Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and former Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz during a previous press conference in occupied Jerusalem (French)

BERLIN – Among the ten countries that explicitly rejected the ceasefire in the Gaza Strip and voted against the project in the United Nations General Assembly on December 12, 2023, is Austria.

Besides the Czech Republic, they are the only two European countries to take this position, insisting on it again after the session at the end of last October, after Croatia and Hungary backed down from standing against the decision as they had previously done.

Many questions arise about the position of Austria, a country that has been known for decades for a relatively neutral policy approach, by adopting a European isolated position that opposes human values and insists on the continuation of the aggression on Gaza.

Here are some questions and answers about Austria's position:

Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer at a rally from Vienna in support of Israel in its aggression on Gaza (Getty Images)

Who currently leads Austria, and what are their positions?

Karl Nehammer has been Austria's adviser since the end of 2021 and is Sebastian Kurz's former interior minister who resigned following corruption allegations. Nehammer belongs to the conservative People's Party, which in recent years has grown too close to Israel.

Since the young Kurz came to power in 2017, Austria and Tel Aviv have announced a new chapter in their relations, during which relations have developed at all levels.

Kurz, born in 1986, called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a "paternal friend" and raised the Israeli flag over the chancellery in the wake of the war between the Islamist group Hamas and Israel in 2021.

In the eyes of Dr. Austrian of Egyptian origin Farid Hafez, a senior researcher in the "Bridge Initiative" at Georgetown University, Austria is now closer, more than ever, to the German model in the relationship with Israel, especially because of the sensitivity of history that brings together the three parties, he tells Al Jazeera Net.

The far-right Freedom Party, which is now in opposition, is trying to push for a greater role for Austria in world peace, criticizing its departure from its neutrality. The party is ahead of its rivals in the polls and, if predictions come true, will win the 2024 election.

How did the relationship between Israel and Austria begin?

Austria, which witnessed the birth of Herzl, also witnessed the birth of several Nazi leaders, the most important of which is Adolf Hitler, and was considered a victim of Nazi policies by virtue of Hitler's annexation to Germany. After World War II, Austria remained for ten years under the tutelage of the Allies, after which it tried to maintain a neutral position in international politics, relatively influenced by the experience of its neighbor Switzerland.

But Vienna, according to the Institute of Humanities, was keen on diplomatic relations with Tel Aviv immediately after its establishment, and sought to do so quickly, in order to strengthen its image as the "first victim of Nazism" and to avoid accountability for the crimes committed by its leaders against Jews during the war.

Unlike Germany, Israel questioned Austria about this past only after relations soured later.

Late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat with former Austrian Chancellor Bruno Kreisky (centre) (Getty Images)

How have relations soured?

After the end of World War II, Austria did not follow the same German positions in unlimited support for Israel, but the relationship remained tense, especially with the presence of the Austrian Freedom Party, which Tel Aviv sees as an outlet for neo-Nazis, and therefore rejected any rapprochement with it, but recalled its ambassador from Vienna in 1999 after the party entered the federal government.

Another chapter of tension (between 1986 and 1992) is that former Austrian President Kurt Waldheim, who previously served as Secretary-General of the United Nations and also belongs to the Freedom Party, was accused of committing crimes while he was a soldier in the Nazi army, and Israel strongly rejected his candidacy for the presidency, and America prevented him from entering its territory, but the government insisted on his innocence.

The greatest tension between Austria and Israel was under Jewish Chancellor Bruno Kreisky of the Austrian Socialist Party (1970-1983), who rejected Tel Aviv's policies and was supportive of the Palestine Liberation Organization, and invited the late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat to Austria in 1979 in Arafat's first official meeting with a European leader on the continent, despite Israeli discontent.

Farid Hafez: Austria is now closer than ever to the German model in the relationship with Israel (Anatolia)

What are the reasons for the Austrian transformation?

"Austria after World War II was more or less supportive of the Palestinians, and opened an embassy for the PLO under Kreisky," comments Farid Hafez, highlighting that the shift towards Israel began in recent years, especially when Austria turned to the right, especially with the new generation within the People's Party.

Sebastian Kurz has played a big role in this rapprochement since he was appointed foreign minister in 2013, and growing hostility to Muslims among European right-wing parties has led them to seek closer ties to Israel to improve its international reputation, including those in Austria.

Recently, the Austrian parliament passed a resolution condemning the BDS movement in a simulation of the German parliament, introduced by Kurz's party.

The Austrian researcher said right-wing political parties "admire Israel because they envision it as a pure nation-state, as well as a bulwark against the threat of Islam."

Source : Al Jazeera