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Austrian Jewish leader warns against far-right

October 23, 2017

The head of Austria's Jewish community has cautioned against forming a government with the right-wing Freedom Party. He warned that the party is still highly xenophobic despite its attempts to tone down its rhetoric.

Austrian Jewish Community President Oskar Deutsch
Image: picture-alliance/picturedesk/M. Reither

With formal coalition talks due to begin within days, the president of Austria's main Jewish association issued a warning to the country's centrist parties about working with the far-right, nationalist Freedom Party (FPÖ).

Right-wing rise in Austria: Threat for Europe?

"When the nationalist wolf puts on a blue sheepskin, it changes only its appearance and not its character," Oskar Deutsch, the head of Vienna and Austria's Jewish communities, wrote in an open letter on Facebook on Sunday.

Blue is color of the Freedom Party.

The conservative People's Party (ÖVP), headed by Sebastian Kurz, won the most votes in this month's election but came up short of a majority at 32 percent. The center-left Social Democrats (SPÖ) came in second with around 26.9 percent closely followed by the anti-immigration FPÖ at 26 percent.

Kurz previously said his party shares common ground with the FPÖ on several issues, although he said on Monday that he's unsure which party he would like to enter coalition talks with. It's predicted that he will turn to the far-right FPÖ as both parties called for the government to take a hard line on migration during the election. They both also want to decrease taxes on companies.

Read moreMake Austria Great Again — the rapid rise of Sebastian Kurz

"If ÖVP and SPÖ believe they can tame the wolf, they are deceiving themselves," Deutsch said in his post, adding that any government involving the FPÖ would be "irresponsible."

"Whether a grand coalition or a minority government will be formed ... is secondary," noted Deutsch. "It's important to be aware of the responsibilities for Austria, for Europe, and for the future."

On Friday, Kurz posted a picture on Twitter of a meeting with Deutsch on Friday, writing: "I am thankful for the active Jewish community in our country."

Read moreOpinion: A right-wing coalition in Austria threatens the EU

FPÖ rejects criticism

Founded by former Nazis around 60 years ago, the FPÖ has since worked to attract more moderate voters by toning down its rhetoric and shifting its focus from being anti-foreigner to staunchly anti-Islam.

The party's most prominent Jewish member, David Lasar, dismissed Deutsch's remarks in a statement.

Read more:Austria election: Europe reacts to Sebastian Kurz victory

"The FPÖ has always been committed to the safety of Austria's Jewish population, especially at a time that anti-Semitism has strengthened its base in Europe due to the limitless immigration of Islamist fundamentalists," Lasar said.

Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache has insisted that anti-Semitism has no place in the current FPÖ, which regularly has to expel members who cross the line. Strache has also called anti-Semitism a crime and visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem.

"Symbolic visits to Israel cannot conceal all this. Austria's Jewish community will not whitewash (this)," Deutsch said.

He added that there were racist, xenophobic and anti-Semitic incidents "almost daily" in Austria.

rs/kms  (AP, Reuters)