All of the major parties represented in the Austrian Parliament have agreed to support a resolution condemning the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement as anti-Semitic. Pictured: The Parliament of Austria, in Vienna. (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)
All of the major parties represented in the Austrian Parliament have agreed to support a resolution condemning the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement as anti-Semitic.
The measure calls on Austria's federal government to fight anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism, and to withhold any form of financial and other state support from anti-Semitic organizations and advocates of BDS principles.
The resolution will be submitted to the lower house of Parliament, the National Council, in January 2020. It is expected to be passed with an overwhelming majority. While anti-BDS laws have been passed in Vienna and Graz, the largest and second-largest cities in Austria, this would be the first time that such a measure is enacted at the federal level.
On December 11, legislators from all five major parties — including the left-leaning Greens and the right-leaning Freedom Party (Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs, FPÖ) — formally agreed to co-sponsor the resolution, which is being spearheaded by Sebastian Kurz, a former (and most likely the next) chancellor of Austria who also leads the center-right Austrian People's Party (Österreichische Volkspartei, ÖVP). The resolution states:
"Anti-Semitism has existed since antiquity, although the term itself was not used until the 19th century. The core, however, was always the same: it was — and is — the fomenting of prejudices and hatred in word and deed against Jews. Throughout history they have been victims of violence and exclusion, which reached a devastating climax in the murderous cruelty of National Socialism and the declared goal of the systematic destruction of Jewry by the Nazi regime.
"In total, more than six million Jews, many of them children, fell victim to the Shoah. They were murdered in the extermination camps by poison gas or otherwise. But even this unimaginably cruel genocide and the memory of it has not caused many people to rethink, and so Jews, even in the present, are exposed, once again, to hate and prejudices, which in the worst cases culminate in violence.
"In a survey of 16,500 Jewish Europeans in 12 European countries conducted by the EU's Fundamental Rights Agency in May/June 2018, highly alarming findings emerged: nine out of ten respondents said that anti-Semitism had intensified, and one-third were considering emigrating.
"The European Parliament's Working Group on Anti-Semitism (EP WGAS) has already done valuable work. In June 2017, an anti-Semitism resolution was adopted by a large majority in plenary. The text included calling for all EU Member States to adopt the definition of anti-Semitism developed by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) and to train their police and judicial authorities on how to prosecute anti-Semitism. Austria was one of the first EU Member States to adopt this IHRA working definition of anti-Semitism by a resolution of the Council of Ministers on April 21, 2017.
"The Austrian Presidency of the EU unanimously adopted a declaration on combating anti-Semitism and developing a common approach to security for Jewish communities and institutions during the Justice and Home Affairs Council on December 6, 2018. The European Council welcomed this statement in its conclusions of December 13 and 14, 2018. This path must continue to be pursued consistently.
"Also, in 2018, the President of the National Council, Wolfgang Sobotka, commissioned a study to understand the level of anti-Semitic sentiments in Austria. The result of this study is that 10% of Austrians are manifestly anti-Semitic and 30% are latently anti-Semitic. The percentages are alarmingly higher among the Turkish and Arabic-speaking people who were born in Austria or have lived with us for more than ten years.
"According to the IHRA anti-Semitism definition adopted by Austria, the State of Israel, which is understood as a Jewish collective, may be the target of anti-Semitic hostility, such as the rejection of the right of the Jewish people to self-determination, collective responsibility of Jews for acts of the State of Israel, or comparisons between current Israeli politics and Nazi policies.
"The 'Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions' (BDS) movement, which has increasingly appeared in Austria in recent years, makes use of this anti-Semitic pattern: This movement calls for a boycott of the Jewish state, of Israeli products and companies, of Israeli artists, scientists and athletes. It demonizes and measures Israel by double standards, makes Austrian Jews jointly responsible for Israeli politics, and by calling for the right of return for Palestinian refugees and all their descendants, it questions the right of existence of the Jewish state.
"For Austria, Israel's right to exist is non-negotiable, and any form of anti-Semitism, including Israel-related anti-Semitism, is unacceptable and must be severely condemned. Of course, factual criticism of individual measures by the government of Israel must be allowed.
"The National Council strongly condemns all forms of anti-Semitism, including Israel-related anti-Semitism, and calls on the federal government to resolutely and consequently confront these tendencies.
"The federal government is further requested:
- to develop a holistic strategy to prevent and combat all forms of anti-Semitism, with close involvement of all relevant bodies, as part of its strategies to prevent racism, xenophobia, radicalization and violent extremism;
- to strongly condemn the BDS movement and its goals, in particular the call for a boycott of Israeli products, companies, artists, scientists or athletes;
- to not provide premises and infrastructure to organizations and associations that use anti-Semitic rhetoric or question Israel's right to exist;
- to not support, financially or otherwise, events of the BDS movement or groups that pursue similar goals;
- to maintain Austria's role as an excellent place for international dialogue and exchange."
The Austrian resolution, one of the most forceful European statements of support for Israel to date, is part of a growing pushback against the BDS movement.
On November 14, 2019, the City Council of Graz, the second-largest city in Austria, adopted a resolution against anti-Semitism and the anti-Israel BDS movement. The council stated that it "resolutely opposes every form of anti-Semitism and condemns the BDS campaign and the call for a boycott of the Jewish state as clearly anti-Semitic." The council said that "no organizations should be financially supported that question Israel's right to exist." It added:
"Projects that call for a boycott or support the BDS movement must not be financially supported. Also, as a result of the decision, the City of Graz will no longer provide urban space for BDS campaigns or events in the future."
"The City of Vienna strongly condemns the spread of anti-Semitism worldwide, opposes the anti-Semitic BDS campaign, will not provide urban space for BDS campaigns or events, exhibitions or demonstrations that pursue BDS goals, and will not provide any other support for BDS events."
On May 17, 2019, the German Parliament passed a resolution condemning the BDS movement as anti-Semitic and pledging to cut off funding to any organizations that actively support BDS. The resolution, passed by a broad cross-party alliance, stated:
"The all-embracing boycott call in its radicalism leads to the branding of Israeli citizens of the Jewish faith. There are statements and actions from the BDS movement that seek to cast doubt on the right of existence of the State of Israel. Calls for boycott are reminiscent of anti-Semitic positions of National Socialism are unacceptable and sharply condemnable."
The conservative anti-establishment party, Alternative for Germany (AfD), said that the resolution did not go far enough and called for a total ban of BDS activities in Germany. It noted that the BDS movement "has its origins in the anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist initiatives of Arab groups that were already active long before the founding of the State of Israel and that between 1933 and 1945 were in close and friendly contact with the National Socialist government of Germany."
On October 22, 2019, the Czech Chamber of Deputies passed a non-binding resolution calling for the government "to refuse financial support from such organizations for such movements, organizations and organizations in the European Union, the United Nations and other international institutions and associations calling for a boycott of the State of Israel."
On July 23, 2019, the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bi-partisan resolution rejecting the BDS campaign against Israel. The bill — formally known as House Resolution 246 — passed by a vote of 398-17, with five abstentions. The bill was opposed by one Republican and 16 Democrats, including the first two Muslim women elected to Congress: representatives Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota.
The measure "opposes the Global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement (BDS Movement) targeting Israel, including efforts to target United States companies that are engaged in commercial activities that are legal under United States law, and all efforts to delegitimize the State of Israel."
It also stated that the BDS campaign "undermines the possibility for a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by demanding concessions of one party alone and encouraging the Palestinians to reject negotiations in favor of international pressure."
Anti-BDS resolutions have been passed in 27 U.S. states: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin.