A protester with a mock European flag with a gold star representing Austria appearing as a swastika that has been crossed out [File].
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Officials and Jewish representatives have welcomed a move made this week by Austria to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism, a week after an NGO reported that 2016 saw record levels of antisemitism in the country.
Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz tweeted on Tuesday that the Austrian Council of Ministers had decided to take on the definition, adding that the move sent an important signal and was crucial “in order to identify and combat antisemitism more easily with a universally valid definition.”
Austria follows the UK and Israel in adopting the definition.
The IHRA formulated the definition last May amid concerns of rising antisemitism, in an effort to clamp down on discriminatory or prejudicial behavior that might fall between the cracks due to unclear or differing definitions of antisemitism.
The IHRA definition adopted by the group’s 31 member countries reads: “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”
Talya Lador, Israel’s ambassador in Vienna, took to Twitter to thank Kurz and the Austrian government, saying the decision was “most important.”
Kurz’s announcement follows Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern’s first visit to Israel this week, during which he participated in the state Holocaust Remembrance Day events and said, “We will not rest in the fight against antisemitism.”
Katharina von Schnurbein, the European Union’s coordinator on combating antisemitism, also hailed the move as an “excellent step,” describing the IHRA definition as a tool to help discern various forms of antisemitism.
The European Commission does not have a structural mechanism to formally adopt legally nonbinding working definitions such as this one, but refers to it on its website as a “useful tool for civil society, law enforcement authorities and education facilities to effectively recognize and fight all forms of antisemitism.”
The European Jewish Congress’s Austrian affiliate, the IKG Wien, said it was “very proud and satisfied by the decision.”
The Israeli-Jewish Congress also applauded Austria, stating that the IHRA’s definition “exhaustively, and appropriately, outlines antisemitism as both a hatred against Jews, and its modern-day manifestation in the assault on Israel’s legitimacy, including against Zionism and applying a double standard to Israel that is not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.”
While adding that “much more work needs to be done, including a paradigm shift in how we approach the combating of antisemitism,” IJC said this is a “welcome step in the positive direction, which we hope will be followed by other nations across Europe.”
The announcement comes on the heels of a report released last Thursday by the Forum Against Antisemitism, which found that a record number of antisemitic incidents, ranging from verbal and online threats to assaults, were recorded in Austria last year.
The number of cases rose slightly in 2016 to 477 from 465 the previous year, when the figure had jumped by roughly 200, the NGO said.
The report follows a finding by Austria’s BVT domestic intelligence service a year ago that incidents involving xenophobia, Islamophobia and antisemitism were on the rise in the small country that was swept up in Europe’s migration crisis and where the refugee influx has become a hot-button issue.
“It is, of course, alarming,” Oskar Deutsch, president of the Jewish Community of Vienna, said in reaction to the report.
“We now have two consecutive years at a record level,” said Deutsch, who put the size of Austria’s Jewish community at roughly 13,000-15,000 in an overall population of 8.8 million.Reuters contributed to this report.