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Anti-Semitism in the European Union: Austria

(Updated December 2003)

Within the population of Austria (8 million) Jews form a small minority of about 8,000 persons, mainly living in Vienna. The Austrian problem of anti-Semitism seems to focus more on diffused and traditional stereotypes than on acts of physical aggression. Extreme rightist and neo-Nazi groups have intensified their activities since 2000, encouraged by the FPÖ electoral success in March 1999. Anti-Semitism is a main ideological component of most extreme right-wing groups and their publications in Austria. In the course of the last few years, themes directly concerned with the National Socialist past have been debated again and again in the public sphere: demonstrations were held against the Wehrmacht exhibition, there was controversy regarding a Holocaust memorial that was officially opened in 2000 and the question of restitution.

Anti-Semitism was an important issue in public debate during the period of observation. The crucial point in many discussions was indeed whether it was anti-Semitic to criticise or offend individual Jews or Israeli politics. The quality papers provided a rather clear answer: criticising or defaming Jews for being Jewish or playing with long-standing anti-Semitic stereotypes was indeed an act of anti-Semitism, whereas criticism of the work or behaviour of people of Jewish descent was not. We agree with this definition supposing that this criticism refers to Israeli governmental politics or any other behaviour which will not be connected with the Jewish descent of the criticised. Some debates showed how fuzzy the concepts of anti-Semitism and anti-Israeli criticism are. Especially in this grey-zone, ideas like a worldwide Jewish conspiracy “dictating political correctness” were rather openly expressed. The Austrian problem of anti-Semitism seems to focus more on these diffused and traditional stereotypes than on acts of physical aggression.

1. Physical acts of violence

The media analysis of the daily papers did not reveal any physical acts of violence towards Jews, their communities, organisations or their property.

According to the Federal Ministry of the Interior, a memorial plaque near the synagogue in St. Pölten, Lower Austria was damaged. The investigations of the complaint are yet to be completed, but the incident is an alleged infringement of Article 126 StGB (Criminal Code) (serious damage to property). The Federal Ministry of the Interior emphasised that its report possibly does not cover all incidents occurring during the monitoring period.

The NGO ZARA, based in Vienna and providing counselling and aid to victims and witnesses of racism, told the NFP that only one smearing of a swastika in Vienna was reported to them within the period of observation.

2. Verbal aggression/hate speech


The Israelitische Kultusgemeinde Innsbruck received one threatening letter. It was addressed to the president and individual members of the community. The letter said that Jews were not welcome in the Tyrol and that they should go to the USA or Israel, where they actually belonged. The letter also stated that the President of the Kultusgemeinde should apologise on TV for what the Israelis are doing to the Palestinians, and indicated there would be consequences if she refused to do so. The Forum gegen Antisemitismus (Forum against Anti-Semitism) reported that the Israelitische Kultusgemeinde Wien received 18 threatening letters and there were about six cases that their clients had qualified as anti-Semitic during the period of observation. The Ministry of the Interior reported two incidents of verbal aggression. A professor at the University of Salzburg received an anti-Semitic flyer from the USA. A billboard with anti-Jewish slogans was put up in Ried, Upper Austria. Investigations into this incident have yet to be completed.


The media analysis of the dailies disclosed three letters to the editor containing anti-Semitic language. One letter accused the Israelis of being themselves responsible for the emerging anti-Semitism; the other two letters were related to the discussion about the memorial Siegfriedskopf. The memorial was put up in commemoration of the people affiliated to the University of Vienna killed during WWI, but German fraternities, who mobilised against Jews and organisations accepting Jews as members, dominated the inauguration ceremony.

The analysis of the right-wing papers shows how anti-Israeli statements from right-wing politicians and journalists are linked to anti-Semitism and draw on the repertoire of anti-Semitic stereotypes. In an interview Jörg Haider spoke about the necessary fight against terrorism following 9/11, including the fight against “the state terrorist acts of Israel against the Palestinians”. “It is the old problem of the ambivalent standards the US applies, as everything done by Israel is accepted, including the extinction of civilians, of innocent people, whose houses are demolished by caterpillars, although there are still people in them. Whereas the USA is totally allergic to any kind of terrorist activity executed by the Arab side.” Haider accuses the media of contributing to an unparalleled “Volksverdummung” (making the people stupid) as they conceal “the real backgrounds of the power-political conflict in the world and especially in the Middle East”.

The following newspaper article, entitled “Israel is different”, gives an insight into the repertoire of anti-Semitic stereotypes invoked by right-wing extremism: “Israel has always been presented as a moral and political model state during the last decades. This picture was severely damaged by the latest incidents: more than 700,000 Palestinians have been expelled after the state of Israel has been founded .... Reparations paid for the victims of the Holocaust by Germany, Austria and Switzerland are hardly ever used for their dedicated purposes .... In 2002, Israeli soldiers have allegedly committed war crimes in Jenin and other cities.”

Public discourse/politics

The German discussion on anti-Semitism also filtered through into the regular party conference (Parteitag) of the Freedom Party (FPÖ). Governor Jörg Haider stated, alluding in the direction of Möllemann (deputy-chairman of the German FDP and party leader in North Rhine-Westphalia), that “if you are of an opinion, you must not get down on your knees about it a few days later”, and that the weakness in response to left-wing or Jewish critics is the reason why the FDP will never be as successful as the FPÖ. In an interview with the daily Kurier , Haider stated that it was unbearable that “the politically correct class” was dictating what to think and what not to think.

The conflict between the author Karl-Markus Gauß and Luc Bondy, director of the Wiener Festwochen (Viennese cultural festival), is based on a statement by Gauß in his book Mit mir, ohne mich hinting at Bondy’s vanity. Following the German debate about Martin Walser’s novel “Tod eines Kritikers”, Bondy said in an interview: “I am quite sure that Gauß is not an anti-Semite – apparently unconsciously he reverted to the rhetoric arsenal of anti-Semitism.” Gauß responded by saying that the images he used for Bondy’s vanity were definitely not taken from a pool of anti-Semitic stereotypes. Furthermore, he pointed out that it was rather dangerous to use the term “anti-Semitism” in a private conflict, for this leads to a term having a devastating tradition and exerting an ominous force in Austria losing its meaning.

3. Research Studies

We did not encounter any research studies reporting anti-Semitic violence or opinion polls on changed attitudes towards Jews. A research study also dealing with the place of anti-Semitism amongst racism and xenophobia under the title “Fremdenfeindlichkeit in Österreich” (Xenophobia in Austria) was conducted in the second half of the 1990s and presented at a press conference last year. Forty-six percent of the respondents showed a low or a very low tendency towards anti-Semitism, 35% were neutral and 19% were strongly or very strongly inclined to anti-Semitism. The most recent survey “Attitudes towards Jews and the Holocaust in Austria" from 2001 shows that agreement with anti-Semitic statements had increased compared to 1995 and that in a European comparison Austria belongs to those countries in which anti-Semitism is still widespread amongst the population. For example, 40% of Austrians in 2001, as against 29% in 1995, “strongly agree/or somewhat strongly agree” with the statement “Now, as in the past, Jews exert too much influence on world events.”

The survey commissioned by the ADL conducted between 9 and 29 September 2002 concerning “European Attitudes towards Jews, Israel and the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict” (see Table: Report on Belgium) established that anti-Semitic attitudes are still quite widespread among the Austrian respondents . 54% agreed with the statement “Jews are more loyal to Israel than to this country” whereby 40 % agreed to the statement “Jews have too much power in the business world”.

4. Good practices for reducing prejudice, violence and aggression

In the book “5 Fragen an 3 Generationen: Antisemitismus und wir heute” (5 Questions put to 3 Generations: Anti-Semitism and we today) the three authors belonging to three different generations ask themselves five questions about anti-Semitism: What are Jews to you? Has your attitude towards Jews changed during your lifetime? How do you explain Hitler and the extinction of the Jews to young people today? Are you for or against Jews emigrating from the East to Germany and Austria today just as in 1900? What do you think about Israel? The three authors answer these questions in a very personal way and try to explain the phenomenon of anti-Semitism and show the different perspectives of the three generations concerning the persecution of the Jews in the Nazi period and Israel. The book was presented and discussed in the Austrian newspaper where it was characterised as signifying “cultural change”.

The Mistelbacher Stadtmuseum (Municipal Museum in Mistelbach, Lower Austria) opened its exhibition Verdrängt und vergessen – Die Juden von Mistelbach (Repressed and Forgotten - The Jews of Mistelbach) on 9 June 2002. The exhibition shows the development of Jewish settlement since 1867, the life of the former Jewish community and their extinction.

The Jüdisches Museum Hohenems (Jewish Museum Hohenems) opened its exhibition Rosenthals. Collage einer Familiengeschichte (The Rosenthals. Collage of a Family History), which tells stories about a Jewish family who formerly lived in the Hohenems region and are now scattered all over the world. The stories and pieces were collected and displayed by the members of the Rosenthal family themselves.

5. Reactions by politicians and other opinion leaders

The members of the Austrian Government neither commented on any of the good practices mentioned above, nor on the negative trends mentioned in this report.

The following reactions and discussions by and among politicians and other opinion leaders show how fuzzy the borders between anti-Semitism and anti-Israeli attitudes are. Imprudent statements directed against the state of Israel and its leading politicians are apt to stimulate anti-Semitism, especially among those who are susceptible to anti-Semitic stereotypes.

Last year, the municipality of Salzburg put up a memorial plaque for Theodor Herzl which read: “In Salzburg I spent some of the happiest hours of my life. Dr. Theodor HERZL 1860-1904.” (“In Salzburg brachte ich einige der schönsten Stunden meines Lebens zu”) Federal President Klestil informed Heinz Schaden, the mayor of Salzburg, that he would prefer to see the complete quotation from Herzl’s diary: “So I would have loved to stay in this beautiful city, but, being a Jew, I would have never been awarded with the position of a judge.” In his letter, President Klestil wrote that “especially in Austria we must treat the memory of Theodor Herzl with special sensitivity.” This was the starting point of a discussion at the beginning of June, involving the Israelitische Kultusgemeinden Salzburg and Wien and ending with an agreement on 10 June 2002 to complete the text.

On 24 May, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs, visited the former concentration camp in Auschwitz during her visit to Poland. In her speech she stressed that it was “not easy for Austria to confess that many of our compatriots have been perpetrators, accomplices or people who knew about things happening (Mitwisser).” She stated that “we must learn from Auschwitz that we cannot watch inactively where anti-Semitism, hatred and intolerance occur.”

On 12 June, Ariel Muzicant and Josef Pühringer, chairman of the Landeshauptleutekonferenz (Governors Conference of the Federal Provinces), signed a restitution treaty. The treaty says that the Federal Provinces will pay 8.1 million Euro to the Kultusgemeinde for property that once belonged to Jewish communities and was expropriated or destroyed during the Nazi regime. The treaty cannot come into force, though, before the two class-action lawsuits in the USA are dropped. The negotiations prior to the signing of the treaty were closely watched, as governor Jörg Haider and Ariel Muzicant were previously involved in court proceedings, and Haider finally apologized for his libellous statement about Muzicant in February 2001. The discussion on whether Haider’s statement about Muzicant was anti-Semitic or not, dominated public discourse for a couple of weeks. An expert from the Kultusgemeinde Salzburg told us that the Internet fora of the ORF (Austrian Broadcasting Corporation) and dailies were full of anti-Semitic statements in connection with reports on the signing of this reparation treaty.

Sources: C.R.I.F. - Released by the European Jewish Congress