It does not surprise me that the Interior Ministry dominated by the far-right Freedom Party’s Herbert Kickl have managed to yet again target recent arrivals with something that has little to do with them.
Ever since taking office, Kickl has made it his priority to target migrants – mostly Muslim – at the top of the agenda, even in places where it is not remotely relevant.
Take a step back, and this entire debate was kicked off by a recently published report showing that an incredible 56 percent of Austrians were unaware that 6 million Jews were murdered during World War II, with around one in seven thinking claims about the killings of Jews during the Holocaust were “widely exaggerated”.
One in five did not even realise Adolf Hitler was Austrian!
This has nothing to do with immigrants or asylum seekers and everything to do with the fact that Austrians have never really addressed their participation in World War II and its legacy in the country today.
While many on the right point to anti-Semitism among some Muslim new arrivals – it is Austria’s Jewish community themselves that as recently as 2018 took aim at the FPO party’s failure to tackle anti-semitism within its own ranks.
Speaking about the party’s shift from anti semitic comments – including ex-leader Joerg Haider’s comment praising Hitler’s employment policies – to anti-Muslim rhetoric, Austria’s top Jewish leader Oskar Deutsch told a news conference: “The question is, how credible is that?” You can’t go ‘click’ and say ‘Until now we’ve been like this but now we’re not anti-Semitic anymore, now we have other interests’. That is not credible.”
Aside from the far-right’s unwillingness to deal with its own anti-semitism problem and instead shift the focus – yet again – to migration, one might also ask whether it is compassionate or indeed, in any way necessary to force people – including children – who have recently fled from the horrors of war and torture in their homelands to be pushed to visit concentration camps just weeks after their arrival.
If far-right politicians in Austria finally have genuine concerns about anti-Semitism within the country then the solution lies in education-for-all alongside a stern message that this type of behaviour will not be tolerated regardless of their religion of skin colour.
Putting migrants in this debate is a great way to camouflage the fact that the education system in Austria is failing to address the mistakes of the past, and if we do not learn from the lessons of the past, we are condemned to make the same mistakes over and over again.
After all, it’s not hard to imagine where demonising a particular ethnic or religious group as the cause of all the country’s woes can lead us in the end.