Israel to limit contact with Austrian ministries headed by far-right Freedom Party


JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel’s Foreign Ministry said it would limit its contact with the ministries in the new Austrian government headed by the far-right Freedom Party to the professional staff.

The Freedom Party holds the interior, defense and foreign ministries in a coalition government with the conservative People’s Party that was sworn in Monday. It garnered the third-highest vote total in the October elections behind the center-right People’s Party and the center-left Social Democrats.

A statement issued Monday by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs following the seating of the new Austrian government said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who also currently serves as Israel’s foreign minister, “maintains, and will continue to maintain” direct contact with newly sworn-in Chancellor Sebastian Kurz.

The statement also said that Netanyahu has asked the ministry’s director-general “to carry out a professional review regarding the manner in which Israel will conduct itself vis-à-vis the new (Austrian) government.”

“At present, Israel will maintain working relations with the professional echelon of the government ministries headed by a minister from the Freedom Party,” the statement said. “The State of Israel wishes to emphasize its absolute commitment to the struggle against anti-Semitism and the commemoration of the Holocaust.”

The Freedom Party last joined the Austrian government in 2000. At the time, Israel recalled its ambassador from Austria and downgraded relations between the two countries.

Kurz, who at 31 has become Europe’s youngest leader, focused his campaign on the issue of limiting migration, while the Freedom Party ran on a hard-line anti-Islam platform. Austria accepted one of the highest proportions of refugees during the 2015 crisis.

The Jewish Community of Austria has said that the Freedom Party, which was founded in the 1950s by a former Nazi SS officer, is tainted by fascist tendencies and rhetoric, and that the anti-Islam party’s public rejection of anti-Semitism is lip service.

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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