Austria’s Far Right Struggles to Win Over Jews With Charm Offensive
Politically, it could be a fine example of chutzpah.
Six decades after it was founded by former Nazis, Austria’s Freedom Party (FPO) is courting Jewish voters, hoping that its anti-Muslim message will resonate with the tiny community and help it overcome lingering accusations of anti-Semitism.
Jewish leaders are dismissive but the party, like others on the European far right, appears to have its image among the wider electorate in mind as it stages the charm offensive.
“Anti-Semitism, regardless in which form, is a crime against humanity,” FPO leader Heinz-Christian Strache told a panel discussion on the issue which his party hosted in November.
“If Israel as a state is threatened and ceases to exist, that is the beginning of Europe’s downfall,” he said. At the event held in a grand Vienna hotel, Strache also denounced “a political Islam that seeks world domination” - using the kind of language that the Nazis once directed at Jews.
The FPO’s anti-immigration message is drawing support; it has surged in opinion polls and its candidate came close to winning the Austrian presidency last year.
Like France’s National Front, the FPO has recently expelled members who have publicly expressed anti-Semitic views, including a member of parliament in 2015.
But the FPO has gone further and made overtures to the Jewish community, including visits by Strache to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem and the November event that featured Israeli politician Rafi Eitan, who led the 1960 operation to capture Nazi Adolf Eichmann.
Whether the FPO is displaying chutzpah - a term for audacity in the Yiddish language that millions of Jews spoke across central and eastern Europe before the Holocaust - is open to question. However, the party has failed to win over the Jewish Community of Vienna (IKG), the main body representing Austrian Jews.
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