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Austrian far-right leader isolated over Israel stance
Senior figures from across Austria’s political spectrum have condemned the head of the far-right Freedom Party, Heinz-Christian Strache, over his party’s European election campaign directed against Israel and Turkey.
In an advertisement in the newspaper Kronen Zeitung, Freedom opposes the accession of Turkey and Israel to the European Union. Although Turkey is in EU accession talks, Israel is not.
Heinz-Christian Strache prepares for a TV discussion in Vienna, Sept. 17, 2008. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader (AUSTRIA)
“What is the most distasteful and despicable is the style,” says Ernst Strasser, the conservatives’ candidate in next month’s elections for the European Parliament, referring to Strache’s campaign. “This style is abusive. He vilifies other religions and ethnicities.”
According to Chancellor Werner Faymann, Strache is “a hate monger, a disgrace”.
“It makes absolutely no sense for Israel to be mentioned. Israel is not a candidate for accession. There isn’t even an accession process. The only reason to mention Israel is to serve anti-Semitic prejudices. It is disgraceful.”
Strache, who denies he is preaching hatred, accuses Faymann of being a “rabble-rouser” and abusing his position as chancellor.
The dispute indicates more than just political opportunism in the run-up to the poll, although that is obviously playing a part.
Freedom, which polled 18 percent in September’s national election, has become a hard-right party since former dental technician Strache took the helm in 2005. It has also focused on religion. A recent rally where Strache waved a crucifix drew condemnation from politicians and religious leaders. Another campaign slogan, “The West in Christian hands”, was not well received, either.
The hard-right rhetoric, an eye-catching campaign aimed at the youth vote and dissatisfaction with the centre parties, appears to have given Freedom a boost. However, Strache’s line has at times been a bonus for the more moderate Alliance for Austria’s Future, the party of late far-right leader Joerg Haider, who used to lead Freedom.
A controversial European Union election campaign poster of Austrian far right Freedom party in Vienna May 11, 2009. Posterreads ” The West in Christian hands – Judgement day”. REUTERS/Dominic Ebenbichler
The parties are often lumped together as “Austria’s far right”, such as when they polled almost a third of the vote last year. Together they could make a serious political force — they outpolled the conservatives and were just behind the Social Democrats in September. the Alliance has tried to use the dispute to portray itself as the more mature. “(Freedom) is using the only way to mobilise votes it has,” Alliance’s EU candidate Ewald Stadler says.
Freedom’s popularity has nevertheless affected mainstream policy, with centre parties loath to open up a flank to the far right. The conservatives and Social Democrats have spoken out against the EU asylum directive and oppose lifting labour market restrictions to the eight ex-communist countries that joined the EU in 2004.