BERLIN (JTA) — An Austrian Jewish leader accused far-right politicians of stoking hate on the eve of European Parliament elections.
Ariel Muzicant, longtime head of the Vienna Jewish Community, said in a recent interview that the Austrian Freedom Party’s tone was directly responsible for a recent series of anti-Semitic incidents in the country.
The party, which is vying for seats on the European Union legislative body, “encourage[s] right-wing extremism in their own ranks and systematically want to make it socially respectable,” Muzicant said.
He also compared the "agitating" tactics of the party’s general secretary, Herbert Kickl, to those of Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels.
Freedom Party chief Norbert Hofer demanded in a statement released Saturday that Austrian President Heinz Fischer and Parliament President Barbara Prammer condemn Muzicant’s words, but there has been no official response.
Muzicant’s interview, which appeared on the Die Presse Web site, was translated into English and reprinted on the Combined Jewish Philanthropies Web site.
The EU elections are scheduled for June 4-7. A recent BBC pre-election analysis noted that while most Austrians would support the center-left Social Democrats and the conservative Austrian People’s Party in the elections, "far-right parties won nearly 29 percent of the vote in last year’s national elections."
The recently publicized incidents in Austria include an attack by four Austrian right-wing youth on Holocaust survivors in the town of Ebensee; anti-Semitic statements by Austrian students visiting the Auschwitz memorial; the refusal of an Austrian hotel to accept Jewish guests; and an Austrian far-right columnist blaming Jews for the current world financial crisis.
A Freedom Party campaign ad suggested recently that not only Turkey but also Israel, which is not a candidate for accession, should be prevented from joining the European Union.
In a strong counter-message Sunday, thousands turned out for an officially sanctioned anti-Nazi demonstration in Ebensee. The marchers demanded that their city be declared a "Nazi-free zone.”