Vienna says still wants to give citizenship to descendants of Holocaust victims
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Vienna says still wants to give citizenship to descendants of Holocaust victims

Rebutting claim that far-right Freedom Party stalling the move, Austrian envoy says it has broad consensus but is part of a ‘slow process’

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz speaks to an Israeli Holocaust survivor from Austria in Jerusalem, June 10, 2018. (Gali Tibbon/AFP/Getty Images/via JTA)
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz speaks to an Israeli Holocaust survivor from Austria in Jerusalem, June 10, 2018. (Gali Tibbon/AFP/Getty Images/via JTA)

The government in Vienna remains fully committed to advancing legislation granting citizenship to the descendants of Austrian Holocaust victims, Austrian officials insisted Thursday, rebuffing a report claiming that parts of the ruling coalition were stalling on the promised reform.

“Amending the Austrian Citizenship Law in order to extend the Austrian citizenship to Shoah victims’ descendants enjoys wide support by all political parties represented in the Austrian Parliament,” Martin Weiss, the country’s ambassador in Tel Aviv, told The Times of Israel.

“It is true that the current overhaul of the Austrian Citizenship Law, of which this provision is part of, is a slow process. However, amending basic citizenship laws is — entirely unrelated to the issue of extending the Austrian citizenship to Shoah victims’ descendants — always a politically sensitive process,” he added.

Besides the descendants of Holocaust victims, the planned citizenship law reform would also include granting Austrian passports to German speakers in South Tyrol and UK citizens with Austrian roots.

Earlier on Thursday, the Haaretz newspaper reported that the plan to give descendants of Holocaust victims Austrian passports “has been stymied” by the far-right Freedom Party, “saying it would set a precedent for other foreigners.”

The Freedom Party, known by its German acronym FPOe, is the junior partner in Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s ruling coalition. Due to its Nazi past, the local Jewish community and the State of Israel are boycotting the party and its officials.

Haaretz’s description of the situation is “very misleading,” according to Weiss.

“No member of the Austrian government is on record opposing the extension of the Austrian citizenship to the descendants of Shoah victims,” the ambassador said. “Quite on the contrary: the Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor [FPOe leader Heinz-Christian Strache] and Foreign Minister [Karin Kneissl] have repeatedly said — on the record — that they are in full support. To suggest otherwise is simply false.”

Ambassador Martin Weiss at the President’s residence in Jerusalem, February 1, 2016 (Issac Harari/Flash90)

The current government has repeatedly committed itself to extending Austrian citizenship to the descendants of Holocaust victims, including in a formal decision in March, Weiss added. Indeed, the move “enjoys wide support by all political parties represented in the Austrian parliament,” he stressed.

Also Foreign Minister Kneissl, who is affiliated with but not a member of the FPOe, on Thursday reiterated her government’s commitment to advancing the planned amendment to the country’s citizenship law.

At the same time, she criticized as “mistimed” an initiative by the Social Democrats, who sit in the opposition, who on Thursday introduced their own bill that would grant Austrian citizenship to descendants of people who fled the country due to Nazi persecution.

Austria would first have to withdraw from a 1968 European Council Convention on the Reduction of Cases of Multiple Nationality and on Military Obligations in Cases of Multiple Nationality, she argued.

In a November interview with The Times of Israel, Kneissl had said that she was “very glad indeed that the descendants of Austrian Holocaust survivors — even in the second and third generation — will soon be able to receive Austrian citizenship while maintaining their current nationality.”

At the time, she said it was too early to say when exactly descendants of Holocaust survivors could apply for Austrian passports.

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)

“We are in the process of preparing a detailed legislative proposal for this, so it is a bit too early to say when this new law will be adopted by parliament. But we are speaking about months, not years,” she said.

“There will definitely be a few hundred Israelis who are interested in receiving the Austrian citizenship, maybe more,” she estimated.

According to current Austrian law, only children — but not grandchildren — of Austrian citizens persecuted during the Holocaust could claim Austrian nationality. The coalition agreement struck by Chancellor Kurz’s People’s Party and Strache’s far-right FPOe promised to consider changing the existing situation.

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