Austrian far-right pol’s narrow loss in presidential runoff provides wake-up call, Jewish groups say
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 Party 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.”
The Freedom Party has campaigned hard against the admittance of migrants from the Middle East, including refugees, citing their religion, Islam, which the party says is irreconcilable with European values. Austria has taken in 100,000 migrants from the Middle East over the past year — action that commentators say has generated a backlash of discontent that is helping the far right.
Oskar Deutsch, president of the Jewish Community in Vienna, said: “I am very happy that van der Bellen won the election. He happens to be a good friend for many years to the Jewish community and a very good friend of the State of Israel.” He also said he is “happy the other candidate didn’t win.” Many Austrians voted for Hofer out of protest against the government and “not because they are sympathetic to the FPO,” Deutsch said.
Bernie Sanders wants Dem platform to better reflect Palestinian aspirations
Bernie Sanders wants to make Palestinian rights more of a priority in the Democratic Party platform, according to a report.
The Washington Post reported on Friday that Sanders, the Vermont Independent senator seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, wants to see changes to the platform to better reflect Palestinian aspirations for statehood.
Sanders, the only Jewish candidate to ever have won major party nominating contests, throughout the campaign has defended Israel’s right to security, but also has called for an end to settlement expansion and criticized what he has said has been Israel’s disproportionate response to Palestinian attacks.
The platform as approved in 2012 refers to aspirations for a “just and lasting” agreement that would result in two states. Much of its 300 or so words are otherwise given over to protections for Israel’s security and a demand that Palestinians “recognize Israel’s right to exist, reject violence, and adhere to existing agreements.”
Its only allusion to longstanding American calls on Israel not to prejudice a two-state outcome through settlement building is “to encourage all parties to be resolute in the pursuit of peace.”
The party platform stirred controversy during the 2012 convention when a vote to insert language affirming Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was met with boos.
Sanders is trailing front-runner Hillary Clinton in delegates, and the former secretary of state appears to have all but clinched the party nomination.
Separately, Sanders told CNN in an interview that he was backing Tim Canova, a primary challenger to Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), who in her separate capacity as Democratic National Committee chairwoman has feuded with Sanders’ campaign. He also said he would not reappoint Wasserman Schultz as party chairwoman were he elected president.
Sanders has said the DNC has rigged the election through its administration of its rules and by a debate schedule that at first appeared aimed at burying news coverage with placement in low-viewing time slots.
The DNC added debates and Wasserman Schultz has said the rules were in place for years.
Wasserman Schultz, one of the most prominent Jewish members of the party’s congressional caucus, told The New York Times that she remained neutral in the race between Sanders and Clinton.