Austrian Police Under Fire After Accusing Victim of Provoking Antisemitic Attack

A 19-year-old said she was assaulted by three men who saw her reading a book about Jews and hurled anti-Jewish insults at her, but police told her the attack could not be classified as antisemitic because she was not a Jew

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Police officers on guard in Vienna, Austria, November, 2020
Police officers on guard in Vienna, Austria, November, 2020Credit: Matthias Schrader / AP

The Vienna Police department is currently probing the actions of several officers who allegedly accused the victim of an antisemitic assault of provoking her attackers, advising her to move on and forget the incident.

Last Monday, the 19-year old woman from Carinthia, who was not named in German-language media reports, was attacked on the Vienna subway in an apparent antisemitic incident. A non-Jew studying Jewish studies in university, she was assaulted by three men who saw her reading the book “The Jews in the modern world.”

In an interview with the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation, she described how the men pulled her hair and called her a “Jew slut” and “child murderer.” 

After exiting the subway, officers at the Stephansplatz station asked her “why do I have to read a book like this during such a conflict situation [and if] it was not clear to me that it was provocative,” she recalled, adding that the officers then informed her that the incident could not be classified as antisemitic because she was not a Jew.

Officers at the local police station continued to dismiss the woman’s concerns, telling her that identifying the attackers would be difficult despite the presence of security cameras and asserting that “it would be best to forget,” she said.

The incident came several days after Interior Minister Karl Nehammer announced a new training initiative aimed at spreading awareness of antisemitism within the law enforcement establishment. Daniel Landau, who is developing the ministry’s new antisemitism training lessons, called the incident outrageous, the Kronen Zeitung newspaper reported. 

The incident was not only disturbing because the victim was physically assaulted for reading a book about Judaism, but also because “none of the witnesses intervened” and the “victim was turned away by the police,” said Oskar Deutsch, President of the Jewish Communities of Austria. 

Nehammer also condemned the attack, stating that “the most effective means in the fight against antisemitism is to make Jewish life in Austria visible” and calling the police “a guarantee for this.”

“There is no tolerance for antisemitic incidents in Austria,” he asserted.

In a series of Tweets on Friday, the Vienna police department announced that “extensive investigations” into its officers’ response to the incident were being carried out, with “all officers who were on patrol duty in the relevant area” being interviewed.

“If the incident happened as described, the statements of the officers are not acceptable” and could result in “criminal investigations,” the department tweeted.

Recent weeks have seen a surge of antisemitic attacks, many of them linked to the latest round of fighting between Israel and Hamas. Earlier this month, the Germany Jewish community called on Berlin to step up protection of Jewish institutions throughout the country after Israeli flags were burned in front of two synagogues.

On May 19, the Community Security Trust, a Jewish watchdog organization in the UK, reported that it had recorded 116 antisemitic incidents since May 8, constituting a “fivefold increase in antisemitic incidents” over the previous 11-day period.

Last week, the Secure Community Network, the security arm of the Jewish Federations of North America, reported an 80 percent increase in antisemitic incidents in the United States over the course of the last month.

Last Sunday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo directed state police to reinforce security at Jewish institutions in the New York City area in the wake of a series of attacks which led one local Jewish politician to declare that people were “literally afraid to walk the streets.”

Diaspora Jews also experienced a massive wave of antisemitism during Israel’s ground invasion of Gaza in 2014.