MK Yehuda Glick (Likud) has arrived in Europe ahead of his planned meetings with Austrian Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache and Austrian Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl on Tuesday.
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 relieved itself from its past, while Strache has been trying to present himself as pro-Israel in recent years.
Glick said he accepted an invitation from Strache and Kneissl and plans to talk with them on ways to fight hatred, anti-Semitism and racism in Austria, and ways to strengthen the trust and ties between Israel and Austria in general and the FPO in particular.
He added that based on his acquaintance with the too, he is highly optimistic that Israel can work with them. “I called in the past and call today on the 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 stand regarding meetings between senior Israeli officials and Strache. Foreign Ministry officials clarified that the government would continue to maintain professional working relations with the Austrian government despite the inclusion of the far-right Freedom Party in the coalition.
The last time the Freedom Party joined Austria’s ruling coalition, in 2000, Israel responded vigorously: it withdrew its ambassador in Vienna and reduced the level of its relations with Austria.
Nowadays things are different, since Strache has managed in recent years to make some powerful friends among Israel’s right-wing settlers, partly based on his promise to move Austria’s embassy to Jerusalem and his support for construction in the settlements.