Austrian Chancellor, Whose Deputy's Party Has anti-Semitic Roots, Visits Israel

Sebastian Kurz, who formed a coalition with the Freedom Party, to attend AJC conference in Jerusalem; expected to pressure Netanyahu to withdraw from boycotting far-right party

Netanyahu meets with then-Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz, March 2017
Haim Tzach/GPO

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz is visiting Israel for the first time since his appointment. Kurz will participate Monday in the American Jewish Committee's conference in Jerusalem.

Kurz, chairman of the conservative Austrian People's Party, was appointed chancellor in October and formed a coalition with the far-right Freedom Party, which has anti-Semitic roots. He also appointed Heinz-Christian Strache, leader of the Freedom Party, as his deputy.

Prime Minister Netanyahu announced at the end of last year that Israel would boycott Austrian far-right ministers. Netanyahu also said that Israel would work only with lower-ranking officials in those ministries. Diplomatic sources told Haaretz that the Prime Minister's Office was leaning to accept Freedom Party statements distancing the party from its anti-Semitic roots, but Foreign Ministry officials pushed to cool the relationship between the two countries and prevent ministerial-level meetings.

In response to the boycott decision, Kurz said he respects the move. "It will be our task to do a good job at home as well as to convince abroad. I am optimistic that we will dispel all concerns," he said. Kurz is expected to pressure Netanyahu during his Israel visit to change his stance and stop the boycott.

Netanyahu met Kurz in February at he Munich Security Conference. After the meeting, the first since the Austrian Chancellor formed the coalition with the Freedom Party, Netanyahu said: "He has told me about all the measures they are taking against anti-Semitism and for Israel. [Kurz] said he intends to change Austria’s voting record at the the UN and that he also intends to support Israel's candidacy for the UN Security Council. A very friendly meeting, I think he spoke to the point.”

Kurz won the elections with 31.6 percent of the vote and needed a coalition partner in order to form a stable government. Only two parties received sufficient votes – the Freedom Party and the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPÖ), which came in second.