Can a leader stamp out anti-Semitism?
It’s tough for a party with a neo-Nazi past to change its image, said Petra Stuiber. Heinz-Christian Strache has been trying to do just that for his Freedom Party, the junior member of Austria’s right-wing ruling coalition. The inclusion of the openly xenophobic party in government has caused diplomatic rifts. Israel, for example, refuses to meet with any Freedom Party members. And no wonder: Founded by ex-Nazis, the party from 1986 to 2000 was led by Jörg Haider, who defended SS veterans as “decent people” and called concentration camps “punishment camps.” Strache, though, seems to genuinely reject anti-Semitism. Good for him. Unfortunately, he heads a party, not a cult, and he can’t lead its members where they don’t want to go. Of course, not all Freedom Party supporters are brownshirts. But “‘individual cases’ of glorifying and/or excusing Nazism” keep popping up in this party, and only in this party. What else but a strong undercurrent of anti-Semitism can explain why Freedom Party–affiliated fraternities have been found using songbooks with lyrics about gassing Jews, or that Nazi paraphernalia has been discovered in the workplaces of party officials? Strache may be no bigot. But his party certainly attracts them.