US embassy cable - 09VIENNA603

AUSTRIAN CHANCELLOR DENOUNCES "ANTI-SEMITISM" IN RIGHTWING PARTY'S CAMPAIGN

Identifier: 09VIENNA603
Wikileaks: View 09VIENNA603 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Vienna
Created: 2009-05-20 07:45:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: PGOV PREL PHUM AU
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
VZCZCXRO8690
PP RUEHDBU RUEHFL RUEHKW RUEHLA RUEHNP RUEHROV RUEHSR
DE RUEHVI #0603/01 1400745
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 200745Z MAY 09
FM AMEMBASSY VIENNA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 2601
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE
RUEHTV/AMEMBASSY TEL AVIV 0815
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 VIENNA 000603 
 
SIPDIS 
 
DEPARTMENT FOR EUR/CE 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/20/2019 
TAGS: PGOV, PREL, PHUM, AU 
SUBJECT: AUSTRIAN CHANCELLOR DENOUNCES "ANTI-SEMITISM" IN 
RIGHTWING PARTY'S CAMPAIGN 
 
REF: VIENNA 362 
 
Classified by: Economic-Political Counselor J. Dean Yap for 
reasons 1.4 (b) and (d). 
 
1. (C) Summary: Chancellor Faymann on May 18 denounced 
Heinz-Christian Strache, leader of the rightwing, xenophobic 
Freedom Party (FPO) as a "hatemonger" and said the FPO was 
trying to stir up anti-Semitism with a campaign ad promising 
to veto EU membership for Israel (and Turkey).  Leaders from 
other political parties, as well as the Jewish and Muslim 
communities, have also harshly criticized the FPO.  Though 
not known as a religion-oriented party, the FPO has lately 
been adding Christian themes to its traditional 
Islam-bashing, prompting criticism from the Catholic Church 
and other religious communities.  The controversy over the ad 
follows a series of unrelated events that have raised 
concerns about the far right.  The strong reaction to the FPO 
in this case is unusual for GOA leaders, who are normally 
wary of taking on the party.  End Summary. 
 
Chancellor, Others Denounce FPO 
------------------------------- 
 
2. (C) Like most Austrian politicians, Faymann (Social 
Democratic Party) normally refrains from speaking out against 
the FPO's xenophobic political statements.  But the 
Chancellor harshly criticized the rightwing party in response 
to an FPO newspaper campaign ad for the upcoming European 
Parliament elections which stated that, "The FPO will veto EU 
membership for Turkey and Israel."  In a May 18 interview 
with the liberal daily Der Standard, Faymann called FPO 
leader Strache a "disgrace" and a "hatemonger."  Noting that 
Israel is not an EU candidate, the Chancellor asserted that 
the only possible motive for raising the bogus issue of EU 
membership for the Jewish state was to stir up anti-Semitism. 
 
 
3. (U) Other leaders across the political spectrum joined the 
criticism.  FM Spindelegger, of the People's Party (OVP), 
warned against the use of xenophobic themes in political 
campaigns.  Ernst Strasser, the leading OVP candidate for the 
European Parliament, said the FPO was "on the border of 
Nazism."  Members of the Green Party and even the Alliance 
for the Future of Austria, a rightwing spinoff of the FPO, 
also spoke out against the FPO.  Ariel Muzicant, president of 
the Jewish Community, averred that the language of FPO 
Secretary General Kickl was reminiscent of Nazi Propaganda 
Minister Joseph Goebbels.  Kickl is the primary author of the 
FPO's campaign slogans.  Anas Shakfeh, President of the 
Islamic Faith Community, said the FPO's campaign tactics were 
reminiscent of the Nazis.  Anger over the FPO campaign 
overshadowed the May 19 parliamentary budget debate, as MPs 
from all parties continued to denounce the FPO. 
 
4. (U) FPO leaders deny the party is anti-Semitic or racist. 
Strache called Faymann "hysterical" and accused the 
Chancellor of waging a "hate campaign" against the FPO. 
Another FPO official called for Muzicant to resign over his 
comments about the party's Secretary General. 
 
A Newfound "Faith" 
------------------ 
 
5. (U) Though neither the FPO nor Strache are known for 
religious devotion, this controversial campaign slogan is the 
latest in a series of moves by the party to use Christianity 
as a political tool.  The FPO recently began deploying a 
campaign poster featuring the slogan "The West in Christian 
Hands" (like most FPO slogans, this rhymes in German), 
prompting a sharp rebuke from Austria's Ecumenical Council. 
On May 14, Strache held up a crucifix as he spoke at a 
demonstration against the planned expansion of a 
Turkish/Muslim center in Vienna.  In response, a prominent 
Catholic cleric told a reporter that, "someone who abuses the 
cross in this way is also capable of walking over corpses (to 
achieve his goals)."  President Fischer, who normally stays 
above the political fray, also criticized Strache for mixing 
religion with politics. 
 
Islam is the Traditional Target 
------------------------------- 
 
6. (C) Muslims, not Jews, are the traditional target of the 
FPO's rhetoric.  For the past two months the party has been 
gearing up for the Vienna elections with a campaign 
associating Vienna Mayor Haupl with "mosques and minarets" 
and asserting that Strache will protect the capital from 
immigration and "Islamization" (reftel).  Amina Baghajati, 
 
VIENNA 00000603  002 OF 002 
 
 
spokeswoman for the Islamic Faith Community, told us recently 
that anti-Islamic messages have long been an FPO staple, but 
she is alarmed at the way the rhetoric has become more 
extreme with each campaign. 
 
Other Rightwing Incidents 
------------------------- 
 
7. (U) The debate over the FPO's campaign slogan comes amid a 
series of unrelated events that have raised concerns about 
the far right in Austria.  On May 9, five teenagers shouted 
Nazi slogans and fired plastic bullets at participants in a 
ceremony commemorating the liberation of the Ebensee camp, a 
satellite camp of the Mauthausen concentration camp system. 
A French participant was hit by plastic bullets, prompting a 
formal French demarche to the MFA about the incident.  Also 
in May, the press reported that a number of Austrian high 
school students told anti-Semitic jokes during a class visit 
to Auschwitz.  In February, anti-Islamic and anti-Semitic 
graffiti were found scribbled on the walls of Mauthausen. 
Faymann and other GOA leaders have called for additional 
anti-fascist instruction in schools. 
 
8. (U) Interior Ministry statistics indicate that complaints 
about right-wing activities have risen from 419 in 2006 to 
831 in 2008.  Interior Minister Fekter has called for an 
investigation into the causes of the increase.  The 
Documentation Center of Austrian Resistance Movements has 
cited public anxieties over immigration, the deteriorating 
economic situation, and the rise of rightwing activity in 
Germany as possible causes for the increase. 
 
Comment: Faymann is Right 
------------------------- 
 
9. (C) Faymann has it exactly right -- Strache is a disgrace 
and anti-Semitism is the only plausible motive for trying to 
scare voters with the phony prospect of Israeli EU 
membership.  Turkish EU membership is a legitimate issue, 
which the FPO often uses as cover for anti-Islamic 
demagoguery.  Israel, however, is not an EU candidate, so 
there is no cover for this new slogan.  Faymann and other GOA 
leaders (with the lone exception of the Greens) have long 
remained silent while the FPO targeted Muslims.  They know 
that many members of their own parties share the anxieties 
about Muslim immigration, and they are wary of the FPO's 
dominant position among young voters.  But anti-Semitism is 
another matter, one that stirs up old ghosts that the 
Austrian political leadership could not ignore for both 
domestic and foreign policy reasons.  However, Faymann's 
seriousness can only be assessed if he and other Austrian 
leaders continue to press the FPO when it tries to play 
anti-Islamic or anti-Semitic cards. 
ORDWAY 

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