IKG Secretary General Benjamin Nägele: “We are dealing with an explosion of antisemitic incidents”

The Jewish Community of Vienna (IKG) Secretary General Benjamin Nägele had an interview with Newsflix about the dramatic rise of antisemitism in Austria and across Europe.

Newsflix: Antisemitic attacks on Jews are increasing internationally. Does this also apply to Austria

Benjamin Nägele : Yes, without reservation. As throughout Europe, in Austria we have been dealing with a veritable explosion of antisemitic incidents since the Hamas massacre on October 7, 2023.

Newsflix: How has this developed in the last few years, in the last few months?

Nägele: We are currently finalizing the annual report of the antisemitism reporting center for 2023. This shows that there has been a decrease in reported incidents since 2021 and until October 2023. The massacre against Israelis has unfortunately led to a significant increase in hostility and attacks.

Newsflix: Was October 7th a turning point, meaning that something changed significantly in Austria as a result of the Hamas massacre in Vienna?

Nägele: We are experiencing a supposedly politically correct perpetrator-victim reversal, with Israel – as the Jew among democratic states – always being blamed. Of course, the people in the Gaza Strip are also victims of Hamas’ reign of terror. Many Palestinian civilians are also, in a sense, hostage to Hamas. They are sacrificed for propaganda purposes, propaganda that produces antisemitic incitement out of human suffering. Parts of the Muslim community are particularly vulnerable to this. People have looked the other way for too long.

Newsflix: There were at least two antisemitic incidents last week. What do you know about it?

Nägele: These are just the incidents that are known to the media. We know that the security authorities take such incidents very seriously and prosecute them. A lot happens online that is often trivialized. The thought is the first step, too often words and actions follow. The question everyone has to ask themselves: Where do I draw the line and intervene. By the time the action is taken it is usually too late.

Newsflix: Is Austria a safe place for Jews?

Nägele: Austria remains one of the safest countries in the world. This also applies to Jews. But in order for Austria to remain so safe, everyone needs it. We work well with the executive branch, but the executive branch cannot solve every social problem.

Newsflix: How do Jews deal with the new threat situation in everyday life?

Nägele: It is worrying to see that some people no longer want to be visible as Jews on the street because they are simply afraid of attacks. Our security forces have been in a state of emergency since October 7th and are doing an excellent job, as are the police and the armed forces. Still, many people are scared. Some are no longer just quietly considering whether they will emigrate after all.

Newsflix: Have people treated Jews differently since October 7th? In everyday life, on the street, in public or private areas?

Nägele: At the beginning there was a lot of sympathy, but unfortunately the picture changed very quickly. Jews are not the representatives of Israel, even though this country is our cultural and spiritual home. We are at home here in Vienna. The hostility at school, at universities and elsewhere is unbearable. On the other hand, for many people who identify as Jews, the experience of being treated differently is already commonplace, even if it has gradually become normalized over the past decades.

Newsflix: The new anti-Semitism report will be presented soon. What can be said about that?

Nägele: The report contains the reported and verified antisemitic incidents in 2023. This report is currently being completed, which is why I don’t want to quote any numbers from it. But we had recorded at least 580 incidents in the first 70 days after October 7, 2023. Compared to the daily average in 2022, this was a fourfold increase. Unfortunately, this number increased again in December.

Newsflix: What should politicians do to protect Jews?

Nägele: A lot of the right steps have been taken politically. The Cultural Heritage Act and the National Strategy against Antisemitism are two of many examples. The expressions of solidarity from all relevant political camps also encourage our community members. But the fight against antisemitism is not just a political matter; it is about every individual.

Newsflix: What should civil society do to protect Jews?

Nägele: I don’t want to present a list of demands. Given the current situation, a big step would be taken if the media did not spread Hamas propaganda, sometimes with UN trappings. Israel-related anti-Semitism is currently one of the biggest threats, and it is also fueled by disinformation.

Newsflix: How do you experience the Palestinian demonstrations in Vienna? Should they be banned?

Nägele: Inciting hatred should not only be prohibited in theory here. Under normal circumstances, so-called Palestinian demonstrations should demand the end of Hamas. The liberation of the Israeli hostages would then also bring the liberation of the Palestinians from Hamas rule.

Newsflix: Many people were surprised by statements, often from leftists and often intellectuals, who put the Hamas terrorist attack into perspective, most recently Judith Butler. Did that surprise you?

Nägele: No, Judith Butler has previously viewed Hamas and Hezbollah as allies. Nothing about this is surprising, it’s just that for the first time more people seem to understand how dangerous these statements are. When feminists describe rape, mutilation and murder as resistance, then you know something is wrong.

Newsflix: Is there hatred of Jews behind it, or what is the other motivation?

Nägele: I don’t really care about motivation. All that matters is what happens. If hatred is incited or even worse, then it doesn’t matter what the person was thinking beforehand. Jews are often made into scapegoats. This is also what distinguishes antisemitism from racism. It is not mere prejudice, but resentment. The enemy is seen as inferior and at the same time he is supposed to be powerful. “Ceasefire” and “Intifada” are shouted at demonstrations.

Newsflix: Is hatred of Jews a left-wing or a right-wing problem?

Nägele: It is primarily the problem of antisemites. It is most likely an illness that needs to be treated with psychotherapy. We have a big problem on the right, especially in Austria, as every survey and incident statistics show. Muslim antisemitism is religiously charged. Added to this is political Islam, particularly through religious-nationalist proponents from Turkey, who are adding fuel to the fire here. Hatred of Jews from the left is often trivialized. To date, it has rarely been comparable in quantity or quality to that of the right-wing or Muslim antisemitism. This will have changed from October 7, 2023 at the latest”


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