Oskar Deutsch, head of Vienna’s Jewish community, expressed relief this week at the outcome of Austria’s presidential election, in which independent candidate Alexander Van der Bellen narrowly won over far-right candidate Norbert Hofer of the Freedom Party.
Deutsch described Mr Van Der Bellen - former spokesperson for Austria’s Green Party - as “a good friend for many years to the Jewish community and a very good friend to the state of Israel.”
He said Van Der Bellen had been one of the few politicians to personally demonstrate at a pro-Israel rally during recent troubles. “I am very happy that on the one hand he won, and on the other hand I am very happy that the other candidate did not win,” Mr Deutsch said.
“There are a lot of people in [Hofer’s] party who were and are very near to antisemitism and are often using antisemitic [expressions.] All’s well that ends well.” Sunday’s election brought the two candidates to a tie, which was broken today with the counting of nearly 500,000 absentee ballots.
By late afternoon, Mr Van der Bellen had an extremely narrow but clear advantage of 12,000 votes. Austrian Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka announced the results in the late afternoon.
The President of the Central Council of Jews, Josef Schuster, has described the presidential election in Austria as a “warning signal for us in Germany” despite the victory of the Green politician Alexander Van der Bellen.
In a talk with our editorial team, Schuster said, “as relieved as we are to have seen the electoral triumph of Van der Bellen, it is equally concerning to see the high levels of support the right-wing populist Norbert Hofer achieved.”
Although the number of refugees has already drastically fallen, almost half of voters chose a candidate who supports exclusion instead of integration. Schuster warned the democratic parties in Germany not to let themselves be led into “overtaking on the right”. Tolerance and solidarity must be defended.
European Jewish groups reacted with relief to the victory by a left-wing politician over a far-right candidate in Austria’s presidential elections.
Alexander van der Bellen, an environmentalist with a pro-refugee agenda, won with 50.3 percent of the vote on Sunday, despite early reports predicting victory for Norbert Hofer of the Austrian Freedom Party party, or FPO, in the runoff, the BBC reported.
Hofer had 49.7 percent of the vote. “While we are certainly satisfied with the result, there is little room to celebrate the high level of support for someone with such extremist views as Norbert Hofer,” European Jewish Congress President Moshe Kantor said in a statement Monday.
“Unfortunately, the dissatisfaction with the moderate mainstream parties is providing oxygen to those like Hofer” and the Austrian Freedom Party.
“We are seeing signs of these trends across Europe, so it is incumbent on the more centrist parties to use this as a wake-up call and listen to the grievances of the people,” he said.
The Jewish Community of Vienna has shunned the Freedom Party, which it regards as having problematic ties to neo-Nazis. Party Chairman Heinz-Christian Strache has denied the allegations and recently visited Israel, where he met with Likud arty officials. In 2012, Strache apologized for posting on Facebook a caricature depicting an obese, hook-nosed banker wearing star-shaped cufflinks.
Striking a more optimistic note, Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, the president of the Conference of European Rabbis, said the result is “a clear sign that Europe is beginning to realize that hate and fear politics are not the answer to the many challenges we are facing as a continent.”