Israeli MP urges his country to drop its ‘absurd’ boycott of Austria’s foreign minister

An Israeli MP called his country's boycott of Austria's foreign minister "absurd" on Tuesday after meeting with the Austrian vice chancellor and head of a far-right party founded by former Nazis.

Israeli MP urges his country to drop its 'absurd' boycott of Austria's foreign minister
Hardline Israeli rabbi and parliament member Yehuda Glick speaks as he sets up a make-shift office outside the flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound in August 2017 to protest a ban on lawmakers from ente

Yehuda Glick, of Israel's ruling right-wing Likud party, was speaking after a meeting with Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl during a visit to Vienna.

He said he also met Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) chief Heinz-Christian Strache earlier in the day, despite objections from the local Jewish community.

The Freedom Party's entry into government in December prompted Israel to say it would not have direct contact with FPÖ ministers, including Kneissl who was nominated by the party even though she is not herself a member.

Glick said the boycott had led to the “absurd situation” where the Austrian ambassador in Israel was able to freely meet ministers there while the foreign minister was boycotted.

“Many of the opinions about Mrs Kneissl herself and about the Freedom Party are prejudiced,” Glick said, calling Kneissl “a true friend of Israel”.

“I will do every effort I can to try to convince the Israeli foreign ministry of the importance of strengthening the relationship with all the parties in Austria,” he said, while emphasising that he was not in Austria as an official representative of the Israeli government and did not want to meddle in Austrian politics.

Glick said that in his meeting with Strache he had stressed the importance of remembering the crimes of the Holocaust and stamping out racism and anti-Semitism, and that the FPÖ had a special responsibility to distance
itself from such ideas.

Strache promised that he would have a “direct channel” to raise concerns about any racist activity in the FPÖ, Glick said.

Glick also thanked Strache for expressing his opinion that Austria should move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, while recognising that he was now bound by the official Austrian government line.

Asked about the FPÖ politician Udo Landbauer, whose student fraternity was found to have published a songbook containing virulently anti-Semitic lyrics, Glick said he was “happy that this gentleman is not a candidate any more”.

Landbauer resigned from the FPÖ after the revelations, while maintaining he had not known of the songbook's existence.

Israel suspended relations with Austria when the FPÖ first entered the government in 2000, eventually normalising relations again in 2003.

Strache, 48, has sought to soften the party's image and has visited Israel several times, the last time in April 2016 when he met members of Netanyahu's Likud.

READ ALSO: Austrian far-right party says criticism of Nazi ties is partly justified and pledges to clean up its act


Austrian far right says nein danke to Steve Bannon’s advances

The Austrian far right has said it is not eager to collaborate politically with Donald Trump's former adviser Steve Bannon over forming a pan-European right-wing movement.

Austrian far right says nein danke to Steve Bannon's advances
France's far-right Front National (FN) president Marine Le Pen applauds Bannon after his speech at the FN's annual congress, on March 10, 2018. Photo: AFP

The secretary-general of the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ), Harald Vilimsky, told ORF public television late on Tuesday that his party was not keen working with Bannon.

“We want to forge alliances in Europe but we do it independently of the US, Russia or anyone else,” Vilimsky said.

“We want to grow, expand on our own and develop our programme and ideas on our own, but surely not under the leadership of someone active in the United States,” he added.

Bannon, Trump's former strategist who has said being called racist is a “badge of honour”, hopes to build a right-wing populist revolt across the continent ahead of European Parliament elections in 2019.

The FPÖ has governed as part of Austria's ruling coalition since late last year. The country is the only Western European nation to have a far-right party in power.

The party however said it would consider working with Bannon in some areas, such as a think tank or digital media.

Bannon has been increasingly visible in Europe in recent months after he was pushed out of the White House and departed the right-wing Breitbart media empire, condemned by some commentators as spreading racist and misogynist views.

He has focused on touting plans for a Brussels-based foundation called “The Movement” to change the dynamics of European politics and has met various politicians including Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Italy's anti-immigration Interior Minister Matteo Salvini.

Salvini, who recently blocked rescue ships carrying migrants from docking at Italian ports, on Saturday said he wanted to be at the forefront of a movement to “save Europe”, a day after meeting Bannon in Rome.

Questioned on Tuesday about a possible collaboration with Bannon, Orban told a press conference in Brussels he was not “interested in things that do not affect Hungary”.