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Anti-Semitic incidents are increasing in Austria, new report shows

Anti-Semitic incidents are increasing in Austria, new report shows

The Austrian anti-Semitism report for 2019 recorded a total of 550 incidents, marking an increase of almost 10 percent within two years.

Almost 50 percent of the 550 reported incidents were acts of right-wing extremists. The total number has doubled since 2014 and while there were only 46 reports in 2008, more than 500 anti-Semitic incidents have been reported annually since 2017. In 2019, most of the events (80 percent) took place in Vienna, the report shows.

In addition to swastika smearings and hate posts on social media, six physical assaults were among the hate attacks against Jews in Vienna last year. Another terrifying incident happened in the middle of a tram. A 13-year-old teenager in Vienna (who was recognizable as Jewish due to his Kippa) was kicked and insulted by another youth for no reason. The victim saw no alternative but to flee.

One year ago, parts of the exhibition with the title "Against Forgetting" in memory of the victims of the Nazi atrocities were damaged several times. The portrait photos of survivors of the Nazi persecution were smeared with swastikas and anti-Semitic slogans and damaged with a knife. The damage was not only a shock for the Holocaust-survivors, it was also a strong sign of the still existing anti-Semitism in Austria. After the attacks, the Caritas (a social aid organisation of the Roman Catholic Church), Austria’s Muslim Youth (the youth organization of the Islamic community in Austria) and some artists volunteered to guard the exhibition.

Some claimed that Muslim immigration and the large number of refugees in 2015 are responsible for the increase of anti-Semitic incidents. Although any anti-Jewish attack, whether of right-wing, left-wing or religious nature, has to be condemned, the figures show that far-right attacks are far ahead. Most of the incidents had an extreme right-wing background (268 cases), followed by Muslim (31 cases) and left anti-Semitic motives (25 cases). No assignment was possible for 226 incidents. Therefore, there might be a very large dark figure of unreported cases as well.

The Freedom Party of Austria does not have the most favourable reputation for its treatment against Jews, migrants and Muslims. Its first party leader, Anton Reinthaller, had a career in Nazi Germany as a SS-Brigadeführer and he was a member of the Nazi Reichstag. From December 2017 to May 2019, the FPÖ formed a coalition government together with the Austrian People's Party (ÖVP). The Freedom Party received almost 26 percent of the votes in the 2017 National Council election, which shows that racist and xenophobic agitation did not deter a big part of the Austrian population from voting for the right-wing extremist party. The coalition was dissolved last year because of allegations of corruption against ex-vice-chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache, the former party chairman of the Freedom Party. Now there is evidence that Strache wrote anti-Semitic statements by hand in a book in the early 1990s, as the German newspaper "Süddeutsche Zeitung" reports. Back then he described Jews as "enemies" and "power-hungry".

Another reason for the increase of anti-Semitism in Austria may be the lack of education on the subject. There are large gaps in knowledge about National Socialism, as a study among Viennese students shows. Even the term anti-Semitism was hardly properly defined by most of the students, and the number of Jewish victims in the Holocaust was massively underestimated. In the test sheet used in the study, a total of 35 points was the maximum score which could have been achieved. On average, however, the pupils only received 7.7 points.

I think there could be a further increase in anti-Semitic incidents this year due to the coronavirus, not just in Austria but all over the world. The Central Council of Jews in Germany said recently that the measures surrounding corona are increasingly being encroached by conspiracy theorists and right-wing populists for anti-Semitic agitation and Shoah relativization. Another problem is the fact that some demonstrators are wearing the stars of David to portray themselves as victims of the corona-measures. On the one hand, this procedure is mocking the victims of the Holocaust and, on the other hand, the act is playing down the hideousness of the Shoah.

 


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