Israel rejects meetings with far-rightists in new Austrian government
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Israel rejects meetings with far-rightists in new Austrian government

Contact with ministries headed by far-right party to be limited to civil servants; Foreign Ministry stresses need to combat anti-Semitism

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

Israel said Monday it would work with the new Austrian government “for the moment,” but would limit contacts with ministries run by the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) to civil servants.

A government statement said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who also holds the foreign ministry portfolio, is in “direct contact” with Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz of the conservative People’s Party (OeVP).

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.

“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.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said on Monday that Kurz’s decision to take hard-right positions on things such as immigration to win support marked “a dangerous development… in the political life of Europe.”

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 Israeli statement said.

Newly sworn-in Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, left, and new Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache talk during the swearing-in ceremony of the new Austrian government in Vienna, on December 18, 2017. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak)

Zionist Union MK Amir Peretz, who chairs the Knesset’s Israel-Austria Friendship Association, praised Netanyahu and the Foreign Ministry for “boycotting ministers from the extreme right.”

“The State of Israel has good and important connections with the Austrian people and their representatives, but concerning a part with a Nazi past, we draw a clear red line,” said Peretz. “Even on the parliamentary level, we will not have ties with members of the extreme right-wing party.”

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 the 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.

“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.”

Austria’s 14 European Union partners at the time imposed bilateral diplomatic sanctions.

Under pressure, Haider stood down as FPOe leader on May 1, 2000.

The FPOe has since softened its image and won 26 percent of the vote in the October 1 Austrian election.

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