European Interest

Look how Austria’s far-right rejects anti-Semitism

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Heinz-Christian Strache on the podium at the FPÖ New Year's Meeting 2019 in Vienna.

The Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) is among the most successful European far-right parties. Founded by two former members of the Waffen SS in 1956 is now a member of the coalition government in Wien and a member of the Europe of Nations and Freedom group in the European Parliament.

His leader Heinz-Christian Strache is the Vice-Chancellor of Austria since 2017.

FPÖ uses a strong anti-immigration and anti-Islam rhetoric but anti-Semitic attitudes related to the party’s members are not rare at all. This is why Israel has maintained an official boycott of all ministers of the party or nominated by the party.

Since 2017 the party has made great efforts to reassure the Jewish community of his pro-Jewish sentiments. In fact, FPÖ tries to change its image of an anti-Semitic party.

The Jewish community remains skeptical if not hostile since anti-Semitic attitudes are still present in the party’s membership. In addition, the party’s links with pan-German nationalist circles are widely known.

As reported by AFP, Benjamin Hess, co-president of the Austrian Union of Jewish Students said: “We see no change at all within the FPÖ.”

Hess accused Strache in a TV programme last year of sharing an anti-Semitic image on his Facebook page in 2012.

“It’s easy to say: ‘I’m against anti-Semitism, it’s much harder to distance yourself from it in reality,” Hess told AFP.

In addition, FPÖ combines condemnation of anti-Semitism with anti-immigration and anti-Islam policy.

Speculation about the rise of anti-Semitism because of the growth of the Muslim presence in the country is part of the party’s attempt to appease the Austrian Jewish community as well as the Israeli public opinion. In February, the party’s think-tank organized a discussion on “Islamic anti-Semitism”.

In December 2017, the European Jewish Congress (EJC) warned that “the Freedom Party cannot use the Jewish community as a fig leaf and must show tolerance and acceptance towards all communities and minorities,” AFP reports.

According to Austria’s Forum Against Anti-Semitism, anti-Semitic incidents doubled between 2014 and 2017.

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