Jewish community shuns Austria’s new far-right ministers
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Jewish community shuns Austria’s new far-right ministers

Move continues long-standing policy of boycotting the Freedom Party, with its Nazi roots; Israel also rejects meetings with party ministers

A demonstrator holds a poster 'Nazis out of the parliament' during a demonstration prior to the swearing-in ceremony of the new Austrian government led by a conservative and a nationalist party in Vienna, Austria, December 18, 2017. (Ronald Zak/AP)
A demonstrator holds a poster 'Nazis out of the parliament' during a demonstration prior to the swearing-in ceremony of the new Austrian government led by a conservative and a nationalist party in Vienna, Austria, December 18, 2017. (Ronald Zak/AP)

VIENNA  — Jewish community leaders in Austria have said they’ll keep shunning the far-right nationalist Freedom Party, despite it joining the country’s new government.

The Jewish Community of Vienna, which represents most Jews in Austria, said that its leadership voted unanimously Tuesday against establishing contacts with representatives of the Freedom Party (FPOe). The decision continues a practice started in 2000.

The Freedom Party is in a coalition with the conservative Austrian People’s Party and holds key ministries including interior, defense and foreign affairs.

In a statement Wednesday, the Jewish Community cited the Freedom Party’s links to a nationalist student fraternity steeped in anti-Semitic ideology, its calls for a ban on religious animal slaughter and its members’ efforts to abolish anti-Nazi legislation.

Almost a third of 206,000 Jews living in pre-war Austria were killed in the Holocaust.

Israel has also said it will shun the party.

Israel said last month that it would work with the new Austrian government “for the moment,” but would limit contacts with ministries run by the party to civil servants.

Demonstrators hold banners featuring signs barring the Future Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and the incoming vice-chancellor of the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe) Christian Strache during their protest against the new Austrian government near the presidential palace during the inauguration of the new Austrian government in Vienna, Austria, on December 18, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / JOE KLAMAR)

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.

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,” the 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)

 

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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