Antisemitism in contemporary Austria

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Evidence for the presence of Jewish communities in the geographical area today covered by Austria can be traced back to the 12th century. In 1848 Jews were granted civil rights and the right to establish an autonomous religious community, but full citizenship rights were given only in 1867. In an atmosphere of economic, religious and social freedom, the Jewish population grew from 6,000 in 1860 to almost 185,000 in 1938. In March 1938, Austria was annexed by Nazi Germany and thousands of Austrians and Austrian Jews who opposed Nazi rule were sent to concentration camps. Of the 65,000 Viennese Jews deported to concentration camps, only about 2,000 survived, while around 800 survived World War II in hiding.[1]

Antisemitism did not cease to exist in the aftermath of World War II and continued to be part of Austrian political life and culture with its strongest hold in the political parties and the media. Bernd Marin, an Austrian sociologist, has characterized antisemitism in Austria after 1945 as an ‘antisemitism without Jews’, since Jews constituted only .1 percent of the Austrian population. Antisemitism was stronger in those areas where Jews no longer lived and where previously practically no Jews had lived, and among people who neither have had nor have any personal contact with Jews. Since post-war prejudice against Jews has been publicly forbidden and tabooed, antisemitism was actually 'antisemitism without antisemites', but different expressions to it were to be found in the Austrian polities. During the 80', the taboo against open expressions of explicitly antisemitic beliefs has remained, but the means of circumventing it linguistically have extended its boundaries in such a way that the taboo itself appears to have lost some of its significance. Anti-Jewish prejudices which had remained hidden began to surface and were increasingly found in public settings. Thus, verbal antisemitism was rarely expressed directly, but rather used coded expressions, which reflected one of the country's major characteristics - ambivalence and ambiguity toward its past.[2][3]

Today the Jewish community of Austria consists of about 8,000 persons. The ‘Jewish Faith’ community is the fifth largest recognized religious community in Austria with the status of a corporation under public law. Nevertheless, antisemitism in contemporary Austria seems to focus more on diffused and traditional stereotypes than on acts of physical aggression. It is a main ideological component of most extreme right-wing groups and their publications in Austria. Extreme rightist and neo-Nazi groups have intensified their activities since 2000, encouraged by the FPÖ electoral success in March 1999. During the first years of the 21st century, themes directly concerned with the National Socialist past have been repeatedly debated 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.[4]

According to the CFCA (the Coordination Forum for Countering Antisemitism) there have been more than 15 antisemitic incidents during the years 2012-2013. Most of them included swastikas draws, desecrate of Jewish graves, tarnish of the Stepping Stones in Salzburg (stones that commemorate names of people murdered during the holocaust), and even an expulsion of Hasidic young man from a vacation apartment, because of his Judaism.[5] During 2014 two stepping stones were vandalized again.[6][7] On July that year, while operation Protective Edge took place in Gaza Strip, a training match between Israel and Austria football squads ended with violent attack of the Israeli team by some Austrian pro-Palestinian fans.[8] Couple of months later, a biker dresses as a neo-Nazi waved a knife at passers-by next to the synagogue in Vienna, while shouting xenophobic and antisemitic slogans.[9] Additionally, a monument commemorating the Holocaust victims was defaced in the capital.[10]

In the beginning of 2015 there were three incidents of antisemitic graffiti in Austria. All of them were on memorials for the Holocaust: In the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp complex,[11] on a memorial for the Jews of Hietzing[12] and on a wall at Salzburg.[13] Later that year, another antisemitic attack occurred when plaques dedicated to Jewish victims of the Holocaust were desecrated in Wiener Neustadt.[14] On July that year, an antisemitic act occurred in the Religions Campus in Aspern when a pole with a Star of David flag was toppled and a swastika was sprayed on it. The act was condemned by the Archbishop of Vienna.[15]

Data and analysis[edit]

The main source of official data on antisemitic incidents in Austria is the Federal office for the protection of the constitution and counter-terrorism (BVT). Another main source for unofficial data are two NGOs in Austria: the Forum against antisemitism (FGA) and Civil courage and anti-racism work (ZARA).[16]

Trends in Anti-Semitic Attitudes in Austria[17][18][19][20][21]
Percent responding “probably true”
Jews are more loyal to Israel than to this country
Jews have too much power in the business world
Jews have too much power in international financial markets
Jews still talk too much about the Holocaust
  •   2002
  •   2004
  •   2005
  •   2007
  •   2009
  •   2012

A research study under the title “Xenophobia in Austria" which was conducted in the second half of the 1990s, found that 46 percent of the respondents showed a low or a very low tendency towards antisemitism, 35% were neutral and 19% were strongly or very strongly inclined to antisemitism.[4] According to a study commissioned by the University of Linz in 2002 which aimed at measuring the significance of attitudes towards antisemitism, the rebirth of Nazi ideology, right-wing extremism and other forms of deviance through the severity of their punishment, the rebirth of Nazi ideology and right-wing extremism ranked tenth and antisemitism fifteenth among the offenses that should be more severely punished (among 25 issues included in the survey). Almost 33% of the interviewees supported more severe punishment for rightwing extremism and almost 20% for antisemitism. The number of respondents favoring less severe punishment for both categories decreased between 1998 and 2002. A recent Eurobarometer survey showed that nearly 60% of Europeans thought that Israel presented a threat to world peace, which is more than for any other country in the survey. The percentage of Austrian respondents perceiving Israel as a threat to world peace is 69%, which is higher than the average of the EU15 and second only to the Netherlands (74%).[1]

Recorded antisemitic offenses committed by right-wing extremists in Austria, 2001–2011 [22][23]
Year Recorded antisemitic offenses
2001 3
2002 20
2003 9
2004 17
2005 8
2006 8
2007 15
2008 23
2009 12
2010 27
2011 16
2012 27
2013 37
2014 58

In explaining the antisemitic climate change during the 21st century, the FGA suggested three main developments which influenced the climate for the Austrian Jewish community: Firstly, since the beginning of public discussion during 2003 concerning restitution and restitution payments to the Jewish Faith Community as compensation for victims of war crimes, a growing extent of antisemitic attitudes towards Jewish citizens and Jewish institutions – in particular the Jewish Faith Community – has been felt. Secondly, the aggravated situation in the Middle East contributed to a negative attitude towards Jewish citizens. The FGA assumes that this is because many still do not make the distinction between the state of Israel and Jews, and hold their Jewish fellow citizens responsible for events in the Middle East. It should be mentioned that according to the annual survey conducted by the ADL in 2007, 'Attitudes Toward Jews and the Middle East in Six European Countries', Austria was the one of the only two countries (together with Hungary) where more respondents cited anti-Jewish sentiment as opposed to anti-Israel feelings as the main cause of the violence directed against Jews in those countries.[24] Thirdly, the FGA argued that a camouflaged, “coded” antisemitism evolved while the taboo against open antisemitism has weakened, but not disappeared. According to the FGA, this led to the growth of the social acceptance of right-wing extremism in Austria.[1]

On 2015 the Fundamental Rights Agency published its annual overview of data on antisemitism available in the European Union. According to the report, there was an increase of antisemitic offences recorded in Austria. Moreover, the number of incidents recorded in 2014 (58 incidents) is the highest annual number of incidents when considering the period 2004–2014. Additional unofficial data included in the overview shows that 31 cases out of the 58 recorded were antisemitic graffiti incidents.[25]

The ADL (Anti-Defamation League) published on 2015 the "ADL Global 100",[26] an international survey conducted in 2013-2014 to measure antisemitic opinions in 100 countries around the world. The survey revealed that 28% of the adult population in Austria harbor antisemitic opinions, as reflected through the DATA: More than 50% of the population expressed agreement with the phrase "Jews still talk too much about what happened to them in the Holocaust", and more than 40% of the population agreed with "Jews are more loyal to Israel than to this country" and "Jews have too much power in international financial markets".

Antisemitic discourse[edit]

The degree of threat and hostility towards Jews expressed in language varied greatly: different forms and different degrees of directness and boldness could be differentiated according to context and speaker into four hierarchical levels of antisemitic statements:[2][27]

Unofficial data on antisemitic incidents in Austria, 2003–2010 [22]
Year Forum against antisemitism ZARA: antisemitic graffiti
2003 134 18
2004 122 17
2005 143 10
2006 125 9
2007 62 60
2008 46 33
2009 200 86
2010 - 33
  • Level 1 - Trivialization and relativization of antisemitism and the uniqueness of the Holocaust. This occurred in totally formal and official contexts such as news broadcasts and informational programs on Austrian radio and television.
  • Level 2 - Victim– victimizer reversal. i.e. Statements with the content: ‘antisemitism is the Jews’ own fault’. Such remarks are packaged differently and occur in many contexts, especially in semi-public ones.
  • Level 3 - All traditional antisemitic prejudices appear implicit or explicit. This requires either less formal contexts or especially well-known figures.
  • Level 4 - Direct and open abuse of Jews. Such labels appeared only in anonymous settings.

Thus, a range and qualities of antisemitic discourse can be found in contemporary Austria, from silence to flagrant expressions of prejudice. The 'Jews' form the archetypal other while the antisemitic discourse forms the model for xenophobic, sexist and other such discourses. The 'silence' relates to three different issues: first, the coding of antisemitic beliefs, as mentioned above, through implications and analogies; secondly, the silence of large sections of the Austrian elites when antisemitism is instrumentalized for political reasons; thirdly, the explicit denial through the justification discourses.[28][29]


  1. ^ a b c "Manifestations of Antisemitism in the EU 2002 - 2003" (PDF). FRA. Retrieved 13 October 2013.
  2. ^ a b Wodak, Ruth (1991). "Turning the Tables: Antisemitic Discourse in Post-War Austria" (PDF). Discourse & Society. 2: 65–83. CiteSeerX doi:10.1177/0957926591002001004. Retrieved 11 October 2013.[permanent dead link]
  3. ^ "Austria, the Jews, and Anti-Semitism: Ambivalence and Ambiguity". Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. Retrieved 12 October 2013.
  4. ^ a b "Manifestations of Anti-Semitism in the European Union - Austria". AICE. Retrieved 10 October 2013.
  5. ^ "Antisemitic incidents in Austria". CFCA. CFCA. Archived from the original on 2013-12-11. Retrieved 3 December 2013.
  6. ^ "Once again memorial stones vandalized". The Coordination Forum for Countering Antisemitism. Retrieved 29 June 2014.
  7. ^ "Stepping stone defaced for the second time". CFCA. Retrieved 28 October 2014.
  8. ^ "Maccabi Haifa players attacked during Austria training match". CFCA. Retrieved 30 July 2014.
  9. ^ "Biker threatens synagogue-goers". CFCA. Retrieved 28 October 2014.
  10. ^ "Monument commemorating the holocaust victims was defaced". CFCA. Retrieved 28 October 2014.
  11. ^ "Swastika graffiti at former Nazi concentration camp". CFCA. Retrieved 24 February 2015.
  12. ^ "Holocaust memorial desecrated". CFCA. Retrieved 24 February 2015.
  13. ^ "Nazi graffiti". CFCA. Retrieved 24 February 2015.
  14. ^ "Memorial plaques: Suspicion of damage caused by acid". CFCA. Retrieved 28 March 2015.
  15. ^ "Antisemitic incident in Religions Campus". CFCA. Retrieved 31 July 2015.
  16. ^ In its annual report on racism in Austria, ZARA reports on the number of racist graffiti reported to it in the preceding year.
  17. ^ "European Attitudes Toward Jews: A Five Country Survey - October 2002" (PDF). ADL. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2014-03-16. Retrieved 25 May 2013.
  18. ^ "Attitudes Toward Jews, Israel and the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict in Ten European Countries - April 2004" (PDF). ADL. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2014-04-07. Retrieved 25 May 2013.
  19. ^ "Attitudes Toward Jews in Twelve European Countries - May 205" (PDF). ADL. Archived from the original (PDF) on 7 January 2014. Retrieved 25 May 2013.
  20. ^ "Attitudes Toward Jews in Seven European Countries - February 2009" (PDF). ADL. Archived from the original (PDF) on 7 April 2014. Retrieved 25 May 2013.
  21. ^ "Attitudes Toward Jews In Ten European Countries - March 2012" (PDF). ADL. Archived from the original (PDF) on 12 May 2013. Retrieved 25 May 2013.
  22. ^ a b "Antisemitism Summary overview of the situation in the European Union 2001–2011" (PDF). FRA. Retrieved 13 October 2013.
  23. ^ "Antisemitism Overview of data available in the European Union 2004–2014" (PDF). FRA- European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights. Retrieved 7 November 2015.
  24. ^ "Attitudes Toward Jews and the Middle East in Six European Countries" (PDF). ADL. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-12-03. Retrieved 24 October 2013.
  25. ^ "Antisemitism Overview of data available in the European Union 2004–2014" (PDF). FRA- European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights. Retrieved 7 November 2015.
  26. ^ "ADL global 100- Austria". Anti-Defamation League. Retrieved 28 February 2016.
  27. ^ These four levels of antisemitic statements were identified and corresponded to the different individual strategies of justification to Austria crimes during the war. A connection can be seen between the content of prejudice, political context, speaker and form of expression.
  28. ^ Wodak, Ruth. Discourse and Silencing: Representation and the Language of Displacement. pp. 179–210. Retrieved 24 October 2013.
  29. ^ Wodak, Ruth. Political Languages in the Age of Extremes. Oxford University Press. pp. 351–379.