Austria's Kurz Says Netanyahu Will Attend anti-Semitism Conference in Vienna

Move is part of Austrian government's effort to lift Israeli boycott of coalition partner Freedom Party, which has Nazi roots

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, Israel, June 11, 2018.
Chaim Tzach / GPO

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz announced on Wednesday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will come to Vienna later this month to attend a conference centered on the fight against anti-Semitism.

The meeting on November 20 and 21 will bring together representatives from EU member countries and Israel, as well as American and European Jewish organizations. The last time an Israeli prime minister visited Austria was over 21 years ago.

"We must always remember our historic responsibility and do everything in our power to fight all forms of anti-Semitism," Kurz tweeted on Wednesday.

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"It is my distinct pleasure to welcome Prime Minister #Netanyahu for an official visit to #Austria! I look forward to attending the conference together with you, PM @netanyahu!" added Kurz, whose conservative People's Party rules in a coalition alongside the far-right Freedom Party, which Israel boycotts.

Kurz also announced that Austria's government will build a second Holocaust memorial in Vienna to commemorate the names of some 66,000 Austrian Jews who were killed under the Nazi regime.

"The responsibility to remember the 66,000 Austrian Jews who were murdered by the Nazi terror regime and the memory of this dark chapter of our history are too important to lose any more time," Kurz said. The Austrian leader noted that the state will cover nearly all of the costs for the new memorial.

In addition, Kurz recently stated that Austria will open up the opportunity for children and grandchildren of Holocaust victims to obtain Austrian citizenship, should they wish to do so.

The increased focus on combating anti-Semitism and commemorating the Holocaust is part of an effort by the Austrian government to lift Israel’s boycott of the Freedom Party, which is known for its anti-Semitic and Nazi roots.

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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, however, 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.

After the party entered the Austrian coalition government headed by Kurz in December, Netanyahu announced that Israel would not have contact with Austrian cabinet minister affiliated with the party and would instead maintain working contact with those ministries at the professional staff level alone.