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November 3, 2020 1:54 pm

Jewish Groups Offer Condolences, Condemnations in Wake of Vienna Terror Attack

avatar by Benjamin Kerstein

Austria’s Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, President Alexander van der Bellen and President of Parliament Werner Sobotka attend a wreath-laying ceremony, after a gun attack in Vienna, Austria, Nov. 3, 2020. Photo: Reuters / Radovan Stoklasa.

Condolences and condemnations poured in from Jewish organizations around the world following the deadly terrorist attack in the Austrian capital of Vienna on Monday night, which took place near the city’s main synagogue.

Fourteen people have been arrested so far after a lone terrorist opened fire in central Vienna, killing four and wounding 22. The terrorist was killed by police and was later identified as Kujtim Fejzulai, who had attempted to join ISIS last year and was convicted of a terrorism offense. He was released from jail in December.

CNN quoted Rabbi Schlomo Hofmeister, who witnessed part of the shooting, saying that the terrorist “was working like a professional, trained attacker. He looked professional, he didn’t look confused and he wasn’t shooting around randomly — it was very targeted and coordinated, like a fighter.”

Responses from across the Jewish world were quick to come in. Oskar Deutsch, the leader of Vienna’s Jewish community, said, “Our thoughts go out to the victims of the attack and their families.”

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“The proximity to our main synagogue strongly suggests an antisemitic motive of the Islamist attacker,” he noted. “But what the incident also shows is that antisemitism, which is inherent in radical Islamism, is not only a threat to Jews, but to all those concerned with freedom, democracy, and human values.”

Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt — president of the Conference of European Rabbis (CER) — said he and his group were “shocked and very sad,” adding, “This cowardly act of terror is an attack on all people in Europe, our values and way of life. We must no longer tolerate this terror.”

Urging practical action against Muslim extremism, Goldschmidt said, “The Islamist-motivated series of attacks in recent weeks also shows us that we need a new religious policy in Europe that also includes the security aspect and enables European states to remove the breeding ground for this religious extremism both online and offline. It is important to know what is being preached in mosques and other places of worship over here, by whom they are financed, what foreign influences are promoting such terrible deeds and how social media serves as a vehicle for this.”

“Here, we need much more control and transparency,” he continued. “Religious leaders must be trained and certified here in Europe. They must show their loyalty to the laws that apply here. They must commit themselves to peace and tolerance and convey this to their communities in order to prevent religious fanaticism. The task now is to enable Europe to remove the breeding ground for this religious extremism.”

Shimon Samuels — director of international relations for the Simon Wiesenthal Center — said, “We stand in solidarity with the families of the civilian victims and police casualties, with the Viennese Jewish community, and with the current Austrian government as a true friend of Israel.”

Chairman Arthur Stark, CEO William Daroff, and Vice Chair Malcolm Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations issued a statement, saying, “We stand in solidarity with the Austrian people as this tragedy unfolds. The purveyors of terrorism are despicable and cowardly; their murderous attacks against unarmed civilians will never succeed in crushing the freedom and liberty that they abhor.”

They added that they were in touch with leaders of the Austrian Jewish community.

The World Jewish Congress released a statement, saying, “Sadly, what we are witnessing has become all too common. Over the past month, we’ve seen a disturbing rise in extremist Islamist violence on the streets of Europe.”

“The attack began outside of a synagogue,” it  noted. “It is horrifying to think what might have been if the building wasn’t empty and locked.”

The statement pledged that the WJC “stands together with the people of Austria in condemning this vile and cowardly act and calling for justice.”

European Jewish Congress President Moshe Kantor commented that the attacks “once again show the threat posed by Islamist terror organizations to European cities.”

“The initial shooting outside the synagogue in Vienna brings back tragic memories for us as one of the first attacks on Jewish targets in Europe happened at this very spot almost 40 years ago,” he said. “It reminds us that vigilance, commitment to fighting terror and assertion of our values is a constant necessity to rid Europe of this deadly scourge and it reminds us that terror targets us all.”

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