The head of the Austrian Jewish community, Ariel Muzicant, has accused extreme-right politicians in his country of stoking hate in the run up to elections for the European Parliament in June 2009. Muzicant said in an interview that the tone of the campaign by the far-right Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) was directly responsible for a recent series of anti-Semitic incidents in the country.
The FPÖ encouraged “right-wing extremism in their own ranks and systematically want to make it socially respectable,” Muzicant said. He also likened the agitation of the party’s general secretary, Herbert Kickl, to those of Nazi Germany‘s propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels.
FPÖ leader Norbert Hofer demanded in a statement released Saturday that Austrian president Heinz Fischer and Parliament speaker Barbara Prammer condemn Muzicant’s words, but there has been no official response.
While most Austrians are likely to support the governing Social Democrats (SPÖ) and Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) in the elections, far-right parties won nearly 29 percent of the vote in last year’s national elections. Recent incidents in Austria include an attack by four right-wing youth on Holocaust survivors in the town of Ebensee; anti-Semitic statements made by Austrian students visiting the Auschwitz memorial; the refusal of a hotel in Tyrol to accept Jewish guests; and an Austrian far-right columnist blaming Jews for the current world financial crisis. An FPÖ campaign ad suggested that not only Turkey but also Israel, which is not a candidate for accession, should be prevented from joining the European Union.
Meanwhile, the Simon Wiesenthal Center warned that voter indifference across Europe could empower anti-Semitic parties in the upcoming European Parliament elections. “In the past, low voter turnout has played into the hands” of European parties and their allies which “are openly anti-Semitic and some include convicted Holocaust deniers,” said a statement released by the center. The Wiesenthal Center is arguing that votes can influence the Israel-Europe relationship and Jewish life in Europe because the EU Parliament will address issues such as anti-Semitism, the Iranian nuclear threat, dialogue with Hamas and Hezbollah, and trade agreements with Israel. Some 736 members of the European Parliament will be elected by proportional representation to represent 500 million Europeans in the 27 member states.