An End to Antisemitism! Conference Opens in Vienna

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Translation from German

Pope Francis – “Indifference is a virus of our time”
. Van der Bellen – “Antisemitism is still topical and raising concerns”

On Sunday, An End to Antisemitism! conference started in Vienna City Hall. An opening ceremony was attended by many renowned political, academic and religious decision-makers and opinion-shapers from around the world. Pope Francis and Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen addresses were read. The conference will continue in the Vienna University till Thursday.

The speakers agreed that antisemitism is on the rise around the world. The recent incident with Nazi songbook in Lower Austria and controversial “Holocaust Law” in Poland are two examples that prove this.

Pope Francis thinks that indifference to antisemitism is very dangerous. He called indifference a “virus of our time”, when we are ever more connected with others but are increasingly less attentive to others. In this context, he insisted that the memory of the Nazi crimes against Jews must be kept alive. “There is no future without memory”, Pope Francis said in his address read by the Secretary of the Pontifical Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews Norbert Hofmann. The head of the Roman Catholic Church assured that his church wants to stand together with the Jews against antisemitism.

Address by Mr Van der Bellen

Mr Van der Bellen could not attend the conference personally due to illness but sent an address that was read during the event. Austrian President thinks that antisemitism is still a topical and a “scary” issue. He called for actions aimed at protection of human rights and dignity that provide a “key to our life together”. At the same time he emphasized that criticism of Israeli policy is not antisemitism per se, however, it often serves as a platform for antisemitism.

“Antisemitism in Europe is growing, even in the government parties,” said in his message a member of the Vienna City Council Andreas Mailath-Pokorny (Social Democratic Party of Austria) who also could not attend the event due to illness. He noted that “it worries most Austrians”. Mr Mailath-Pokorny called for improvement in the sector of education and more careful monitoring of social media.

“Perhaps, someday we can destroy antisemitism, that is the goal of this conference”, said Judaic scholar Armin Lange speaking about organisation of the conference. The Israeli ambassador to Vienna thanked the organisers for the conference, which “draws attention to the problem of antisemitism”.

“The problem of antisemitism must be tackled now before it’s too late”, said entrepreneur and president of the European Jewish Congress Dr Moshe Kantor. Dr Kantor expressed scepticism regarding the Historical Commission established by the Freedom Party of Austria, which shall critically examine the Party’s history, “We hope that it will remain independent and publish the results”.

The French philosopher and writer Bernard-Henri Lévy in a comprehensive lecture summarised the characteristics of modern antisemitism. It is based on principled hostility to Israel, Holocaust denial and the “competition of victims” – a theory, according to which Jews through their culture of remembrance diminish the suffering of other peoples and ethnic groups. He rebutted all three points in detail and called on the audience to take action against these antisemitic arguments.

Award for the Lithuanian writer

The opening ceremony was closed with presenting the European Jewish Congress award to the Lithuanian writer Rūta Vanagaitė for her book Our People published in 2016. The book about the complicity of Lithuanians in Holocaust sparked an extensive public debate in the country. As Rūta Vanagaitė explains, the book’s title refers both to the murdered Lithuanian Jews and their Lithuanian murderers.

An End to Antisemitism! conference was organised by the University of Vienna, New York and Tel Aviv in cooperation with the European Jewish Congress. During four days of the conference, 150 international researchers will develop effective strategies to combat antisemitism. These strategies will be summarised in a handbook to help governments, non-governmental organisations and other decision-makers in their fight against antisemitism.