Strache’s Israel trip causes a stir

Officials in Austria are at odds over Freedom Party (FPÖ) leader Heinz-Christian Strache’s decision to travel to Israel.The right-winger visited Israeli settlements in the West Bank, a territory Palestinians are also claiming. Speaking about the ongoing conflict about the area and the throwbacks the peace talks have suffered, Strache said in the West Bank area today (Tues): “One who comes to this place can understand the real problems. Our hearts are with you, Israel!”The FPÖ boss said there must be a dialogue with all sides involved and affected, but added there would be “no compromise towards the terror”.Strache controversially attended a summit focusing on “strategies against the Islamic terror”. Flemish politician Filip Dewinter and Andreas Mölzer, who represents the FP֒s far-right branch in the European Parliament (EP), also took part in the congress.Fritz Edlinger, the general secretary of the Society for Austrian-Arabian Relations (GÖAB), said it was “incredible” Strache decided to travel to Israel. Edlinger explained he was “surprised” the head of a party which was “still the political home for old and new anti-Semites in Austria” would find dialogue partners in Israel.Ariel Muzicant, head of the Jewish Community in Vienna (IKG), meanwhile announced: “I don’t have a problem with that (Strache going to Israel).”Muzicant said he considered the decision as “interesting”, but added he had been assured no Israeli MPs will meet with Strache.Strache was elected federal leader of the FPÖ after its former spearhead Jörg Haider walked out to form the Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ) five years ago. Polls have shown that most right-wing Austrians consider Strache as the political heir of Haider who died in a car crash in 2008.The FPÖ can look back on a series of strong performances in various elections. It managed to increase its share in the provincial parliaments of Burgenland and Styria before shocking Austria’s established parties by garnering 25.77 per cent in the Vienna city parliament vote recently (2005: 14.83 per cent).Israel withdrew its ambassador from Vienna in a reaction to the coalition agreement between the conservative People’s Party (ÖVP) and the FPÖ in 2000 before sending a diplomat to become ambassador in the Austrian capital three years later.Haider caused outcry in Israel and Western Europe by meeting with late Iraqi President Saddam Hussein several times in 2002. The right-winger claimed he focused on establishing business connections between Austrian firms and companies in the war-stricken country. Haider harshly criticised the United States and Great Britain for attacking and invading Iraq in 2003 and claimed it was wrong to execute Hussein the next year.The FP֒s election campaigns have been branded as “xenophobic” since Haider became federal leader in a party summit revolt in 1986. Hundreds of thousands of Austrians took to the streets to protest against the FP֒s “Austrians must come first!” referendum in 1993. Strache has revealed plans to initiate a similar referendum next year, citing growing fears of “growing ‘Islamisation’” in Western Europe.He also voted to press on with a referendum against possible new mosques in Vienna where one in 10 residents are Muslims. Just four of the hundreds of mosques in Austria feature distinctive minarets. One of them is located in the federal capital.The FPÖ leader blamed Muslims of creating so-called parallel societies in some Viennese districts.Research agency Karmasin recently discovered that a majority of 52 per cent of Austrians opposed the idea of more mosques with minarets.Strache’s visit to Israel came just months after Social Democratic (SPÖ) Chancellor Werner Faymann and ÖVP Vice Chancellor and Finance Minister Josef Pröll travelled to the country independently of each other.