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Austria Jewish leaders confident ties will stay good with new chancellor

The leadership of the Austrian Jewish community has expressed strong confidence that new Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg will continue the warm relationship his predecessor Sebastian Kurz enjoyed with Austrian Jews and the country’s support for Israel. 

Secretary-General of the Jewish Community in Vienna Benjamin Nagele said that Schallenberg was a long-time friend of the Jewish community in Austria who has attended its events and met with its leaders on numerous occasions. 

And, said Nagele, Schallenberg as foreign minister under Kurz had also been an important component of the former administration’s supportive diplomatic stance towards Israel. 

Kurz resigned as chancellor last Saturday after state prosecutors announced he was under investigation on corruption charges, specifically that government funds were used to ensure positive media coverage for him. 

During Kurz’s four-year tenure as chancellor, he upended Austria’s attitude to Israel, which was formerly highly critical, and also took several important steps to combat antisemitism.  

Last year, legislation was passed in parliament defining the Boycott Divestment Sanctions campaign against Israel as a form of antisemitism; Austria’s voting behavior at the UN became supportive of Israel; the government adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism in 2017; and earlier this year his government adopted a comprehensive strategy to combat antisemitism.

Kurz remains the head of his Austrian People’s Party and a member of parliament, and will therefore retain strong influence in the government. 

But Schallenberg himself has been warmly received by the Jewish community. 

“We very much believe that the good relationship on both aspects [Jewish relations and Israel] will continue, absolutely,” said Nagele. 

“Schallenberg has been a regular visitor to the community, he has attended Jewish community events, showed interest in Jewish cultural and community events and has invited us to his events.”

Only in the last few months, Schallenberg, a career diplomat, attended the Vienna Jewish community’s annual open house at the community center, visited an exhibition of young Jewish artists, invited community leaders to a Rosh Hashana reception at the chancellory, and participated in a commemoration event for the Halle synagogue terror attack in Germany in 2019. 

And Austria’s new Chancellor of the People’s Party (OVP) Alexander Schallenberg addresses the media at the Federal Chancellery in Vienna, Austria October 11, 2021. (credit: REUTERS/LISI NIESNER)was an influential advocate for the 2019 amendment to the Austrian Nationality Act providing Austrian citizenship to the victims of Nazi persecution who fled the country during the Nazi era. 

At the beginning of Israel’s recent conflict with Gaza in May, Schallenberg’s foreign ministry, together with the chancellery flew the Israeli flag in solidarity with Israel, and the Schallenberg himself strongly backed Israel’s operation. 

“Nothing justifies the more than 1,000 rockets that Hamas and other terrorist groups have fired up to now at Israel from Gaza… We strongly support the security of Israel,” said Schallenberg. 

President of the Jewish Communities of Austria Oskar Deutsch has also welcomed the new chancellor’s appointment. 

“In his previous role as Foreign Minister, he was a prudent and reliable partner for the Jewish community in Austria,” Deutsch said in a statement to the press. 

“I am confident that the new Chancellor and the new Foreign Minister will continue the government’s clear line for diversity and against all anti-Semitism. Alexander Schallenberg proved this not least during the recent attacks by the anti-Semitic terrorist organization Hamas,” Deutch added. 

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