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March 18, 2024 11:16 am
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Austrian Government Announces New Measures to Counter ‘Orgy of Hatred’ Targeting Jews

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avatar by Ben Cohen

A pro-Hamas demonstration in Vienna. Photo: Reuters/Andreas Stroh

In a bid to counter what she called the “orgy of hatred” targeting the Jewish community, Austria’s constitutional minister on Monday announced that the central European country’s strategy against antisemitism would be enhanced by a series of measures focused on the internet.

Addressing a press conference in Vienna, Karoline Edtstadler unveiled a package of 15 goals to reduce antisemitic agitation online. These include the use of AI to detect and combat antisemitic hate speech, a campaign across all media formats warning of the dangerous consequences of antisemitism, enabling the Austrian Communications Authority to impose stricter regulations on online platforms under the terms of Austria’s Digital Service Act, and organizing a summit sponsored by the federal chancellery to address antisemitism online that will include the relevant stakeholders.

Describing the measures, Edtstadler emphasized that “the internet is not a legal vacuum.”

The minister’s announcement came less than a week after the IKG, Austria’s Jewish representative organization, disclosed new data showing that 2023 was the worst year for antisemitism in Austria since it began maintaining records in 2008.

A total of 1,147 incidents were reported — a 60 percent increase on the previous year’s total of 719 incidents. The vast majority of last year’s incidents occurred after the Hamas pogrom in southern Israel on Oct. 7.

Edtstadler was joined at Monday’s press conference by IKG president Oskar Deutsch, who described the “immediate danger” facing Austrian Jews as “catastrophic.” Just over 10,000 Jews reside in Austria according to the Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR), a London-based think tank.

Deutsch bemoaned that in too many cases, online offenders avoided prosecution, arguing that “one or two precedents” would underline that “antisemitism is not a trivial offense.” He also called on the judiciary to prosecute relevant cases with greater urgency.

Austria launched its national action plan to combat antisemitism in 2021. Last year, a report on antisemitic attitudes commissioned by the Austrian parliament found that 15 percent of respondents manifested “severe” antisemitic attitudes, endorsing classic antisemitic stereotypes, denying the truth of the Holocaust, or blaming Jews for their own persecution. A further 32 percent expressed “latent” attitudes, for example the belief that Israel’s elimination would result in peace in the Middle East.

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