Opinion

The Freedom Party's neo-Nazis Can't Camouflage Their Hatred of Jews by Visits to Israel

When we celebrate the liberation of Europe from Nazi Germany, Freedom Party parliamentarians mourn the end of the Third Reich. We will take no part in normalizing their participation in government

A demonstrator holds a candle with a picture of Freedom Party head Heinz-Christian Strache in a protest demanding no government participation for the far right in Vienna, Austria. November 15, 2017
REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

The Jewish community in Austria and the State of Israel are not ready to give the Freedom Party (FPÖ) a kosher certification. The reason for the boycott of the ministers of the FPÖ is not the Nazi past of the German nationalist camp. The party has never distanced itself from it. What the FPÖ is today and what the party really stands for - that is the problem. This cannot be camouflaged by Freedom Party leaders' symbolic visits to Israel.

Without a doubt, the most immediate risks for Jews in Europe emanate from radical Muslim anti-Semitism. Most recently, it erupted after U.S. president Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. There was a protest here in Vienna, where people called to "slaughter the Jews" and "Death to Israel", in Arabic and Persian.

Read more: Don't Fixate on the Freedom Party. In Austria Today, the Real anti-Semitic Threat Is From Muslims, Not Nazis Opinion | We Austrian Jews Must Not Legitimize the Nazis in Our Government Opinion | Austria Unveils Plan to 'Sanction' Immigrants Who Do Not Give Up Their Culture News | Netanyahu’s Speedy Absolution for Austria’s neo-Nazis Analysis

Austrian vice-chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache from the far-right Freedom Party and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz (ÖVP) during a special meeting of the Austrian National Assembly, Vienna. December 20, 2017
AFP PHOTO / APA / HERBERT NEUBAUER / Austria OUT

The parties of the center and left have closed their eyes for far too long regarding Muslim anti-Semitism, whether out of fear of being accused of racism, or out of political calculations in terms of gaining votes from the Muslim community at election time. Maybe, also, out of disinterest.

With the jihadist attacks on Charlie Hebdo, the Paris stadium, the metro station in Brussels, in Nice and at the Christmas market in Berlin, however, this thinking has changed. If previously Jewish pupils in Marseille, or Israeli tourists in Bourgas or at the Jewish Museum in Brussels were the targets, now ISIS' terror has been directed against every "unbeliever", in the eyes of those terrorists.

But now, the apologists of Austria's new "black-blue" (far-right and conservative coalition) government would have us believe that violent Islamism is the only problem facing Europe's Jews. By no means! The neo-Nazis are not extinct. They have just taken to wearing masks.

Not every Freedom Party politician is a neo-Nazi. But the fact that 20 out of the 54 FPÖ members of the Austrian parliament are members of right-wing fraternities speaks for itself. While we celebrate the capitulation of Nazi Germany as the liberation of Europe, the German-nationalist fraternity members mourn the end of the Third Reich. These fraternity members are the ideologic core of the FPÖ. The fraternities require proof of Aryan ancestry, and their endorsement of the vicious anti-Semitic 1896 Waidhofen resolutions, which banned Jews on racial grounds, has never been withdrawn.

Adolf Hitler salutes German troops parading in Vienna, Austria, March 1938
AP Photo

Yes, the party leadership distances itself in pretty speeches from anti-Semitism. But it is not doing anything to confront anti-Semitism among its own members. At the contrary: the FPÖ supports the extreme right-wing magazine Aula, where, recently, survivors of the Mauthausen concentration camp were defamed as a "national plague" and "criminals".

Or look at the example of the unzensuriert.at website. The Federal Office for Protection of the Constitution and the Fight Against Terrorism's annual report designates that news site as belonging to the "far right, nationalist camp" and that its "published content is in part extremely xenophobic and shows anti-Semitic tendencies. It also publishes conspiracy theories and a pro-Russian ideology."

This week, the website's chief was appointed head of communications at the now FPÖ-controlled interior ministry, the government office also responsible for the protection of the constitution. 

A protester against the new Austrian government which included a far-right party with Nazi roots. Vienna, Austria. December 18, 2017
Joe Klamar / AFP

In 2016, the incoming FPÖ transport minister was asked: Are you an anti-fascist? He answered, simply: "No".

The Forum Against Anti-Semitism registered a total of 477 anti-Semitic incidents in Austria in 2016. 59 percent were not attributed to an ideological background. But 28 percent of the incidents were assigned to extreme right-wing perpetrators. When apologists for the far right Freedom Party's participation in government declare that the violent far right is extinct in Austria, they're denying reality: That violence is driven by the same far right pool which puts on masks in government, and drop those masks in the street.

If Jewish members of the Austrian parliament, such as the Freedom Party's David Lasar or Martin Engelberg (Austrian People's Party), try to make the FPÖ kosher, then let them try.

But they do not speak for anyone but themselves. The Jewish community and the State of Israel are taking their moral and historical responsibility seriously. We, in Austria's Jewish community, aren't taken in by their masquerade.

Oskar Deutsch is the President of the Jewish Communities of Austria