Thu, Jun 16, 2005 - Page 6 News List

Austria's far rightists, ultra-Orthodox Jews join together in strange alliance


Rightist John Gudenus, left, joins a bar mitzvah dance with orthodox rabbi Arye Friedman, second right, in downtown Vienna in this photo from April. Even in Vienna, the strange alliance between a small group of ultra-orthodox Jews and politicians associated with the far-right fringe is raising eyebrows.


Even for one of Europe's quirkier capitals, it was a bizarre spectacle -- a far-right politician who has questioned the existence of Nazi gas chambers noshing on salmon pate at a bar mitzvah and tapping his foot to wildly pulsating Hasidic music.

"The rabbi is a good friend of mine," John Gudenus said of his host. "Why, we've even had him over to the house!"

They make strange bedfellows from opposite fringes -- ultra-rightists and ultra-Orthodox Jews, joined in an alliance for diverging ends.

Brooklyn-born Moishe Arye Friedman says he's chief rabbi for hundreds of anti-Zionist orthodox Jews in Vienna. He wants formal state recognition of his religious community, and thinks the rightists can help. Gudenus and his cohorts say they have no hidden agenda in supporting Friedman's cause -- but they may have something to gain from it.

"For people like this, being seen with an orthodox Jew is an attempt to gain some legitimacy," says Wolfgang Neugebauer, the recently retired head of the publicly funded office that tracks neo-Nazi trends in Austria. "They try to create an `alibi Jew' to escape accusations of anti-Semitism."

The rightists sorely need positive publicity.

Their Freedom Party, which shocked Europe in 1999 by winning enough election votes to merit a place in government, is on the ropes after its less extreme wing bolted to form its own party this year.

Even as Austria struggles to come to grips with the country's part in the Holocaust during the time it was annexed to Hitler's Third Reich, the hard-liners continue to provoke uproar by sounding like apologists for the Nazis.

Just last month, Gudenus declared anew that whether the gas chambers existed should be "seriously debated."

Last week he amended that view to "there were gas chambers, though not in the Third Reich but in Poland."

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