Did an Austrian Presidential Candidate Lie About Witnessing a Terror Attack in Israel?

The far-right Norbert Hofer, who visited Israel in 2014, claims he witnessed Israeli police shooting a heavily-armed woman on Temple Mount. But the incident appears to have never happened.

Austrian Freedom Party presidential candidate Norbert Hofer on the campaign trail on Saturday.
Joe Klamar/AFP

The far-right candidate in Austria’s presidential election, due to be held on Sunday, has been accused of fabricating a terrorist incident during a visit to Israel, the Guardian reports.

Norbert Hofer, of the populist Freedom party (FPÖ), could become the EU’s first far-right head of state if he beats his opponent, Green-backed independent Alexander Van der Bellen, in the second-round vote on Sunday.

Hofer has repeatedly claimed during the election campaign that he personally witnessed the shooting of a heavily-armed woman on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount during an official visit to the Knesset in July 2014. 

In a recent interview with Die Presse newspaper, he said that he had been only 10 meters away from the woman, who, he added, was carrying grenades and a machine gun.

During the final TV debate between Hofer and Van der Bellen, however, the presenter accused Hofer of fabricating the story. She backed up her claim with a video of an Israeli Police spokesperson denying that the incident had taken place.

Hofer dismissed the video as a smear and questioned the objectivity of the TV channel broadcasting the debate.

According to a report in Haaretz on the day following the alleged incident, a police officer had opened fire on a woman at the Western Wall who was acting suspiciously. The woman was moderately wounded.

She turned out to be a 35-year-old Haredi woman affiliated with the fanatical cult Lev Tahor, nicknamed the "Jewish Taliban. Her excessive dress – the policeman said she was covered in multiple layers of dresses and blankets – was reportedly due to the cult's obsession with modesty.

No other incidents were reported in Jerusalem's Old City on the day of Hofer's visit.

Hofer has said an Israel trip will be an early priority if he becomes the next Austrian president, according to the Financial Times. He has portrayed himself as a friend of Israel and a defender of Austrian culture and interests against excessive Islamic influence.

Israel has long refused any contact with the Freedom party, whose former leader Jörg Haider praised Hitler’s employment policies and was regarded as an apologist for Austria’s Nazi history. The Israeli ambassador was withdrawn from Vienna after Haider joined the country’s governing coalition in 2000.

During a visit to Israel last month – reportedly at the invitation of members of the Likud – the party's leader Christian Strache made a private detour to Yad Vashem In Jerusalem.

President Reuven Rivlin responded by saying that “political or national leaders who support anti-Semitic, racist or neo-Nazi perceptions are not welcome guests here in Israel.”