Opposite Fringes Form Odd Alliance in Vienna

VIENNA -- 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 said he was chief rabbi for hundreds of anti-Zionist orthodox Jews in Vienna. He wants formal state recognition of his religious community and thinks that the rightists can help.

What the rightists and the rabbi share is a campaign against the Israelite Religious Community, the body formally recognized by the government as representing all Jews in the city and therefore the channel through which the government doles out support to Jewish schools, synagogues and other establishments.

The set-up, a relic from Austria's imperial past, was ruled unconstitutional in 1982. But the government has yet to rule on Friedman's bid to have his group recognized as a Jewish community independent of and fully equal to the 7,000-member Israelite Religious Community.

The rabbi has turned to Ewald Stadler, who is one of the country's three "People's Attorneys," or ombudsmen. Stadler, former top aide to Joerg Haider who led the Freedom Party to its 1999 triumph, has equated Nazi rule of Austria to the post-World War II occupation by the Allies.

The diminutive Friedman also courts controversy by uttering views that are repudiated by most Jews and in some cases embraced by far-rightists. Friedman denies Israel's right to exist, saying it is up to God to lead Jews out of the Diaspora. He says Zionist Jews share the blame for the Holocaust, which he sees as punishment for straying from God's path.

Jewish anti-Zionism, on both religious or political grounds, is as old as Zionism itself. But it tends to be a minority view.

Friedman is shunned by representatives of the Israelite Religious Community, who accuse him of being on the rightists' payroll -- something he does not deny.

"He's a one-man show," said the community's secretary-general, Avshalom Hodik. "And Stadler is an extremist. We have extremists attracting each other."