Europe needs to do much more to protect its Jewish community, including stationing police outside every Jewish institution, according to the new head of the working group on anti-Semitism in the European Parliament.
“In front of every synagogue, every Jewish school — anywhere where Jewish life takes place — there should at least be the awareness of the police, and depending on the risk assessment there also has to be the presence of the police [so that it] can act if there’s an attack,” Karoline Edtstadler said.
“Unfortunately, there is a pressing need for this. We can argue about whether police presence in front of synagogues is good or bad, but it’s clearly a necessity,” she added.
In a wide-ranging interview with The Times of Israel, Edtstadler, a former deputy interior minister in Austria who entered the European Parliament earlier this summer, also said Brussels should support Israel as the only democracy in the Middle East and not assume the role of a greater “moral authority” that can force its views and positions on Jerusalem, especially regarding the conflict with the Palestinians.
“There are three kinds of anti-Semitism: the old-fashioned kind, a new imported one, and anti-Zionism. It took a long time before people dared speaking about the imported anti-Semitism, but it’s a fact,” Edtstadler said, alluding to Jew-hatred among immigrant communities.
“Anti-Zionism, which targets Israel, is the most difficult one, because you have to be well-educated to find out about it. We can never stop fighting anti-Semitism. It will exist forever,” she added.
The October 9 attack on a synagogue in Halle, Germany, was “alarming,” Edtstadler said, adding that it serves as a reminder for European Union member states to “establish security in reality, not only in resolutions.”
The attack, carried out by a German neo-Nazi, took place on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. The heavily armed shooter tried unsuccessfully to enter the synagogue and, frustrated about his inability to enter the house of prayer, killed two non-Jewish bystanders.
“In Austria there is really good cooperation between the police and the Jewish community. There is police in front of all relevant institutions, such as synagogues and schools, and whenever there is a relevant risk assessment… I was shocked, honestly, to hear that this was not the case in Germany,” she said.
Edtstadler added that she was greatly concerned by what she termed a lack of awareness about anti-Semitism in Europe, vowing to address the issue in the parliamentary working group she heads since June.
“There’s a problem with security, and one thing our working group wants to do is organize a big conference to remind member states to take care of securing the Jewish communities,” she said.
“We also need to promote education. It is not that we want to blame young people or to give them the feeling they did something wrong or are guilty. But they need to learn about history.”
Edtstadler, a native of Salzburg, said she would like to see all Austrian schools visit the site of the Mauthausen concentration camp. “For me, every Austrian pupil should visit Mauthausen at least once during his time in school. It’s not the solution for every problem, but it’s a first step,” she said.
Edtstadler came to Israel last week at the head of a delegation of European lawmakers that was brought here by Elnet, a nonprofit seeking to foster better ties between Israel and Europe. It was her second time visiting the country.
“We should know Israel better,” she said. “I agree that relations have to be better. Both Israel and the EU need to move toward each other. It’s really important to be here, to see the situation on the ground and to report back.”
Asked about her views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Edtstadler said that a two-state solution — which Brussels insists is the only realistic and workable way to bring peace — “sounds good, and could be a solution.”
“But on the other hand,” she stressed, “it’s only the Israelis and the Palestinians who in the end need to decide if it’s possible or not.”
It should not be up to Europeans to decide how Israelis and Palestinians make peace, she said.
“I don’t live here, it’s not for me to judge what’s best for the people here,” Edtstadler said. “The Israelis and the Palestinians know best what’s right for them; better than we could ever know it. When you don’t live here you can’t fully comprehend what the conflict is like, and then you cannot get up and present the ultimate solution.”
“In general,” she went on, “I would like to recommend to the EU not to try to be the higher moral authority that is able to solve all the problems here. Because these problems have to be solved here on the ground.”
‘I don’t rule out any party for a coalition’
Turning to the domestic political situation in her native Austria, Edtstadler defended her former party’s coalition with the far-right Freedom Party.
“We had really fruitful cooperation with the FPOe in the last government regarding reforms that will make Austria fit for the future,” she said, referring to the Freedom Party by its German acronym. “We had a clear statement in our coalition agreement that said that we’re clearly opposed to anti-Semitism. We worked together on that basis.”
Austria’s Jewish community as well as the State of Israel refused to cooperate with the party, citing its failure to fully distance itself from its neo-Nazi past while also charging that it did not forcefully confront people with anti-Semitic and xenophobic tendencies within its ranks.
“Yes, there were several isolated incidents [of FPOe members making racist or anti-Semitic comments], they were bad for our reputation internationally,” Edtstadler said.
“But you have to consider also from which wing of the party this emanated. This definitely didn’t come from the vice chancellor [former FPOe chief Heinz-Christian Strache]. I’m not the FPOe’s advocate, but every single case that occurred was clearly condemned [by the party leadership] and there were also consequences [for those who made comments].”
Sebastian Kurz, whose People’s Party Edtstadler belongs to, won the September 29 national election and is currently conducting coalition negotiations with various parties, but not the FPOe. However, it is possible that, if the current talks fail, Kurz will have no choice but to, once again, partner with the Freedom Party.
“I don’t rule out any party for a coalition,” Edtstadler said. “But I also cannot deny that there were problems with the FPOe, and we didn’t like it.”