Austria’s ambassador in Tel Aviv sees nothing wrong with Arab parties being excluded from Israel’s government.
As his own country looks set to put neo-Nazis in power in Vienna, this is yet another remarkable demonstration of the racist values shared by European and Israeli elites.
Just as in Germany, there are clear indications of ties between Austria’s neo-Nazi far right and Israel’s right wing.
Ambassador backs exclusion
Last week Avi Gabbay, the leader of Israel’s ostensibly dovish Labor Party, declared that he would not join a coalition along with members of the Joint List, a grouping of parties made up predominantly of Palestinian citizens of Israel.
“We will not share a government with the Joint List, period,” Gabbay said. “Let that be clear.”
Ayman Odeh, the leader of the Joint List, condemned Gabbay’s racism. “Someone who doesn’t view Arab citizens and their elected representatives as a legitimate group, doesn’t present a real alternative to the right,” Odeh said.
Lieberman believes Palestinians like Odeh should eventually be stripped of their Israeli citizenship altogether.
Gabbay’s racism is unremarkable in the Israeli context. It has long been a consensus among Zionist parties that the fifth of the country’s citizens who are Palestinians should have no real role in decision-making.
Gabbay followed up with more belligerent comments on Sunday, declaring that “the Arabs have to be afraid of us” and that Israel need never evacuate any of its settlements built on occupied Palestinian land in violation of international law.
But what has also sadly become unsurprising is to see European diplomats, who frequently pretend to represent an enlightened “human rights” perspective, rationalizing this racism.
On Friday, Martin Weiss, the Austrian ambassador in Tel Aviv, had lunch with Gabbay, and appeared to offer a warm endorsement of the Israeli Labor leader on Twitter:
Weiss and Gabbay were joined for lunch by several other European diplomats.
I asked on Twitter if the Europeans had raised the issue of Gabbay’s open anti-Arab racism during the lunch.
Weiss responded, pointing out fairly enough that the lunch had taken place the day before Gabbay’s remarks refusing to let Arab parties join a coalition were reported.
Weiss added, “But do you think members of the Joint List would really want to join a Labor government?”
The Austrian ambassador appeared to be deflecting attention from Gabbay’s racism by pointing out that citizens who are discriminated against might not want inclusion in the first place.
I wanted to give Weiss an opportunity to back away from this, so I challenged him to publicly condemn Gabbay’s racism.
“Thanks but no thanks,” the ambassador replied. “Seems to me that every political party has the right to declare with which other party they would cooperate – or not.”
This could not be a clearer endorsement of the longstanding racist exclusion of Palestinian citizens of Israel on the grounds of their ethnicity.
It’s worth recalling that the landmark UN report on Israeli apartheid, suppressed last March by the UN secretary-general on American orders, found that while Israel’s political system gives nominal rights to the roughly 1.5 million Palestinian citizens of Israel, these add up to little in practice.
“Voting rights lose their significance in terms of equal rights when a racial group is legally banned from challenging laws that perpetuate inequality,” the report states. “Israeli law bans organized Palestinian opposition to Jewish domination, rendering it illegal and even seditious.”
These formal restrictions on advocating for an end to state-sponsored racism are supplemented by the informal consensus among party leaders – from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warning that Arabs were voting “in droves” to Gabbay vowing not to include the Joint List in a coalition – that government is an exclusively Jewish matter.
Neo-Nazis embrace Israeli right
Ambassador Weiss’ defense of Israeli racism was perhaps a warm-up for the work he’ll have to do defending his own country’s government in coming months.
Following Sunday’s Austrian general election, a new right-wing government led by the youthful foreign minister Sebastian Kurz is set to take power.
It’s widely expected that Kurz’s conservative People’s Party will form a coalition with the far-right, anti-Muslim Freedom Party, headed by neo-Nazi Heinz-Christian Strache.
The Freedom Party’s success comes just weeks after the neo-Nazi Alternative for Germany – known by its initials AfD – took about 100 seats in the Bundestag.
And just like AfD, Austria’s Freedom Party has discovered a recent affinity for Israel.
Last year, Strache, who used to march with a group imitating the Hitler Youth, visited Israel at the invitation of lawmakers from Netanyahu’s ruling Likud Party.
Just like other assorted anti-Semites and far-right extremists, Strache apparently saw Israel providing a laundering service. As media reports in Austria put it, the intention of Strache’s visit – complete with a pilgrimage to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial – was “to make himself kosher in Israel” in the hope that this would give him respectability elsewhere.
Europe’s new fascists and Israel’s right have also found an alliance in their common hatred of Muslims.
A photo posted on Strache’s Facebook page shows the pair in a friendly meeting.
European Jewish organizations have condemned Israeli outreach to Europe’s far right, including the Freedom Party. Last November, the leader of the Vienna Jewish community published a letter calling on Israeli politicians to shun such meetings and “to draw a very clear red line between us and those who represent hate, neo-Nazism and anti-Semitism.”
Recall that while Germany’s Jewish community expressed horror at AfD’s recent electoral success, Yehuda Glick defended the party.
There’s no mystery why: AfD leaders have given strong backing to Israel’s settlements in the occupied West Bank.
Austria’s Strache is following a similar line, supporting the settlements and becoming a champion of Israel’s claims to Jerusalem that are rejected by the rest of the world.
Strache handed Glick a letter to be delivered to Netanyahu vowing to do all he could to push for Austria’s embassy in Tel Aviv to be moved to Jerusalem.
With his party set to join the government, Strache will have his chance.
Once again, Israel is showing that its closest allies in Europe are the worst enemies of Jewish people.