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Austrian envoy to attend Israeli parliament session on far-right party boycott

emonstrators hold posters 'Nazis get off' during a demonstration against the Austrian Freedom Party FPOe in Vienna, Austria, Friday, Oct. 13, 2017.
AP Photo/Ronald Zak
Foreign ministry opposed Austrian Ambassador's attendance in case debate on the issue strained relations

Austria's ambassador to Israel will attend a special parliamentary session on Monday dealing with Israel’s boycott of Austria’s far-right Freedom Party, which has neo-Nazi origins, despite an objection by the foreign ministry.

Foreign Ministry officials believe that it would not be appropriate for Ambassador Martin Weiss to attend the session in order to protect the sensitive relations between Israel and Austria should debate over Israel’s decision to avoid contact with Freedom Party ministers become heated, Israel’s Channel 10 news first reported.

The Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, which is set to meet on the subject on Monday, informed lawmakers that “after clarification with the most senior levels at the Foreign Ministry, it was decided that it would not be correct to officially invite the Austrian ambassador on behalf of the committee. It could create more damage than benefit.”

Soon after, chairman of the committee Avi Dichter issued a statement declaring that at the request of lawmakers the session would be an open meeting and that therefore “anyone authorized to enter the Knesset building by the Knesset’s sergeant-at-arms can come into this session.”

“The fact that the Foreign Ministry does not wish to invite the Austrian ambassador to this session on its behalf is not meant to prevent any other Knesset member who decides to invite him to do so [and does not] prevent him from entering the session even if he was not invited,” Dichter’s statement said, according to Haaretz.

EMMANUEL DUNAND (AFP)

Despite the foreign ministry’s objection, Weiss indicated that he plans to attend the session writing on Twitter that he “gladly accepts the invitation” which was extended to him by Zionist Union lawmaker Amir Peretz, who the ambassador said chairs the so-called “Austrian-Israeli friendship group.”

The Freedom Party, led by Heinz-Christian Strache, joined Austria’s coalition government late last year. It is widely considered the strongest far right party in all of Europe.

Strache is the political heir of Jörg Haider, the former head of the Freedom Party who was infamous for his anti-Semitism and pro-Nazi opinions.

When the party joined the Austrian government in 2000, Israel recalled its ambassador in a diplomatic crisis that continued until 2003.

Though the party has moved to clean up its image, not everyone is convinced.

Strache, who has a past stained by frequent anti-Semitic incidents and instances of Nazi propaganda, has dismissed as youthful dalliance his former associations with neo-Nazi groups and has positioned himself out as a vocal advocate and friend of Israel.

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