“Not only migrants who just arrived to the country are partaking in the anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian protests, but also Austrians with passports who have lived here for two, three, or even four generations” said Secretary General at Jewish Communities of Austria, Benjamin Nägele, regarding Vienna’s wave of protests in May. According to him, in addition to Islamists, left- and right-wing extremists are also united by antisemitism and those protesting pandemic measures are trivializing the Holocaust.
– How have you experienced the anti-Israel protests in Austria of the past few weeks, triggered by the Middle East conflict?
– This isn’t the first time we’re seeing this. Unfortunately, antisemitism has remained here in Vienna and Austria. Of course, it’s renewed not just in Europe but globally as well with every escalation in the Middle East. We of course reacted very sensitively to this, all the more so as our Jewish community has a very personal, emotional attachment to the region. Many of us have friends or family living in Israel who we genuinely worry about. At the same time, we are fully aware that the conflict is being abused incessantly, blurring Israelis and Jews together. Jewish communities are blamed for what’s happening in the Middle East and this is repeatedly leading to antisemitic manifestations that we unfortunately witness in Vienna too. For instance, they glorify Islamist terrorist organizations like Hamas, or they are constantly trivializing the Holocaust. Naturally, our sense of security suffers. We have taken measures, informed members of our community to the issue and we are of course working closely with authorities to thoroughly strengthen security measures.
– How many Jewish people live in Austria today?
– Our community has 7,800 members in Vienna and a total of just over 8,000 throughout Austria. Our Jewish community is very diverse – Orthodox Jewish life for example is also visible in Vienna. It is of course a point of conflict in the Jewish quarter if these anti-Israel demonstrations actually march through the city center and in the immediate vicinity of our services.
– The Vienna community also warned its members of the anti-Israel demonstrations were being held the other day on the Mariahilfer Strasse area. Is this the new normal? Citizens should stay at home while extremists take the Vienna streets?
– At the end of last year, there was a terrorist attack right in front of the Stadttempel (Austria’s main synagogue –ed) and in 1981 there was another attack as well. Since then, security has naturally been a very important issue for us. We have been preparing our community members whenever protests are expected. These could be Islamist or Palestinian demonstrations, an anti-Israel protest calling for a boycott, radical right-wing demonstrations or, as was quite frequent last year, protests against the government and pandemic measures. The latter are similarly expressing antisemitic sentiments as they present themselves as victims and trivialize the Holocaust. So, we have a palette composed of totally different elements here: left- and right-wing radicals, Islamists. I would also add however that we never called for people to not leave their homes – this has unfortunately been somewhat exaggerated by the media.
– About 700,000 Muslims live in Austria. Minister for Integration Susanne Raab of the Austrian People’s Party said, “conflicts are being brought to us from abroad.” Do you agree that when people are admitted from conflict zones, their problems, and thus antisemitism, are imported with them?
– Antisemitism was not imported in recent years through the migrant crisis, it was present before. Not only migrants who just arrived to the country are partaking in the anti-Israel and pro-Palestinian protests, but also Austrians with passports who have lived here for two, three or even four generations. I would also point out that these demonstrations are attended by a wide range of types: Turkish nationalists, the Grey Wolves, Hamas sympathizers and right-wing radicals. Their one thing in common is that they are united in their hatred for Israel and, above all, hatred of European Jews.
– What would you expect from Austrian authorities? How can the state better protect its citizens?
– Protection is the most important word. The protection of our fundamental and democratic rights along with physical protection. I believe both are very important in a democratic society. We expect and we do receive excellent cooperation with the local authorities. The Jewish community and the city of Vienna in general also have an incredibly high standard of security. Vienna is indeed one of the most beautiful and safest cities in the world and we, as the Jewish community, feel very good here.
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