At World Jewish Congress plenary assembly, EU Commission president outlines EU strategy to combat antisemitism

Austrian European Affairs  Minister Karoline Edtstadler (pictured) stressed Austria’s responsibility to fight anti-Semitism regardless of whether it comes from the far right, leftists, immigrants or anybody else, writes .

The strategy presented is based on six pillars: education, security, law enforcement, integration, documentation and civil society.

The Austrian government presented on 21 January its strategy to fight anti-Semitism which includes enhanced protection of synagogues, improved education about Judaism and stricter prosecution of hate crimes against Jews.

Austrian European Affairs  Minister Karoline Edtstadler stressed Austria’s responsibility to fight anti-Semitism regardless of whether it comes from the far right, leftists, immigrants or anybody else.

The new measures intend to battle anti-Semitism in all its forms and wherever it expresses itself — from online chat groups to hate speech in corner bars or expressions of hatred against Jews at public protests such as the current rallies against coronavirus regulations, Edtstadler said.

During the Austrian Council Presidency in 2018, the EU Interior Ministers adopted a joint declaration against anti-Semitism which, among other things, obliged states to develop national strategies. Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has called for a European declaration to ensure a clear and unambiguous position against anti-Semitism.

The strategy presented is based on six pillars: education, security, law enforcement, integration, documentation and civil society. A total of 38 concrete measures were announced, such as the creation of a separate documentation center for anti-Semitic incidents and a new staff unit for coordinating the fight against anti-Semitism. Austrian also wants to work more closely at the European level, for example by making data on incidents comparable, as the EU declaration also called for.

This strategy is “a milestone in the fight against anti-Semitism”, said the Karoline Edtstadler during the presentation. “We have to protect Jewish life and make it visible. May it succeed.”

At the same press conference, Oskar Deutsch, President of the Israelitische Kultusgemeinde Wien, the Jewish community of Vienna, thanked the minister for her work. “The best answer to anti-Semitism is Jewish life,” he said. ‘’But the political plans now have to be filled with life,’’ he added.

Katharina von Schnurbein, the European Commission’s Coordinator on combating antisemitism and fostering Jewish life, praised the Austrian strategy announcement and welcomed the fact that the Austrian documentation center will ensure that data material that is comparable across Europe is collected.

The strategy is “ambitious”, said von Schnurbein.

Anti-Semitic incidents are rising across Europe, including Austria. During Corona demonstrations one can see banners with anti-Semitic symbols. Last August, the president of the  Jewish community of Graz survived an attack. The anti-Semitic background to the terrorist attack in Vienna in November has not yet been officially confirmed, but the perpetrator’s early shots were aimed at the Jewish city synagogue. This is probably one of the reasons why the Austrian government is tripling its investments in protecting Jewish institutions to four million euros.

“Jews are always the first ones who are affected by discrimination,” Deutsch warned, adding that the fight against anti-Semitism needs to be an effort by the whole of society, not just the Jewish community.

In 2019, Austria recorded 550 anti-Semitic incidents, Edtstadler said.

“That is twice as much as five years ago,” she added


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