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Austria’s far-right government ‘wooing Israel’ to end Freedom Party boycott

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz in Munich, Germany, on 17 February 2018 [Andreas Gerbert/Anadolu Agency]
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz in Munich, Germany, on 17 February 2018 [Andreas Gerbert/Anadolu Agency]

Austria’s government is making intense efforts to “woo Israel” to end its boycott of the far-right Freedom Party, reported Haaretz, efforts that may well come to fruition.

The Freedom Party, a coalition partner of Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, was founded by Nazi activists after World War II, since when “it has been the extreme right-wing marker of Austria’s political system, with countless anti-Semitic incidents and cases of Holocaust denial attributed to it”.

When Kurz won the December 2017 elections and added Freedom Party head Heinz-Christian Strache to his cabinet as vice-chancellor, Israel decided to “boycott extreme right-wing ministers in Austria, and would limit its ties to purely professional matters with their offices”.

However, Kurz has been making efforts to “dispel concerns”, reports Haaretz, including “the hosting in ten days of a large international conference in Vienna, called ‘Europe beyond anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism – securing Jewish life in Europe’”, which Netanyahu is expected to attend.

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Kurz has already met with Netanyahu three times since the former’s election; in February, the Israeli premier said the Austrian chancellor had “promised to change the way Austria votes [on Israeli-Palestinian issues] at the United Nations”.

The Austrian government’s spokesperson, Peter Launsky-Tieffenthal, told Haaretz this week that relations between Kurz and Netanyahu are “personally and professionally close,” and “that the rebuilding of ties between the countries is an important part of the government’s plan, which is based on a commitment to the existence and security of Israel as a Jewish state”.

Haaretz added that one possible step that Vienna may take is a “a declaration on the status of Jerusalem”. While Strache has “expressed support for moving the embassy”, Kurz has said “that Austria would not be the first European Union member to do so.

However, sources claim, “when Austria ceases to be president of the EU at the end of this year, the situation could change and enable some measures, such as moving tourist, culture and commercial affairs of the Austrian embassy to Jerusalem, as was done by the Czech Republic”.

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