Vienna rabbis condemn Russia’s chief rabbi for meeting head of Austria’s Freedom Party

December 27, 2016

(JTA) — Rabbis in Vienna condemned the chief rabbi of Russia for meeting the head of Austria’s far-right Freedom Party.

Russian Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar met this week with Heinz-Christian Strache and his delegation at his office in Moscow, the UK Jewish News reported.

The meeting came two weeks after the Freedom Party candidate for president lost by a narrow margin in Austria’s presidential election.

The party has relaunched efforts to ban ritual slaughter in the country, The Local Austria reported last week.

A spokesman for the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia, which is headed by Lazar, told the Jewish News that the meeting was not a stamp of approval on Strache but rather a “duty.”

“Rabbi Lazar is ready to meet everyone and have dialogue with everyone,” the spokesman told the Jewish News. “He has met during his career with Russian nationalists and seen good results. We believe talks are much better than pogroms.”

Rabbi Schlomo Hofmeister of Vienna called the meeting “astonishing, bizarre, worrisome,” and that meeting with the members of the Freedom Party “implies they are kosher.”

“The simple question is why and what for,” he said. “If the intention is to gain any sort of gratefulness or political favoritism from fascists, then it is simply disgusting.”

Arie Folger, the chief rabbi of the Austrian capital, said it is possible that Strache is more open to Jews but that his party “continues to harbor people who really don’t like us, as well as people who while they might not dislike us, nonetheless see us as fair collateral damage in their opposition to Muslims” on issues such as ritual slaughter.

The federation spokesman also told the Jewish News that the Freedom Party delegation stressed that the party was not anti-Semitic and was a friend of Israel.

Strache wrote on his Facebook page last week that he had recently met with Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, President-elect Donald Trump’s designated national security adviser, at Trump Tower in New York. A Trump spokesman denied a meeting took place.

The Freedom Party was founded in 1956 by a Nazi SS officer. Its past leader, Joerg Haider, called SS veterans “decent people of good character.”

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