Austrian Election Results Strain Relations With Israel

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:07 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - More fallout in Israel following this week's election results in Austria: Israeli politicians warn that diplomatic ties with Vienna could be jeopardized if the Freedom Party, whose leader has expressed Nazi sympathies, joins its new government.

"If that party will be included in the new government, we will reassess our relations with Austria," Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy said of the Freedom Party.

Knesset members have called on Israel to recall its ambassador if the Freedom Party is included in a new coalition, following its gains in a general election this week. When asked if relations between the two nations would be cut, Levy told reporters it was a "possibility."

"This is not a hint. It is a clear message," Levy told a Knesset session yesterday.

Under party leader Joerg Haider, the Freedom Party garnered more than 27 per cent of the vote in the Austrian elections, taking second place. Haider has come under heavy criticism for his anti-foreigner platform, and his past praise of Hitler's employment policies.

Levy said that the election results revealed "a grave and worrisome phenomenon" and evoked a "repulsion [in Israelis] toward the views and feelings or lack of feelings of the citizens of Austria."

He challenged Austrian politicians to block the participation of the Freedom Party and said that such a party should be outlawed in any democracy. If the party was allowed to join a ruling coalition, the government and people of Austria would be "tainted."

A vehement reaction to the elections was widespread among Knesset members. Likud MK Danny Naveh, said Israel should recall its ambassador from Vienna and suspend diplomatic relations between the countries if the Freedom Party was included in a coalition.

"Austria must understand that its increasing support for Haider is likely to alienate itself from the family of nations," Naveh said.

Naomi Chazan of Meretz noted that Haider has promised people a better life without Jews or blacks. "This is a known and dangerous recipe for the development of fascism and the rise of anti-Semitism," she said.

"We shouldn't have to wait for a catastrophe to understand and react to such a dangerous phenomenon."

Minister of Regional Cooperation Shimon Peres cancelled a planned trip to Vienna where he was due to participate in a conference on the history of the Middle East conflict. In a statement from his office Peres said he felt a visit to Austria in the wake of the election results was "not timely."

Former Jerusalem mayor Teddy Kolleck, who is Austrian-born, reportedly told a private Austrian radio station that, "Austria is an anti-Semitic country and the election results prove it."

Ulf Hausbrandt, Press Officer of the Austrian Embassy in Tel Aviv, told that Vienna had "taken note" of Levy's remarks but declined to comment further on the matter.

He said it was too early to say whether the Freedom Party would join the government. Ballots of some 200,000 Austrians living abroad won't be counted until next Tuesday, and could overturn the results.

Only 14,000 votes separate the Freedom Party from the third placed People's Party, he explained. Traditionally Austrians abroad vote for the number one placed Social Democrats or the People's Party, he said. There are just four political parties in the Austrian parliament from which a coalition government must be formed.

Speaking at a press conference after a European Parliament meeting, Haider said he couldn't understand Israel's threat to "reassess" its relations with Austria because of his party's gains. He said his party has good relations with the Jewish community and that in 20 years of politics he had never made anti-Semitic remarks.