Austria’s Jewish community recommended yesterday (29 November) that voters back an independent candidate at Sunday’s election that could produce the first far-right president in the European Union – the first time it has ever declared an endorsement.
Former Green party leader Alexander Van der Bellen is running neck-and-neck with the far-right Freedom Party (FPO) candidate Norbert Hofer in a repeat election seen as the country’s most important in decades.
For the first time in more than 50 years, Austria’s highest office will be held neither by a Social Democrat nor a Christian Democrat candidate. The election first held in May was won by Van der Bellen but a rerun was called because of irregularities in the count of the postal ballots.
“Van der Bellen is not the lesser of two evils, he is the better candidate and has been a friend of the Jewish community and Israel for many decades,” Oskar Deutsch, president of the Jewish Communities of Austria (IKG), which represents around 15,000 Jews, said on Facebook.
Without naming him, Deutsch spoke out against Norbert Hofer, who is running an “Austria first” campaign and has said that Islam is not a part of Austria.
Withdrawing into the Austrian shell can never be the answer to international crises, Deutsch said. Austria’s president had to respect every religion including Islam and to combat any “anti-attitude” tendencies.
The FPO, whose founder was a decorated member of the Nazi SS and whose former leader Jörg Haider in the 1990s cited the “proper labour policies” of Adolf Hitler, says it is friendly toward Israel.
Party chief Heinz Christian Strache said he was furious about the sight of swastikas daubed on the Jewish cemetery and called anti-Semitism a crime. Both Strache and Hofer have visited Israel.
“Symbolic visits to Israel are not suitable for covering dubious sets of values,” the IKG’s Deutsch said.