An Israeli lawmaker defended meeting with Austrian Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache and Austrian Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl on Wednesday.
Strache, who was appointed as Austria’s vice-chancellor in December, heads the far-right Freedom Party (FPO), which is known for its anti-Semitic and Nazi roots. Critics say the party has not yet broken with its past, while Strache has been trying to present himself as pro-Israel.
MK Yehudah Glick (Likud) defended his Vienna meeting on Tuesday with Freedom Party officials, tweeting that "Israel turns the world to fight the boycott against it and those branding the products from Judea and Sumaria is itself in partnership of this boycott. At the same time, it boycotts a party in Austria that 25 percent of its voters voted for and its ministers makes up 40% of the government's ministers."
Following his meeting with Strache, Glick said he had opened a “permanent channel for any complaint that I receive relating to the activities of the Freedom Party,” although he noted that he was not in Vienna as an official representative of the Israeli government. He also shared with Strache the concerns that the Knesset member heard from members of Austria’s Jewish community over remnants from the Freedom Party’s past.
Glick is said to have told Strache that Israelis expect him to see to it that Holocaust history is not forgotten, denied or obscured, that young Austrians understand what took place and that no tolerance be shown to neo-Nazism, racism or other hatred.
Glick called for Austria to follow the American lead and recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Strache responded that such a position is currently supported only by a minority in Austria and that, although he supports it, he had been unsuccessful in including it in the current Austrian governing coalition agreement.
Prior to the meeting, Glick said that based on his acquaintance with Strache and Foreign Minister Kneissl, he was highly optimistic that Israel can work with them. “I called in the past and call today on the [Israeli] prime minister and Foreign Ministry to find the way to work in collaboration with all the Austrian ministers, as should be the case between friendly countries with common interests,” Glick said.
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Harald Vilimsky, a member of the FPO and the European Parliament, welcomed Glick to Austria in a tweet on Monday. “Deepening the relations between Israel and Austria. Great meeting!” Vilimsky wrote. In a video posted on Glick’s Facebook account, the Israeli politician introduced Vilimsky as a “friend of Israel” and asked him to comment on claims of anti-Semitism within the FPO.
“We are not an anti-Semitic party,” Vilimsky told Glick, adding that he has had “very interesting meetings” with the Jewish community in Israel and New York. “What we try to do is to improve relations between our people and the Jewish people,” he said. Asked by Glick what he would do if one his party members displayed anti-Semitic ideas, Vilimsky said, “We will kick him out.”
Jerusalem has not yet adopted a clear stance regarding meetings between senior Israeli officials and Strache, but Foreign Ministry officials made it clear that the government would continue to maintain professional working relations with the Austrian government despite the inclusion of the Freedom Party in the coalition.
The last time the Freedom Party joined Austria’s ruling coalition, in 2000, Israel withdrew its ambassador to Vienna and downgraded its relations with Austria.
Now things are different, since Strache has managed in recent years to make some powerful friends among Israel’s right-wing settlers, partly based on support for moving Austria’s embassy to Jerusalem and his support for construction in West Bank settlements.