The Conference of European Rabbis (CER) welcomed the victory of Sebastian Kurz, the head of the center-right Austrian People’s Party, in the Austrian national elections Sunday, but expressed concerns over the rise of a far-right party.
CER President Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt expressed his satisfaction that Kurz would be the next chancellor of Austria, but addressed the concerns of the Jewish community over the success of the far-right Freedom Party, which finished second in the election. "We hope that Austria will continue to maintain individual freedoms and freedom of religion in Austria in the future."
Kurz, who at 31 will become the youngest head of state of any western nation, hosted rabbis from the CER for a kosher breakfast a year and a half ago. During the breakfast, he gave a speech in which he pledged his commitment to combating anti-Semitism.
"We unfortunately cannot change history, but we have not forgotten. Austria has a great debt to the Jewish people...the continuation of the war against all phenomena of anti-Semitism, whether old or imported," he said.
"We have to remember that dialogue is conducted only with those who respect our religion and our faith and maintain tolerance for the other," Kurz added, referring to the issue of immigration, which has become a point of contention in Austria. "We are concerned about Muslim immigration, and that is why see the rise in support for the extreme right. The vote is not, God forbid, against Jews."
During a tour of a large Jewish school, the rabbis were told that according to Austrian law, all students in the Austrian state school must learn about Judaism, including a visit to the Great Synagogue.
Other European Jewish organizations also commented on the election results.
The European Jewish Congress in a statement congratulated Kurz on his victory, and called on him to form a coalition of centrist parties and “not be beholden” to a party of the far-right in his new coalition government.
“A party which has run on a platform of xenophobic intolerance and the targeting of immigrants must not be granted a seat at the governing table,” EJC President Dr. Moshe Kantor said.
World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder, who was the U.S. ambassador to Austria from 1986 to 1987, said in a statement: “It is sad and distressing that such a platform should receive more than a quarter of the vote and become the country’s second party. It is still full of xenophobes and racists and is, mildly put, very ambiguous toward Austria’s Nazi past.”
He called the election results “in many respects worse than Kurt Waldheim’s election as president of Austria 30 years ago. Today’s FPÖ is far beyond acceptable democratic limits.”
Lauder strongly warned against including the Freedom Party in any governing coalition. “Like the AfD in Germany, the National Front in France, or Jobbik in Hungary, the FPÖ is an extremist party that panders to racists and anti-Semites and whips up feelings against minorities,” Lauder said. “It is led by a man who in his youth expressed clear sympathies for the Nazis. In its present state, the FPÖ is not, and should not be, a party of government,” he said.