Far-right party finishes second in Austrian elections


(JTA) — Jewish groups called on the head of the conservative People’s Party in Austria to exclude the far-right Freedom Party from the new government coalition after the parties finished first and second in national elections.

Sebastian Kurz, the 31-year-old foreign minister and head of the center-right Austrian People’s Party, or ÖVP, will become Europe’s youngest leader.

With nearly all the results counted as of Monday morning, OVP won with 31.6 percent of the vote, to 27.4 percent for the Freedom Party, or FPO. The center-left Social Democrats of outgoing Chancellor Christian Kern was close behind with 26.7 percent.

The results appear to be a result of the refugee crisis in Europe. Kurz focused his campaign on the question of limiting migration, while the Freedom Party ran on a hardline anti-Islam platform. Austria accepted one of the highest proportions of refugees during the 2015 crisis.

The European Jewish Congress in its statement congratulating Kurz called on him to form a coalition of centrist parties and “not be beholden” to a party of the far right in his coalition.

“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,” said EJC’s president, Dr. Moshe Kantor.

World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder, the U.S. ambassador to Austria in 1986-87, said in a statement: “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.”

Lauder called the election resultsin many respects worse than Kurt Waldheim’s election as president of Austria 30 years ago. Today’s FPÖ is far beyond acceptable democratic limits.”

Waldheim, also the former secretary-general of the United Nations, hid his complicity in Nazi war crimes, but it was exposed late in his career.

Lauder strongly warned against including the Freedom Party in any governing coalition.

“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 anti-Semites and whips up feelings against minorities,” Lauder said. “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,” he said.

Some 9,000 Jews live in Austria, according to the Jewish Virtual Library figures for 2016, making them about 0.1 percent of the country’s population.

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