One of two candidates for the Austrian presidency has been accused of exaggerating and possibly even making up an account of witnessing the shooting of an armed terrorist in Jerusalem during a past visit.
Norbert Hofer, 45, candidate of the hard-right Freedom Party (FPOe), has repeatedly claimed that during a July 30, 2014 visit to the Temple Mount, he witnessed a Palestinian woman armed with grenades and a machine gun being shot by Israeli security forces as she attempted to attack worshipers. He claimed to have been 10 meters (32 feet) from the woman when the incident occurred.
However, the Guardian reported that during a debate with his rival Alexander van der Bellen, a moderator accused Hofer of inventing the story, showing a clip of an Israel Police spokesperson saying the incident in question had not taken place.
The Times of Israel has no account of such an incident. On July 30 a woman was in fact shot at the Temple Mount, but it was an unarmed Israeli ultra-Orthodox woman who was shot in the leg by a police officer, at a security checkpoint at the entrance to the Western Wall. The woman, who was covered up in cloths and was later identified as being a member of the extreme sect referred to as the “Jewish Taliban,” did not stop at the checkpoint when asked to do so, according to the police.
Austria’s Die Presse has reported that David Lasar, a Vienna city official who was with Hofer on that trip, remembered the incident differently. Lasar said the two were simply not allowed to leave their car after parking it near the Western Wall, with officials telling them a terrorist had been shot nearby.
Hofer has been attacked over the claims, with critics saying he embellished the incident to make himself seem heroic. He has dismissed the accusations that he lied about his experience, saying such claims were smears against him.
On April 24 Hofer won the first round of elections for the largely-ceremonial post of president. He will face off against van der Bellen, a former head of the Greens who came second, in a May 22 runoff.
Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann resigned following the triumph by the far-right last month in the first round of presidential elections.
The two candidates from the ruling coalition parties, Faymann’s center-left Social Democrats (SPOe) and the centre-right People’s Party (OeVP), were knocked out.
This means that for the first time since 1945, there will not be a president from either of these two centrist parties.
The two parties have dominated Austrian politics since World War II, but their support has been sliding for years.
At the last general election, in 2013, they only just scratched together a majority.
Now, the FPOe is leading opinion polls with over 30 percent, the SPOe and the OeVP with less than 50 between them.
The FPOe has been boosted by unease about the arrival last year of 90,000 asylum-seekers.