Far-right Party’s anti-Semitism Audit ‘Worthless,’ Austrian Jewish Leader Says

After anti-Semitic texts were found at its affiliated fraternity, the Freedom Party conducted an internal review. European Jewish leaders suspect it's just 'a tool of distraction'

Heinz-Christian Strache at a news conference in Vienna, Austria. December 16, 2017.
AP Photo/Ronald Zak

European Jewish leaders reacted with skepticism to an Austrian far-right party’s internal review following the discovery of anti-Semitic texts at it affiliated fraternities.

European Jewish Congress President Moshe Kantor and Oskar Deutsch, the leader of Austria’s Jewish community, dismissed the Freedom Party’s internal audit in statements made in recent days.

The review, Kantor said, “cannot just be a tool of distraction.” And Deutsch in a statement Tuesday called it “worthless” in the absence of concrete action today.

The Freedom Party, which was founded by former Nazi officials and is now a coalition partner of the center-right ruling party, appointed last month a commission of historians to examine the party’s past following the discovery earlier this month of a songbook from 1997 containing anti-Semitic text at the Germania zu Wiener Neustadt fraternity.

The discovery forced the resignation of Udo Lanbauer, a regional politician for Freedom Party, which entered the ruling coalition of Chancellor Sebastian Kurz in December following its clinching one quarter of the votes in the general elections in October.

A second songbook with anti-Semitic texts was discovered last week belonging to the Bruna Sudetia fraternity based in Vienna. The head of that group is on the staff of Infrastructure Minister Norbert Hofer, a Freedom Party politician who last year narrowly lost the country’s presidential election.

Under Heinz-Christian Strache, the Freedom Party has purged its ranks of some anti-Semitic agitators, who he said have no place in his movement. Strache has visited Israel and both he and other party officials have spoken favorably about the Jewish state. Some of them support international recognition for Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, they said.

But the discovery of the songbooks underscore the Freedom Party’s popularity among students and the prevalence of anti-Semitic rhetoric in their ranks. This has exposed Kurz to new criticism for his party’s partnership with the Freedom Party.

During a speech at the European Jewish Congress’ “An End to Antisemitism” conference in Vienna last week, Kantor warned against a cover up in which the Freedom Party would “find evidence against a few already departed members.” The inquiry panel, he told the hundreds of academics who convened in Vienna for the 5-day symposium, “must lead to practical recommendations that are enacted.”