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.
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“The Freedom Party is the only party that cares for the man on the street,” Lasar said.

The Freedom Party is widely seen as a protest party. “Ninety percent of its voters cast their ballot for unpolitical reasons,” said Hans-Henning Scharsach, author of books on both Haider and Strache. Only 10%, he estimated, made their decision based on the party’s extremist positions.

“Anti-Semitism is increasingly frowned upon,” Scharsach said, “so the populist far-right needs a new concept of the enemy.” Over the past decade, the Freedom Party has begun to adopt a hostile position against Muslims, using populist slogans that translate as “Patriotism instead of thieves from Morocco” or “Church bells instead of muezzins.” The Austrian far-right’s focus on Islam is seen in other European countries, as well, such as Geert Wilders’s Freedom Party in the Netherlands, and France’s National Front.

It’s possible that the Freedom Party might eventually connect with some Jews who view Austria’s growing Muslim population with wariness. Between 1981 and 2009, the country’s Muslim population grew to 6.2%of the total population from 1%. Roughly half of the 2009 Muslim population had Austrian citizenship. The next largest subgroups came from Turkey (21.2%) and Bosnia (10.1%).

Eric Frey, managing editor of the major national daily newspaper Der Standard and a former columnist for the Forward, suggested, “In 10 to 15 years, some Jews might identify with Strache more easily.”

But Rabbi Levi Sternglanz, a translator of Jewish religious texts in Vienna, won’t be one of them. Among other things, he adamantly rejects Lasar’s interpretation of the Talmud.

“If the choice lies between the poor of your city and the poor of another town, the poor of your own town have prior rights,” the passage from Bava Metzia to which Lasar referred reads. “It means exactly the opposite of what the Freedom Party does when they distinguish between ‘our people’ and ‘the others.’” Sternglanz wrote in an email. “It means you are obliged to care about all people who live in your town.”

Contact Anna Goldenberg at feedback@forward.com


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