Austrian Jewish Leader: 'Not Credible' That Party With Nazi Roots Stamped Out anti-Semitism From Its Ranks

Remarks come after Freedom Party leader told Israeli lawmaker 'we're not an anti-Semitic party'

Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Head of Austrian far-right Freedom Party (FPO) Heinz-Christian Strache at a news conference in Vienna, Austria. September 25, 2017.
Head of Austrian far-right Freedom Party (FPO) Heinz-Christian Strache at a news conference in Vienna, Austria. September 25, 2017.Credit: REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger

The head of Austria's Jewish community accused the far-right Freedom Party (FPO) on Thursday of failing to seriously tackle anti-Semitism in its ranks as a report showed cases of hostility to Jews to be on the rise nationally.

The comments follow MK Yehuda Glick's (Likud) trip to Austria on Monday, where he met with Austrian Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache, who heads the far-right FPO. 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.

“We are not an anti-Semitic party,” Harald Vilimsky, a member of the FPO and the European Parliament told Glick. He added 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.

"The question is, how credible is that?" Oskar Deutsch, the head of the main body representing Austria's Jews, told a news conference Thursday. "You can't go 'click' and say 'Until now we've been like this but now we're not anti-Semitic anymore, now we have other interests'. That is not credible."

The FPO, which was founded by ex-Nazis in the 1950s, came third in last year's parliamentary election with 26 percent of the vote and is now a junior coalition partner to Chancellor Sebastian Kurz's conservatives. It first enjoyed mainstream success under the late Joerg Haider, who praised Hitler's employment policies and led the party into government in 2000.

The FPO now focuses its criticism on Islam while courting Jewish voters and denouncing anti-Semitism.

A report published on Thursday by the Forum Against Anti-Semitism showed the number of registered cases of anti-Semitism in Austria had reached 503 last year, the highest since the first full report was compiled in 2015.

"What we observe is a reduction in inhibitions," Amber Weinber of the Forum Against Anti-Semitism told the joint news conference. "It has generally become more socially acceptable to make such (anti-Semitic) statements."

Deutsch gave the example of the Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal, who died in 2005.

"He got a lot of fan mail, threats," he said. "But all those threats he received had no sender on them. Today these threats clearly state exactly who they came from. That is the problem - anti-Semitic statements are becoming ever more normal."

The reported cases ranged from Internet and social media postings (171) or letters and phone calls (203) to physical attacks (5). Of those, no ideological background was clear in 62 percent of cases.

Roughly a quarter of cases, 24 percent, had a right-wing background while 10 percent were connected to Islam.

Although those right-wing cases were not directly linked to the FPO, Deutsch said it carried more responsibility than other parties.

"Where have we heard many anti-Semitic statements from for decades? It didn't begin with Haider -- it was the case well before then. If it regularly comes from one political party, it is from FPO officials," said Deutsch, whose organisation refuses to deal with FPO ministers.

The FPO says it has left its neo-Nazi past behind but its members are still regularly implicated in anti-Semitic scandals -- most recently Udo Landbauer, who headed the FPO list in Lower Austria, the province that surrounds Vienna.

He resigned over having been in a fraternity that previously published a songbook with lyrics making light of the Holocaust. The FPO has since announced it will set up a committee to investigate its history.
"That is history and that is important, but what about now, what about the present day? I see nothing," Deutsch said.

Click the alert icon to follow topics:



Automatic approval of subscriber comments.

Subscribe today and save 40%

Already signed up? LOG IN


Palestinians search through the rubble of a building in which Khaled Mansour, a top Islamic Jihad militant was killed following an Israeli airstrike in Rafah, southern Gaza strip, on Sunday.

Gazans Are Tired of Pointless Wars and Destruction, and Hamas Listens to Them

Trump and Netanyahu at the White House in Washington, in 2020.

Three Years Later, Israelis Find Out What Trump Really Thought of Netanyahu

German soldier.

The Rival Jewish Spies Who Almost Changed the Course of WWII

Rio. Not all Jewish men wear black hats.

What Does a Jew Look Like? The Brits Don't Seem to Know

Galon. “I’m coming to accomplish a specific mission: to increase Meretz’s strength and ensure that the party will not tread water around the electoral threshold. If Meretz will be large enough, it will be the basis for a Jewish-Arab partnership.” Daniel Tchetchik

'I Have No Illusions About Ending the Occupation, but the Government Needs the Left'

Soldiers using warfare devices made by the Israeli defense electronics company Elbit Systems.

Russia-Ukraine War Catapults Israeli Arms Industry to Global Stage