation of Palestine,” Glick added.

This is the FPOe’s second stint in government.

In 2000, the OeVP — now Kurz’s party — picked the FPOe as its junior coalition partner.

At that time, the FPOe was headed by Jorg Haider, who praised Hitler’s “orderly employment policies.”

He called SS veterans “decent people” and described concentration camps as “punishment camps.”

Israel recalled its ambassador from Vienna in protest and its then-prime minister Ehud Barak called Haider “the representative of evil.”

AFP contributed to this report.

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