Austria presents its anti-Semitism strategy

Oskar Deutsch (L), President of the Federal Association of Jewish Communities in Austria, during a visit to Vienna by former EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker (R). [EPA-EFE | Christian Bruna]

Austria presented its anti-Semitism strategy on Thursday (21 January). It is ambitious, but feasible, says one expert. EURACTIV Germany reports

Under Austria’s EU presidency in 2018, EU interior ministers adopted a joint anti-Semitism declaration that required member states to develop national strategies. This strategy was presented in Vienna on Thursday.

Based on six pillars (education, security, law enforcement, integration, documentation and civil society), it contains 38 concrete measures, such as the creation of a dedicated documentation centre for anti-Semitic incidents.

At the European level, the aim is to cooperate more closely and make data on incidents comparable.

Anti-Semitism is on the rise throughout Europe, including in Austria. Anti-Semitic symbols can be seen at coronavirus sceptic demonstrations, and in August, the president of the local Jewish community survived an assassination attempt.

Authorities have not officially confirmed an anti-Semitic motive behind the November attack in Vienna, but the perpetrator’s early shots were aimed at the Jewish city temple.

The government is tripling its investment to protect Jewish institutions to €4 million.

EU states lead UN campaign against anti-Semitism

Twelve EU governments were among the leading signatories on Tuesday (17 November) to a new campaign aimed at combatting rising anti-Semitism in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Must now be filled with life”

The strategy is “a milestone in the fight against anti-Semitism,” said the minister responsible, Karoline Edtstadler (ÖVP), “We must protect Jewish life and make it visible.”

At the same press conference, Oskar Deutsch, president of the Jewish Community of Vienna, thanked them for their work.

“The best answer to anti-Semitism is Jewish life,” but the projects must now be filled with life, Deutsch stressed.

Praise also came from Brussels. Katharina von Schnurbein, the European Commission’s coordinator on combating anti-Semitism, welcomed the effort for more comparable data throughout Europe.

The social democratic SPÖ’s minority protection spokeswoman Sabine Schatz also welcomed the document, calling it “an ambitious project.”

EU leaders to back harsher punishment for anti-Semitism

EU leaders will next week adopt a declaration on anti-Semitism urging European governments to impose harsher punishments for online hate crimes and adopt the anti-Semitism definition of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA).

Leap of faith

“Ambitious” can be synonymous with “unrealistic” in political communication, but Bini Guttmann, president of the European Union of Jewish Students, says the plans are feasible, provided the political will is there.

The government is sending the “right political signals,” and “they are serious about it,” Guttmann told EURACTIV Germany.

The recent change of government was decisive, Guttmann says. Under the last coalition between the conservative ÖVP and the far-right FPÖ, there had been projects against anti-Semitism, but they were all small scale.

Guttmann believes these projects might also have served to legitimise the ÖVP’s coalition with the far-right. Now, under the ÖVP-Green coalition, the government seems serious.

However, it is necessary to wait for implementation. Guttmann sees the need to improve police awareness of anti-Semitism.

At a 10,000-person coronavirus sceptic demonstration last weekend, right-wing extremist symbols were on display. Guttmann calls it “the biggest far-right mobilisation in my lifetime,” but police took no action, even though some of the symbols were illegal.

When asked about the demonstration, Edtstadler said they were “observing it closely.”

Not all participants are anti-Semitic, but they remain silent when they see such messages, Edtstadler said.

Currently, the government is considering whether to expand the list of banned symbols.

In addition, the spread of conspiracy ideologies on social media needs to be addressed. Too many become radicalised on Facebook before diving into Telegram groups, Guttmann said.

Edtstadler stressed that they want to focus on deleting illegal content, which usually does not include conspiracy theories.

Guttmann suggests forcing social media to disclose their algorithms to investigate where radicalisation is taking place. The European Digital Services Act (DSA) currently under discussion probably doesn’t go far enough here, he said.

[Edited by Sarah Lawton]

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