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Austria unveils national anti-Semitism strategy

Austria unveils national anti-Semitism strategy
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The Austrian government on Thursday unveiled a sweeping national strategy aimed at combating anti-Semitism through more specific protections for the Jewish community and stricter punishments for hate crimes. 

According to The Associated Press, the Austrian news agency APA reported that the country’s Europe Minister, Karoline Edtstadler, said the measures include the protection of synagogues, improved education on Judaism and more severe prosecution of hate speech, either online or in public settings. 

Oskar Deutsch, president of the Jewish Community of Vienna, praised the new actions by the Austrian government, the AP reported, adding that “Jews are always the first ones who are affected” by discrimination. 

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In August, an Austrian synagogue twice targeted by acts of vandalism was the site of a violent attack against a local Jewish community leader. 

Reuters reported that Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and other top officials condemned the attack at the time, with Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen writing on Twitter that “hatred towards Jews and anti-Semitism have no place in our society.”

The Jewish Community of Vienna, in partnership with the Forum Against Antisemitism, in May released a report that recorded approximately 550 anti-Semitic incidents in Austria in 2019, which the groups noted was more than double the number recorded five years prior. 

Deutsch told APA at the time that the increase reflected not just growing anti-Semitism across Austria, but throughout Europe as well. 

“Austria is not an island. The increase in anti-Semitic incidents can, unfortunately, be observed across Europe," he said. “The fight against anti-Semitism is not a Jewish task alone, but rather a task for society as a whole. The findings of 2019 show us that the time to act has really come.”

In November, a German official said that anti-Semitism had increased throughout the country amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

Felix Klein, who leads the German government’s work against anti-Semitism, said that anti-Semitic conspiracy theories had been circulating online, including unfounded claims that elite groups were using the pandemic to oppress the nation’s population. 

Some people in the country who protested the government’s coronavirus restrictions also compared their experience to what Jewish people went through in Nazi Germany. Klein told reporters in Berlin at the time that “portraying oneself as the persecuted victim is and was a central element of anti-Semitic attitudes.”