Israel Threatens To Recall Austrian Ambassador

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

Jerusalem ( - Israel openly threatened to recall its ambassador from Vienna on Wednesday if Austrian President Thomas Klestil approves the participation of Joerg Haider's Freedom Party in the new coalition government.

"Israel views with utmost gravity the inclusion of the extreme right-wing Freedom Party led by Joerg Haider in the Austrian government and calls on the international community not to accept this worrying phenomenon," a joint statement from Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister David Levy said.

Haider, who in the past has praised Adolf Hitler's employment policies and called veterans of his SS force as "men of character," won a surprising victory in Austrian elections in October, when his Freedom Party placed second with a platform based on the exclusion of foreign immigration and generous child care among other government benefits.

He has since apologized for his remarks but opposition to his participation in the government has been relentless. On Tuesday, the largest party in Austria, the Social Democrats, formed a coalition with the Freedom party, which must still be approved by the President.

Barak said Israel was leading the entire Jewish people in an effort, not to "allow the world to ignore events in Austria and their possible implications." He urged all mankind to remember the lessons of the Holocaust.

For both Israel and Austria, each with survivors of Hitler's Holocaust and annexation, the inclusion of a Haider into the government touches a raw nerve. Austrian-born Hitler, rose to power in Germany in the 1930's and exterminated some six million Jews and millions of other victims.

Knesset Speaker Avraham Burg called the possible inclusion of Haider in the government a "stain on the Austrian nation." He called on his counterparts around the world to reject the move.

"It is painful and regrettable that - 55 years after the Holocaust - the Austrian people refuse to recognize the terrible tragedy that the racist Nazi ideology inflicted on humanity," Burg said.

Chairman of the Yad Vashem Directorate - Israel's Holocaust memorial - Avner Shalev, said it was "profoundly disturbing that an individual who praises the policies of the Nazis and has an anti-immigration stance could be considered a coalition partner."

"One of the reasons that the Austrian people was able to elect a person such as Haider is related to the fact that Austria has avoided teaching its part in WWII and the Holocaust," Shalev said. He added that Austria had neglected to take responsibility for its actions during that period.

Political Science Professor Shlomo Avineri of the Hebrew University however, said that a racist element in Austrian society goes back much further than World War II.

As far back as 1896, Vienna elected mayor who headed a party with an anti-Slavic, anti-Semitic platform, Avineri told This was the Austria that inspired both the Zionist effort of Viennese journalist Theodore Herzl to create a Jewish homeland in Israel and a few years later, the anti-Semitic ideology of Adolf Hitler.

When Haider speaks about being anti-foreigner, Avineri said, he is not just against blacks but against Slavs, too.
"Its not just World War II, Austria never came to terms with [its previous past]" Avineri said. But he cautioned not to lump all Austrians together because the majority did not support Haider.