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Strache backs provincial party leader over 'anti-Semitic' slur

By Thomas Hochwarter

Freedom Party (FPÖ) leader Heinz-Christian Strache defended his parties’ provincial election candidate over what has been dubbed an anti-Semitic statement.

Strache said in last night’s "Sommergespräche" (Summer Talks) debate show on national broadcaster ORF he did not regard "exile Jew" a swear word or an insult. FPÖ Vorarlberg leader Dieter Egger caused outrage last week when he claimed Hanno Loewy, the head of the Jewish Museum in Hohenems, was an "exile Jew from America."

Vorarlberg Governor Herbert Sausgruber warned he would not consider a coalition of his People’s Party (ÖVP) and the FPÖ after the 20 September provincial election if Egger did not apologise.

Strache yesterday claimed Sausgruber’s reaction was "exaggerated", explaining: "Egger wanted to stress that the FPÖ did not accept that permanent kind of criticism of our poster campaign and other things by citizens of other countries."

The federal FPÖ leader added there would be no consequences for Egger, stressing his party would not allow the ÖVP to give them advice on how to manage their human resources. "(Former SPÖ Chancellor Bruno) Kreisky was also an exile Jew and a great patriot," he added.

Speaking on other issues, Strache appealed to ÖVP Interior Minister Maria Fekter to strip people who had recently become Austrian citizens and then turned to crime of their citizenship. On that issue, Strache apparently agrees with Alliance for the Future of Austria (BZÖ) MP Ewald Stadler, who made the same suggestion earlier this year after armed attackers had gunned down Sikh priests in a Vienna temple.

"Mass integration causes major problems," Strache claimed while speaking with ORF presenter Ingrid Thurnher and comedian Monica Weinzettl.

The FPÖ boss also criticised Vienna’s Social Democratic (SPÖ) Mayor Michael Häupl as there will be provincial election in the capital next year. Strache, who also heads the Vienna branch of his party, lambasted the Viennese SPÖ government as "socialist, which is the opposite of social", claiming he was the latter and Häupl was letting poor and underprivileged residents down.

Strache criticised the "low standard of education for young people" but also the federal government’s bank-assistance package. He repeated his calls for a subsidy plan for small and medium-sized businesses, including tax reductions.

Strache dismissed criticism of former poster campaigns with slogans such as "Abendland in Christenhand!" (Occident in the Hands of Christians!). "This is poster language that is short and precise and gives people a chance to discuss the matter."

Strache, who took over as FPÖ leader in 2005 when former party chief Jörg Haider went on to found the BZÖ, pledged: "We are a democratic party that disassociates itself from all forms of extremism, regardless of whether it comes from the left or the right side of the political spectrum."

The public prosecutor’s office in Feldkirch, Vorarlberg, meanwhile, has announced they will check statements made by Egger to find out whether legal action should be taken.

Head prosecutor Franz Pflanzner said: "There is a possibility the statements could lead to consequences under sedition paragraph number 238 because of wide media coverage."

Hanno Loewy, who was called an "exile Jew from America" by the politician, said he would "rather not" press for legal action over the statement. Loewy said: "What Egger said is not insulting but just wrong."

Egger reacted with newspaper ads in which he called for financial subsidies for Austrian families in the province. "The director of the Jewish Museum does not like that. He would love to ban our efforts for our home country. But we will not accept that. This has nothing to do with anti-Semitism."

Award-winning, Vorarlberg-based author Michael Köhlmeier, who interviewed BZÖ leader Josef Bucher in last week’s edition of ORF’s "Sommergespräche", blasted Egger, saying: "A man who says such things is discredited for all time. This person is done."

Köhlmeier, best known for his epic 2007 masterpiece "Abendland", added he would write a complaint to ÖVP Justice Minister Claudia Bandion-Ortner asking her to check if legal action could be taken against Egger.

Loewy said: "Egger knows where I’m coming from - Frankfurt. And not as an immigrant, but because I was asked to settle down here by Vorarlberg."

FPÖ General Secretary Herbert Kickl backed Egger. Kickl said it would be "ridiculous" to label Egger’s statements anti-Semitic. "There is no reason to apologise," Kickl added.

Kickl said Egger had only rejected interference by Loewy, who had criticised FPÖ slogans in an open letter.

Kickl said: "Politics is made by politicians, and we do not want any pseudo-moralistic intervention."

The discussion is only one of several regarding actions by the right-wing party or statements by its members this year. A few months ago, FPÖ MP and Third President of Parliament Martin Graf came under fire for accusing Ariel Muzicant, the head of the Austrian Jewish Community (IKG) of being the "godfather of anti-fascist, left-wing terrorism in Austria."

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