Ambassador Returns as PM Says Haider Unwelcome Here

Gideon Alon
Aluf Benn
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Gideon Alon
Aluf Benn

Published 6 February 2000

Israel has recalled its ambassador from Vienna to protest the inclusion of Joerg Haider's extreme right-wing Freedom Party in Austria's new government. Prime Minister Ehud Barak announced on Friday that Haider is not welcome in Israel.

Austrian President Thomas Klestil told Israeli lawmakers, meanwhile, that he had no choice but to approve the new coalition and in a letter to MK Avi Yehezkel said that if he had not accepted Haider's coalition, it would have meant new elections in which the Freedom Party would have won a sweeping victory.

In Jerusalem, the Foreign Ministry announced the recall, one of the harshest gestures in the diplomatic arsenal, shortly after the new government was sworn in by Austria's president.

"Israel cannot remain silent in the face of the rise of extremist right-wing parties, in particular in those countries which played a role in the events that brought about the eradication of a third of the Jewish people in the Holocaust," the ministry said in a statement.

Barak called Friday, when the coalition was sworn in, "a black day for Austrian democracy and a sad day for the free world." In a statement, he praised former Austrian Chancellor Viktor Klima for refusing to sit in a coalition with Haider and claimed that most Austrians oppose the Freedom Party joining the government.Israel will reassess its relations with Austria, Barak said, but it is unlikely that Jerusalem will go ahead with a full-scale cut in diplomatic ties. Barak said he was in touch with other democracies to develop a strategy for opposing the new government, and that the issue would be discussed in today's cabinet session.

Israel's ambassador to Austria , Nathan Meron, was already on board a flight to Israel when the recall was announced. He arrived in Israel later Friday but would not answer questions from reporters.

Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel, who assumed his post Friday, told Channel Two TV that the sanctions against Austria by Israel and other countries - including an unprecedented European Parliament criticism of the new Vienna government - was "unfair."

"It's a pity that Israel reacts like that," he said, pointing out that the new coalition signed a declaration affirming its support for democracy and renouncing anti-Semitism.

Schuessel called Israel a friend and said Austria would also be willing to face up to its activities during the Holocaust. "We have to do something in that respect, restitution, and we stand ready for that," he said.

Meanwhile, Haider told the deeply divided Austrian public yesterday not to worry about international isolation, saying the new governing coalition would soon prove its democratic credentials to the world.

Haider blamed leftists for the violence which broke out here Friday after the new coalition with the Austrian People's Party took power. More than 50 people, including 43 policemen and 13 demonstrators, were injured in the clashes. Vienna was quiet yesterday but anti-government rallies were planned in Bregenz, Salzburg, Graz and Steyr.

"Hysteria is unnecessary," Haider told the Austria Press Agency. "The EU will quickly get used to the fact that the Freedom Party now sits in the Cabinet, which has good programs, expertise and good manners," he said.

He expressed confidence that "good work and an aggressive information policy" would overcome hostility to the government. "We will put to shame everyone who undertook unjustified, negative arguments against the new Austrian government and tried to smear our democracy," he said.

A survey of 500 Austrian voters taken Thursday by the OGM research institute found that 43 percent opposed President Thomas Klestil's decision to swear in the new coalition and 45 supported it. No margin of error was given, but the institute described the breakdown as a statistical draw, according to a report by the Austria Press Agency.

The survey also found that only 38 percent believed international isolation would last long, while 53 percent believed - as Haider - that it would end "in the near future." Nevertheless, the 14 other EU nations have reduced their diplomatic ties as threatened, canceling contracts and official visits.

In another development, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer told the Austrian magazine Profil: "We cannot stand by while an anti-foreigner party, an anti-European party which qualifies the Nazi past, shares power. The EU must not accept that xenophobia and right-wing radicalism be considered qualified to govern."

In Madrid, European center-right parties said on Saturday there was no place in Europe for racism and xenophobia. A communique issued at the end of a two-day meeting of the European People's Party - Europe's main conservative grouping - called for respect for the rights of immigrants.

Haider did win sympathy from one source yesterday when Serbia lashed out at the West for interfering in Austrian affairs, accusing the EU and the United States of hypocrisy. "..the hypocrisy of the EU and the United States is almost criminal," said Information Minister Aleksandar Vucic.