Austrian chancellor visits Western Wall in rare move for EU leader

Austrian chancellor visits Western Wall in rare move for EU leader

June 11 (UPI) — Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, a member of his country’s far-right party, visited Israel’s Western Wall over the weekend, an uncommon move for a leader of a European Union country.

Kurz, who came into power in Austria in October, arrived for a three-day visit to Israel Sunday, taking a trip to the Western Wall in a private, informal visit.

The Western Wall is normally not a site EU leaders visit, as the European bloc considers the wall “occupied territory.”

Kurz vowed to fight anti-Semitism in Austria amid criticism that the chancellor’s Freedom Party — a political party founded by former Nazis in the 1950s — has failed to tackle anti-Semitic attitudes in the country.

“As chancellor of Austria, I have to state that Austria and Austrians carry a heavy burden for the shameful crimes committed during the Shoah,” Kurz said.

“But let me assure you that we Austrians know that we are responsible for our own history. It is our duty and obligation to ensure that the Shoah will never happen again and that my generation and succeeding generations will never forget these horrific crimes.”

The Austrian leader also signed an agreement Sunday to allow the Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center to get access to the Austrian State Archives.

Kurz’s visit comes just days after Austria announced the closure of seven mosques and the expulsion of 60 religious leaders and their families from the country.

“Parallel societies, political Islam and tendencies toward radicalization have no place in our country,” Kurz said.