Austria’s Jewish community plans to echo Israel’s boycott of the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) after the party took control of key ministries in a coalition deal announced last weekend.
Oskar Deutsch, the president of the Vienna Israelite Community (IKG), told the JC: “We as the Jewish community have decided not to have any contact with ministers from the FPÖ: no meetings, no photo sessions, no discussions with any of them.”
He cited the FPÖ’s continued partnership at the European level with far-right parties including France’s National Front and Belgium’s Vlaams Belang, as well its relationship with Austria’s German nationalist Burschenschaften fraternities, as causes of concern.
The party will now control Austria’s defence and interior ministries and has nominated a non-partisan foreign minister, Karin Kneissl, as part of the coalition deal with Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s centre-right People’s Party (ÖVP).
When the two parties previously formed a government together in 2000, the IKG engaged only with civil servants in ministries controlled by the far-right. On Monday, Israel announced it would follow the same approach with the new coalition.
Mr Deutsch, however, will work with Mr Kurz, who has well-cultivated ties with the Jewish community, saying he had little choice but to go into government with the FPÖ.
“I am very positive and optimistic that we can continue to work very strongly, very [closely] with the ÖVP-part of the government,” Mr Deutsch said.
Benjamin Hess, co-president of the Austrian Union of Jewish Students, repeated the non-cooperation policy: “There is no point for us. When you engage and [work with the FPÖ], you set yourself up to be a fig leaf and we want to avoid that at any cost.”
The FPÖ, Mr Hess said, had attempted to whitewash antisemitism in its ranks with a pro-Israel stance.
“We think it’s very important to also stand up when it’s not your group,” he said. “As Jews, we have learnt the hard way when people don’t stand up. The FPÖ is not a party that has any track record of upholding minority rights.”
There is a worry that the FPÖ’s control of key ministries will mean instances of extremism and antisemitism that come from within its political camp will not be taken seriously, according to the political journalist Karl Pfeifer.
“It’s going to harm the reputation of Austria but the more important thing is it’s going to harm the security of its citizens. In the government programme, there is not one word said about the [threat posed by the] extreme right,” Mr Pfeifer said.
For the writer Julya Rabinowich, the country is moving away from a humanitarian image in a “coolly planned rightward shift.”
“The election result shattered my view of Austria, which is my homeland,” she said.
FPÖ policies such as housing asylum seekers in mass accommodation blocks on cities’ outskirts “prompt associations I never wanted prompted.”
She added: “It feels as if Austria has nestled up to Trump’s America. There will be a resistance. Civil society must now stick together.”