Norbert Hofer
Norbert Hofer Reuters

Austrian journalists cited a far-right presidential candidate’s disputed account of his 2014 visit to Israel as proof of lacking credibility on his part.

The visit came up on Thursday, during a televised debate broadcast by the ORF broadcaster. Journalist Ingrid Thurnher confronted Norbert Hofer of the Freedom Party, or FPO, who won the first round of the presidential election last month over contradictions in his account of his visit to the Temple Mount.

Hofer said he witnessed an armed Muslim terrorist being shot. But Thurnher told him on camera that Israel Police told ORF no such incident occurred at the Temple Mount on July 30, 2014 – the day Hofer gave for the incident. Later, however, ORF learned from the police that an unarmed Jewish woman wearing clothing reminiscent of a burka was shot by accident at the Temple Mount on that day.

Hofer cited the incident in speeches during the campaign in explaining that Austria should stand by Israel in the fight against radical Islam. The Freedom Party criticized ORF for not sufficiently researching the incident before insinuating that Hofer made it up.

ORF editors said in a statement they stand behind Thurnher. But the broadcaster’s director wrote to the party saying the issue should have been investigated more thoroughly before Thurnher used it to suggest Hofer lied. “I regret the question by Mrs. Thurnher,” the director said in the letter, according to the news site OE24.

In the first round, Hofer secured 35 percent of the vote, while Alexander van der Bellen, an environmentalist with a pro-refugee agenda, polled 21 percent.

The Jewish Community of Vienna has shunned the Freedom Party, which it regards as having problematic ties to neo-Nazis. Party Chairman Heinz-Christian Strache has denied the allegations and recently visited Israel, where he met with Likud Party officials. In 2012, Strache apologized for posting on Facebook a caricature depicting an obese, hook-nosed banker wearing star-shaped cufflinks.

The Freedom Party has campaigned hard against the admittance of migrants from the Middle East, including refugees, citing their religion, Islam, which the party says is irreconcilable with European values. Austria has taken in 100,000 migrants from the Middle East over the past year, in a move which commentators say generated a backlash of discontent that is helping the far right.