COVID-19 Conspiracy Theories Behind ‘Skyrocketing’ Antisemitism in Austria, Says Jewish Community Head
The head of Austria’s Jewish community has warned that antisemitism in the country is “skyrocketing,” citing the spread of COVID-19 conspiracy theories and vaccine refusal demonstrations as the main cause.
“I have seen the raw data,” Oskar Deutsch — president of the IKG, the communal body serving Austrian Jews — told the news outlet Profil on Saturday.
Deutsch noted that in April 2021, more than 100 antisemitic incidents targeting Jews in Austria were recorded, double the monthly average of the previous year. The same trend continued in May, he added, a month that saw renewed hostilities between Israel and the Hamas terrorist organization in Gaza and a related upswing in antisemitic outrages in the US and elsewhere in Europe.
Approximately 15,000 Jews live in Austria currently. The community was decimated during the Holocaust, when over 65,000 Austrian Jews were deported by the Nazis.
“The number of antisemitic incidents has skyrocketed in the first half of 2021,” Deutsch said. “The coronavirus pandemic has fueled conspiracy theories and antisemitism.”
Deutsch also criticized the police for not taking a tougher stance towards antisemitic protestors, even when slogans from the country’s Nazi past have been revived at demonstrations.
“The limit is reached when there are shouts of ‘Sieg Heil,'” Deutsch stated. “In this case, it is the job of the police to take punitive action. This is not a trivial offense.”
The Austrian Jewish leader also singled out a far right politician with a record of pushing COVID-19 conspiracy theories for stinging criticism.
Herbert Kickl — chairman of the right-wing populist FPÖ Party — had played a “despicable role,” Deutsch said, citing the politician’s presence at demonstrations where antisemitic signs and slogans were on display.
In a recent interview with the newspaper Kurier, Kickl affirmed his belief in the key falsehoods spread by the vaccine refusal movement.
“With a clear conscience, I have not been vaccinated,” Kickl said, explaining that he hoped his admission would encourage others to refuse the vaccine.
“With Corona, we are dealing with a threat that is incredibly exaggerated,” Kickl continued.