(JTA) — Jewish leaders in Austria denied a report in Israel that the community had prepared a program for normalizing ties with the far-right Freedom Party, which it now shuns.
The Israeli Hebrew-language news website NRG on June 3 reported that the Jewish Community in Vienna had a roadmap for the Freedom Party to follow if it was to have formal ties. The report said the plan included disassociating from neo-Nazis and neo-Nazi events frequented by Freedom Party members, including lawmakers.
But Oskar Deutsch, the community’s president, said no such plan exists and that he merely spoke hypothetically with the NRG journalist about the possibility of following such a plan.
“The Jewish community did not have any contacts with the Freedom Party and does not intend to initiate such contacts in the future,” Deutsch said in a statement Wednesday.
“For the Jewish community, the fight against anti-Semitism and the expulsion of such party officials is self-evident and not negotiable and cannot be the subject of a process of negotiations about roadmaps. Thus, writing about ‘normalization’ between the Jewish Community of Austria and the Freedom Party is baseless,” he wrote.
Last month, the Freedom Party’s presidential candidate lost in a runoff by less than 1 percent of the vote. In its journey from a fringe movement 15 years ago to the mainstream, the Freedom Party, which opposes immigration from Muslim countries, has sought to downplay its racist and anti-Semitic reputation.
Its current leader, Heinz-Christian Strache, apologized in 2012 for posting on Facebook a caricature depicting an obese, hook-nosed banker wearing star-shaped cufflinks. Strache’s predecessor, Joerg Haider, praised Nazi employment policies and the Waffen-SS.
Freedom Party lawmakers often have attended and spoken at events commemorating Nazis, including a gathering in memory of an Austria-born Nazi fighter pilot who shot down 258 planes, almost all Russian. And Strache himself had been accused of using a little-known Nazi salute in 2009, which he denied.
Strache visited Israel this year and met with officials there. He said he supports Israel’s fight against radical Islam and has argued he has purged his party of anti-Semitism.