Rise of Austria's Far-Right Seen Through Eyes of Lone Jewish Lawmaker

David Lasar Backs Populist Message of Freedom Party

anna goldenberg

By Anna Goldenberg

Published October 20, 2013, issue of October 25, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 3)

As negotiations between the two large parties over forming a new government began in mid-October, Deutsch saw one vital condition for the Jewish community’s well-being: “For the sake of Austria, the Freedom Party should not be part of any Austrian government,” he said. “I don’t think that any Jew voted for the Freedom Party.”

He dismissed Lasar as an isolated case.

It’s not just the party’s origins under the leadership of former Nazis that make Jews uncomfortable; it has more recently been accused of pandering to xenophobia and anti-Semitism. The Freedom Party’s former leader, Jörg Haider, famously sparred with Deutsch’s predecessor Ariel Muzicant, who headed the Jewish community until 2012. Today, around one-third of the Freedom Party’s members of parliament are associated with controversial right-wing fraternities, some of which hold connections to neo-Nazi or German nationalist groups.

Last year, party leader Strache attended a ball organized by several of these fraternities and compared the demonstrations against the event to the Kristallnacht pogroms of the Nazis. A few months before the elections, Strache posted a cartoon on his Facebook page that depicted a repulsive fat banker with a hooked nose and cufflinks that resembled Stars of David oppressing the Austrian people. Lasar blames the media for “exaggerating” the cartoon’s intent.

Such incidents, and the party’s anti-immigration stance, make it hard for other Jews to understand Lasar’s association with the Freedom Party. But he is not the first Jew to join it. Peter Sichrovsky, a former journalist, served as the general secretary of the Freedom Party from 2000 to 2002 and held a seat in the European Parliament from 1996 until 2005 as a Freedom Party member. But Sichrovsky resigned from the party in 2003 after an internal party power struggle and lives today in Chicago, where he works in the private sector.

Referring to Lasar, Deutsch said, “I’d call him a ‘pet Jew,’ which is how I called Mr. Sichrovsky.”

Raphael Sternfeld, 35, an Austrian Jews who serves as the international affairs adviser to Chancellor Werner Faymann, a Social Democrat, said, “I don’t understand what drives Mr. Lasar. Just look at Austrian history.”

Lasar says he has looked at Austrian history and concluded that “for me as a Jew, it is important to look forward.”

Lasar insists that he hasn’t encountered any anti-Semitism within the party. Indeed, he has been organizing several trips for party members to Israel. These have included cultural activities as well as meetings with settlers in the occupied territories. In December 2010, Lasar visited the Yad Vashem memorial with party leader Strache. When asked to cover his head, Strache put on the traditional hat of his German nationalist fraternity, Vandalia, which the Austrian Jewish community perceived as a grave insult. Lasar doesn’t see Strache’s behavior to have been disrespectful, because, after all, he did cover his head.

According to analysts, despite the associations of some of its members, most of those who vote for the party do not support extremist ideologies. Like Lasar, most of the party’s voters are simply disappointed with the “socialists,” which is how Lasar refers to the ruling Social Democrats.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Happy birthday Barbra Streisand! Our favorite Funny Girl turns 72 today.
  • Clueless parenting advice from the star of "Clueless."
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.