Likud MK to meet Austrian far-right Freedom Party boss

Flouting Foreign Ministry ban on meetings with far-right ministers, Yehudah Glick to hold talks with Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache

Likud MK Yehudah Glick in the Knesset, May 29, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Likud MK Yehudah Glick in the Knesset, May 29, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Likud lawmaker Yehudah Glick is to meet in Austria with Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache, leader of the far right Austrian Freedom Party, flouting a Foreign Ministry ban on Israeli politicians meeting with him or any of his party’s ministers.

Glick, a non-conformist MK, who has met with Strache before and has urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to do so as well, claimed he had been given a green light for the meeting, although Israel Radio reported Friday that he had consulted neither with the Foreign Ministry nor with the Prime Minister’s Office.

The anti-immigration Freedom Party (FPOe) is notorious for being the political home of neo-Nazis and xenophobes, but has in recent years made efforts to distance itself from such views. It has also adopted strong pro-Israel positions.

Left wing lawmakers slammed Glick for planning to meet with the FPOe.

Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg attends an Interior Affairs Committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, November 30, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Tamar Zandberg (Meretz), said this was “another part of the Likud’s dangerous relationship with anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi parties in Europe.” She said the Likud’s “hatred of Muslims” made it a role model for anti-Semites.

Yariv Oppenheimer, former head of the left-wing Peace Now organization, said Glick was “rushing to meet with those continuing in the footsteps of Jörg Haider.”

Haider lead the Freedom Party during its first stint in a governing coalition, from 2000 to 2005. A controversial figure, he praised Hitler’s “orderly employment policies,” called SS veterans “decent people,” and described concentration camps as “punishment camps.”

Glick tweeted Friday that it was “left-wing logic” that a person was a “criminal” for meeting with Strache and Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl, a Freedom Party nominee — people who were “at the forefront” of the fight against anti-Semitism and racism — but OK to meet German ministers who had made anti-Semitic remarks.

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

In the eyes of Israeli diplomats, the question of whether Israel boycotts or cooperates with the far-right party goes to very heart of what it means to be a Jewish state in an era of an ascending populist right.

On the one hand, Israel wants to stand strong against anti-Semitism and back Austria’s Jews, who object to any ties with the FPOe -— not only because of its dubious past but also due to alleged racist and anti-Semitic undertones in last year’s election campaign.

On the other hand, Austria is an important country in Europe, and Israel wants to maintain the good relationship it has established with the former foreign minister and new chancellor, Sebastian Kurz.

Austria’s Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl (C) and Belgium’s Foreign Minister Didier Reynders attend a foreign affair council at the European Council in Brussels, January 22, 2018. (AFP photo / Emmanuel Dunand)

Israel’s policy since the election has been to keep contacts with FPOe-led ministries at the level of the civil service only.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is in direct contact with the Austrian Chancellor, Sebastian Kurz of the OeVP.

In December, Strache said his party hoped 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.

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