Far-right Austrian leader visits Israel’s Holocaust memorial


The leader of Austria's far-right Freedom Party, Heinz-Christian Strache, visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem on Tuesday, laying a wreath under the engraved names of towns in Austria from where Jews were expelled by the Nazis.

He said anti-Semitism had no place in his party and urged a common front against Islamists.

Strache's party, which last year expelled a member of its parliamentary group for anti-Semitic comments, has sought to redress the worst of its past while retaining popular support with outspoken opposition to Muslim migration.

During his visit, Strache kept a Fedora hat firmly on his head as a sign of respect and declined to answer questions. But afterwards he explained why he was visiting Yad Vashem's Valley of the Communities, where the names of 5,000 towns and cities where Jews once lived are listed on monumental stone walls.

“For us, it's important to act against anti-Semitism and also against Islamism and terrorism and to discuss the issues we have in common,” he told Reuters by telephone. “Anti-Semitism often emerges anew from Islamism and from the left.”

The Israeli foreign ministry said it had nothing to do with Strache's visit and the Austrian embassy in Tel Aviv also said it was not involved. Strache said he was invited by Likud, the right-wing party led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“We have a lot in common,” Strache said of Likud. “I always say, if one defines the Judeo-Christian West, then Israel represents a kind of border. If Israel fails, Europe fails. And if Europe fails, Israel fails.”

A spokesman for Likud was not immediately available to comment.

RISING FORCE

Strache, 46, is a rising political force in Austria, with the Freedom Party winning 20 percent of the vote in the last elections in 2013. In some recent polls its support has been put at as much as 30 percent.

Strache, who failed in a bid to become mayor of Vienna last year, has himself been accused of anti-Semitism in the past.

In 2012, he was vilified over a cartoon posted on his Facebook page that depicted a fat banker with a hooked nose and six-pointed star buttons on his sleeve. The banker was gorging himself at the expense of a thin man representing “the people”.

Austrian President Heinz Fischer called it “the low point of political culture which deserves to be universally and roundly condemned”. Strache denied being anti-Semitic and has since repeatedly denounced anti-Semitism.

The memorial Strache visited on Tuesday is a poignant reminder of the impact of persecution on a race. Asked what thoughts that prompted about the displacement of Muslims, he said the two could not be compared.

“Every time people are driven away from their homes it's dramatic,” he said, mentioning the threat from Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. “All of us in the western-liberal, Judeo-Christian community with common values must stand up against this inhumanity.”

Give Israeli migrants absentee voting rights, Jerusalem institute recommends


Israel should give Israeli migrants absentee voting rights for their first four years abroad and finance schools for the children of Israelis in the Diaspora, a new policy paper recommends.

The policy paper released this week by the Jewish People Policy Institute based in Jerusalem argues that Israelis residing abroad, especially in North America, can be a strategic asset to Israel, and help facilitate a process of demographic and identity regeneration within Diaspora Jewry as well as serve as a bridge between Israel and Jewish communities abroad.

The paper, titled “Helping Yordim Remain Jewish: A new policy for the treatment of Israeli migrants abroad,” was authored by JPPI fellow Yogev Karasenty. It calls on Israeli decision makers to give Israeli migrants absentee voting rights for their first four years abroad to strengthen ties with Israel, and to finance the establishment of kindergartens and schools for children of Israelis in the Diaspora, as well as to finance special study tracks for the children of Israeli migrants studying in Jewish schools.

Yordim, which literally means those who descend, is the Hebrew term used to describe Israelis who leave for the Diaspora.

The paper pointed out that the second-generation Israeli migrant community is exposed to an accelerated assimilation process and that Israeli parents abroad face difficulties in instilling an “Israeli” identity in the next generation.

JPPI President Avinoam Bar-Yosef said that “Israel should make a real effort to embrace the children of Yordim, who have moved away from Israel as a result of the negative attitude of the Israeli state and public opinion toward their parents, in order to strengthen their Jewish identity and long-term ties to Israel. This approach must be accompanied by economic investment and a shift of strategy, especially in an era when distances are decreasing, allowing many people to live their lives in more than one country.”

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