Concern mounts after Freedom Party places second in general election
While congratulating Austrian People’s Party leader Sebastian Kurtz on placing first in the general election polls on Sunday night, Jewish groups, in the same breath, called on the new government to keep the far-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) out of the coalition.
The latest exit polls showed Kurz’s People’s Party with some 31.6% of the vote, while the FPÖ vied for second place with the center-left Social Democrats Party of outgoing Chancellor Christian Kern, both receiving 26% to 27 % of the vote.
World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder, who was US ambassador to Austria from 1986 to 1987, said: “It is sad and distressing that such a platform should receive more than a quarter of the vote and become the country’s second party. It is still full of xenophobes and racists and is, mildly put, very ambiguous toward Austria’s Nazi past. My only hope is that they won’t end up in government.
“We have known Mr. Kurz for a long time. He is extremely capable, and I am sure he will be able to form the government and to become an outward- looking leader of this wonderful country,” Lauder continued.
Lauder, however, strongly warned that, “like the AfD in Germany, the National Front in France, or Jobbik in Hungary, the FPÖ is an extremist party that panders to racists and antisemites and whips up feelings against minorities. It is led by a man who in his youth expressed clear sympathies for the Nazis. In its present state, the FPÖ is not, and should not be, a party of government.”
Similarly, the European Jewish Congress sent its “warmest congratulations” to Kurz, but expressed “profound concern” at FPÖ’s gains.
“We strongly urge Mr. Kurz to form a coalition of centrist parties and not be beholden to a party of the far-right in his new coalition government,” EJC President Dr. Moshe Kantor said.
“A party which has run on a platform of xenophobic intolerance and the targeting of immigrants must not be granted a seat at the governing table.”
“Europe in general and Austria in particular should know all too well where acceptance of populist and pernicious ideologies leads,” he said.
“Austria’s central role in postwar European constriction founded on democracy and human rights must not be allowed to be sacrificed on the altar of political expediency and short-term populism which reminds us of far-darker times within living memory.”
President of the Conference of European Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt echoed these sentiments, expressing satisfaction over Kurtz’s election but noted that the strengthening of the FPÖ was a source of concern to the Jewish community.
“We hope that Austria will continue to maintain individual freedom and freedom of religion in Austria in the future,” he said.
Goldschmidt recalled a speech made by Kurtz as then-Foreign Affairs minister, a year and a half ago when he hosted a breakfast for the Conference of European Rabbis at the Foreign Ministry in Vienna. “He gave a particularly sympathetic speech to the Jews and expressed his determination to fight antisemitism,” Goldschmidt said.
“We cannot, unfortunately, erase history, but we have not forgotten,” Kurtz told the rabbis. He emphasized that Austria has “a great debt to the Jewish people” and would continue to fight antisemitism.