Slur on Soros-Founded University Deepens Austrian Cabinet Rift

(Bloomberg) -- Austria’s nationalist Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache reiterated his opposition to the planned move to Vienna by the university founded by financier George Soros, deepening the split with Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who has supported the move.

Strache called Central European University a “letterbox" school and a “wandering university” in an interview with Austrian daily newspaper Der Standard, using a label he first invoked at a press conference standing next to Kurz earlier this week.

The Wandering Jew, or Eternal Jew, is a classic trope of European antisemitism going back to at least the Middle Ages. However, Strache said he wasn’t aware of that link and dismissed allegations of antisemitism as “plucked out of thin air.”

The vice chancellor’s antagonism shows CEU’s travails haven’t ended with this week’s announcement that it would relocate most of its programs to Austria. The university, originally opened in Prague in 1991, moved to Budapest two years later and is now leaving on the expectation that the rule of law would have more respect in Austria. President Michael Ignatieff said he was looking for a permanent home for CEU in Vienna and and not "exile," after coming under fire from Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government in Hungary.

Kurz, who met Soros in Vienna a few weeks ago, said that free universities are a key policy that mustn’t be questioned and that CEU would be an asset for Austria. Strache’s Freedom Party opposed the plan in the Vienna city council but was outvoted by the governing coalition and Kurz’s conservative People’s Party.

In his defense against the accusation of antisemitism, Strache cited the fact that Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also criticized Soros’s positions. Orban, who is also close to Netanyahu, has vowed zero tolerance against antisemitism though he was re-elected this year in a campaign focused on vilifying Soros.

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