Austrian Jewish leader calls for action against anti-Semitism

Oskar Deutsch, president of the Jewish community in Austria. [U.S Embassy Vienna/Flickr]

Europe’s Jewish communities fear that anti-Semitism will grow hand in hand with Islamophobia. Austria’s Jewish community has called for integration courses for refugees in order to combat the perceived threat of Islamic anti-Semitism. EURACTIV Germany reports.

Europe’s Jewish population is around 1.2 million people, CIS countries not included. The largest communities are in France, England and Germany, with populations of 490,000, 295,000 and 120,000 people, respectively.

In Austria, there are approximately 15,000 Jews. President of the Jewish Community of Austria (IKG), Oskar Deutsch, said that, “Many of them live in fear for their safety.” Instances of anti-Semitism, such as the terrorist attacks last January and November in Paris, have unsettled people.

The situation differs from country to country. In France, it is widely believed that anti-Semitism is Islamist-motivated, though nationalists and right-wing Catholics have historically monopolised the prejudice. The issue, as some analysts of French politics fear, is a multiplication of anti-Semitic attitudes across communities.

In the United Kingdom, where Oskar Deutsch believes the most hostile attitudes are held, “many people encounter hatred towards Israel”. Though not overtly anti-Semitic, dislike of the Jewish state tends to get equated with anti-Judeophobia, in conservative Jewish quarters.

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The consequence of the current situation is a growing number of Jewish emigrants. In 2015, 20,000 Jews left Europe for Israel, 8,000 of which left France alone. A similar amount also fled Ukraine, where right-wing anti-Semitism is the primary culprit, in addition to war, and an uncertain economic situation.

In Austria there is “Islamic anti-Semitism”, said Deutsch. However, the situation is not nearly as bad as in other countries. “Here it is still possible to wear Jewish symbols, such as the yarmulke. In other countries such as France, Belgium and parts of Germany, communities are advising members of their congregation against doing so,” he warned.

In Austria, the government’s recent tack on refugee policy has been widely supported. The IKG has also welcomed a cap on refugee numbers. Given the large number of people entering Europe, a distinction must be made between economic migrants and people who genuinely need help, said the IKG president.

War refugees have an obvious right to asylum, but “Austria cannot accept the others”. He added that a refugee from, for example, Morocco, forfeits their right if they travel to Austria via several other countries.

Although Deutsch did not want to stir up prejudices, he nevertheless said that “many refugees were faced by anti-Semitic attitudes in school and the media in their homelands”. This way of thinking is not easy to abandon, he commented.

The IKG called for special courses for refugees in order to teach them Austrian and European values, as well as to promote religious tolerance. “The government must immediately start its integration effort. We have to expect that the people arriving are going to stay long-term. So we have to help them integrate quickly,” he added.

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Heinz Becker, an MEP with the EPP and security spokesperson, has gone one step further and called for an “EU action plan against anti-Semitism”. He also called for swift action, more cooperation with the media and comprehensive education programmes.

This would include EU-wide rules against hate speech and incitement. “All EU member states to come together against growing anti-Semitism,” he said.

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