Austria's far-right Freedom Party (Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs - FPÖ) said on Monday it had expelled Susanne Winter, a member of its parliamentary group, over anti-Semitic comments on Facebook and called on her to give up her seat.
The Freedom Party, which several polls suggest is the most popular in Austria, has gained support with an anti-immigration message during a massive influx of migrants into Europe, and has called for a border fence to be built around the country. But the remark on Facebook last week, in which MP Susanne Winter expressed support for an anti-Semitic comment, had crossed a "red line", her party said in a statement.
Winter, an MP since 2008, on Friday posted a link to an article in the German news magazine Der Spiegel that said Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban had blamed Europe's migration crisis in part on what he described as a prominent financier's support for human rights initiatives. Another user responded to the posting with a comment that included the phrase, "The Zionist money-Jews worldwide are the problem," according to Austrian media. Winter replied: "You take the words out of my mouth :-) There is a lot I am not allowed to write. That is why I am all the more pleased by brave, independent people!"
Winter had earlier insulted the Islamic Prophet Muhammad in a speech in 2008, in which she advocated Islam as a reactionary religion and defended that Muslims should be driven out of Europe. She was sentenced by an Austrian court with three-month jail term on suspension and a 24,000 euro fine.
The FPÖ offered Winter the chance to resign by 7 p.m. (1800 GMT) rather than be expelled from the party, but she did not do so. "Given that up to this point in time no announcement has been made as to the resignation of Susanne Winter, she is hereby excluded from the Austrian Freedom Party with immediate effect. In addition, the FPÖ continues to call for her to give up her mandate (in parliament)," the party said in a statement.
Winter, a member of the Austria-Israel parliamentary group, has since deleted the exchange. She was not immediately available for comment on Monday but denies being anti-Semitic. "Anti-Semitic ideas were, are and will always be completely abhorrent to me and I do not support this body of thought!" she said on Facebook on Sunday, the day the main Jewish community group called her "a disgrace to the Austrian parliament."
Her Facebook exchange was also condemned by members of Austria's main political parties and the speaker of parliament. Freedom Party leader Heinz-Christian Strache, who failed last month in his bid to become mayor of Vienna, has denounced anti-Semitism on the campaign trail. In 2012, however, he was accused of posting an anti-Semitic cartoon on his Facebook page. Austrian President Heinz Fischer Fischer called it "the low point of political culture, which deserves to be universally and roundly condemned". The cartoon showed a fat banker with a hooked nose and six-pointed star buttons on his sleeve gorging himself at the expense of a thin man representing "the people". Strache denied being anti-Semitic, after the cartoon provoked an outcry and prompted demands from the Jewish community that the political establishment condemn the act.
Like other far-right parties in Europe, the populist FPÖ has gained support in recent months on the back of concerns about the arrival in Europe of hundreds of thousands of migrants this year. Although it has called for Austria to put up fences on its borders, the party has toned down its xenophobic and anti-Islam rhetoric, emulating Marine Le Pen's makeover of the National Front in France. Recent national opinion polls have put the FPÖ in first place with more than 30 percent of voter intentions, although the next general elections are not due until 2018.