Austrian rabbis condemn Russia’s chief rabbi for meeting head of country’s Freedom Party

Marcy Oster

(JTA) — Rabbis in Vienna condemned the chief rabbi of Russia for meeting the head of Austria’s far-right Freedom Party.

Russian Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar met this week with Heinz-Christian Strache and his delegation at his office in Moscow, the UK Jewish News reported.

The meeting came two weeks after the Freedom Party candidate for Austria’s president lost by a narrow margin in the country’s presidential election.

The party has relaunched efforts to ban ritual slaughter in the country, The Local Austria reported last week.

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A spokesman for the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia, which is headed by Lazar, told the Jewish News that the meeting was not a stamp of approval on Strache, but rather a “duty.”

“Rabbi Lazar is ready to meet everyone and have dialogue with everyone. He has met during career with Russian nationalists and seen good results. We believe talks are much better than pogroms,” the spokesman told the Jewish News.

Vienna-based Rabbi Schlomo Hofmeister called the meeting “astonishing, bizarre, worrisome.” He said that meeting with the members of the Freedom Party “implies they are kosher.”  He added: “The simple question is why and what for? If the intention is to gain any sort of gratefulness or political favoritism from fascists, then it is simply disgusting.”

Arie Folger, the chief rabbi of Vienna, said that it is possible that Strache is more open to Jews but that his party “continues to harbor people who really don’t like us, as well as people who while they might not dislike us, nonetheless see us as fair collateral damage in their opposition to Muslims,” on issues such as ritual slaughter.

The Federation spokesman also told the Jewish News that the delegation from the Freedom Party stressed that the party was not anti-Semitic and that they were friends of Israel,

Strache wrote on his Facebook page last week that he had recently met with Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, President-elect Donald Trump’s designated national security adviser, at Trump Tower in New York, something a Trump spokesman later denied.

The Freedom Party, which narrowly lost in presidential elections earlier this month, was founded in 1956 by a Nazi SS officer. Its past leader, Joerg Haider, called SS veterans “decent people of good character.”

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