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Why did Austria vote against a Gaza ceasefire?

James Jackson
James Jackson - [email protected]
Why did Austria vote against a Gaza ceasefire?
People wave Palestinian flags and shout slogans in support of Palestine during a Pro-Palestinian demonstration outside the Chancellery in Vienna, Austria on October 15, 2023. (Photo by JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

Austria was one of just four countries in the EU to vote against the UN’s resolution for a ceasefire in the conflict between Israel and Hamas, alongside Czechia, Hungary and Croatia. Why did the neutral Alpine Republic take a hard stance?

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In the latest round of conflict in the Middle East, 1,400 Israelis and nearly 8,000 Palestinians have been killed in the fighting, according to estimations at the time of writing on October 30th.

But why did Austria – a militarily neutral country that isn’t part of NATO – vote no to a ceasefire?

Neighbouring Germany, well known for its political support for Israel based on the legacy of the Holocaust, abstained.

The UN resolution, co-sponsored by Jordan and Turkey condemns “all violent acts against Palestinian and Israeli civilians and all forms of terrorism and indiscriminate violence".

Chancellor Karl Nehammer, who visited Israel last week along with Czech PM Petr Fiala to show support for the country after the most deadly terrorist attack in its history, said he expects clear condemnation of Hamas.

Explaining Austria's rare decision to take a strong stance, Nehammer of the conservative People’s Party (ÖVP) said: “A resolution in which the terrorist organisation Hamas is not named, in which the atrocities committed by Hamas on October 7th are not condemned and in which Israel's right to self-defence, which is enshrined in international law, is not stated - Austria cannot agree to such a resolution."

However, it seems like not everyone in Austria’s government agrees. The foreign policy spokesperson of the Greens, who are currently in coalition with the ÖVP, said that they were “not consulted” about the vote. Ewa Ernst-Dziedzic told the Tiroler Tageszeitung that “an abstention, like for example Germany’s, would have been appropriate from our perspective".

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The Greens later rowed back on her statement and said “the government is completely unified” and that "a resolution that neither contains Israel's right to self-defence against terror nor condemns the actions of Hamas cannot possibly meet with our approval".

There are also domestic political considerations.

The ÖVP is currently lagging behind the far-right FPÖ in the polls, and strongly supporting Israel could be an attempt to win back voters outraged about the increase of antisemitism on Austria’s streets.

Political scientist Martin Malek told The Local: "The background is: officially Austria tries to position itself as pro-Israel.

"Chancellor Sebastian Kurz was proud of his good relationship with [Israeli Prime Minister] Benjamin Netanyahu. Netayahu and Kurz were equally proud of their good relationship with Putin.

"Even the FPÖ is attempting to position itself as pro-Israel. Which is totally unbelieveable. This party is not suitable to be a "pro-Israel" (or pro-Jewish) force due to its entire tradition". The FPÖ was founded by former Nazis.

READ ALSO: Concern grows in Austria about antisemitic attacks

Austrian history plays a part in current views

As part of the Nazi Reich, Austria bears responsibility for the Holocaust, though the question of how much is a topic of debate within the Alpine country.

In the past Austria often portrayed itself as “the first victim of the Nazi regime” as it was annexed by the Nazis in 1938.

However, the so-called “Anschluss” that brought the two German-speaking nations together was popular in Austria at the time, and a huge crowd of nearly 250,000 people came out to greet Hitler when he arrived in Vienna.

Read ALSO: 'Hitler didn't plan to annex Austria so quickly, but the joyful crowds changed his mind'

Some prominent Nazis, notably Adolf Hitler himself, were actually Austrian.

Austria and Israel established diplomatic ties in 1950, after Israel gave up on an attempt to make the country admit its role in the crimes of the Second World War.

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Relations between the two countries haven’t always been easy. When Kurt Waldheim, a former Wehrmacht officer, won the presidential election in 1986, Israel actually called back its ambassador. And in the 1990s, Social Democrat President Bruno Kreisky was a prominent advocate for a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, where Palestine would be recognised as an independent state. 

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