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  • People protest against Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and Vice Chancellor of Austria

    People protest against Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and Vice Chancellor of Austria's of the new far-right government in Vienna, Austria, Dec. 18, 2017. | Photo: Reuters

Published 22 December 2017

Israel added that it will only work with the “operational echelons” of government departments headed by an FPO minister.

Israel announced on Monday that it will maintain relations with the newly elected government of Austria, led by the far-right party FPO.

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, a 31-year-old conservative, was sworn in with the rest of his government on Monday after reaching a coalition deal that handed control of much of Austria’s security apparatus to the anti-refugee, anti-Islam Freedom Party (FPO).

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Israel reacted to the inauguration by saying it "will maintain working relations with the professional echelon of the government ministries headed by a minister from the "Freedom Party".

The government added that it will only work with the “operational echelons” of government departments headed by an FPO minister. The FPO now controls the foreign, interior and defence ministries, though Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl is not officially a member of the party.

The FPO, which was founded by former Nazis in the 1950s, says it has left its anti-Semitic past behind it. However, it has had to expel several members each year for anti-Semitic or neo-Nazi comments.

Although it has openly courted Jewish voters, it has had little success in gaining traction with that group. Its leader, Heinz-Christian Strache, has also visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem.

“Israel wishes to underline its total commitment to fighting anti-Semitism and commemorating the Holocaust,” the Israeli Foreign Ministry said in a short statement on Monday in response to the Austrian government’s swearing-in.

The European Jewish Congress has called on the new government to take concrete steps against anti-Semitism while taking a generally more inclusive approach.

“The Freedom Party cannot use the Jewish community as a fig leaf and must show tolerance and acceptance towards all communities and minorities,” it said on Monday.

Austria, where Adolf Hitler was born, was annexed by Nazi Germany in March 1938. Next year will mark the 80th anniversary of that takeover as well as the 100th anniversary of the end of World War One, which led to the break-up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. 

Kurz' People’s Party (OVP) and the FPO published a 180-page coalition manifesto over the weekend, which includes plans to cut public spending, taxes and benefits for refugees.

The OVP won October’s election with a hard line on immigration that often overlapped with the FPO‘s. The issue dominated the campaign after Austria took in large numbers of asylum seekers during Europe’s migration crisis, many of them from Muslim countries.

Austria’s Jewish community of just over 10,000 is tiny relative to the more than half a million Muslims who live in the nation of almost 9 million, many of whom are Turkish or of Turkish origin.

Both Kurz and Strache have warned of Muslim “parallel societies” they say are emerging in Austria, despite there being few obvious signs of sectarian tension.


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