Austria flies flag of Israel on official buildings ‘in solidarity’

The blue and white Israeli flag flew on official buildings in Austria on Friday in a sign of "solidarity" with the Jewish state, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said.

Austria flies flag of Israel on official buildings 'in solidarity'

“I condemn with the utmost firmness the attacks against Israel from the Gaza Strip,” the conservative leader said a statement sent to AFP.

“Israel has the right to defend itself against these attacks. To show our solidarity … we have put up the Israeli flag,” on the chancellery and the foreign ministry, the statement added.

“Nothing justifies the more than 1,000 rockets that Hamas and other terrorist groups have fired up to now at Israel from Gaza,” said Foreign Minister Alexander Schallenberg.

“We strongly support the security of Israel.”

In 2000, when the far-right FPOe — a party founded by former Nazis — joined the coalition government, Israel recalled its ambassador from Vienna in protest. It took three years for ties to return to normal.

When Kurz took charge of a new coalition government with the FPOe in December 2017, he made improving relations with Israel a priority.

However, Israel refused to have any contact with ministers from the far right, who finally returned to the opposition in May 2019.

Austria is today ruled by the conservatives in alliance with the Greens and in March, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin paid an official visit to Vienna.

The capital houses a major UN site and is currently hosting international negotiations to try to salvage the Iran nuclear agreement.

In the US, Republicans on Thursday stepped up pressure on President Joe Biden to halt the discussions as Iran’s ally Hamas fires rockets into Israel.

Israel bombarded Gaza with artillery and air strikes on Friday following a new barrage of rockets from the Hamas-run enclave, intensifying a conflict that has claimed more than 120 lives.

The most intense fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza since 2014 has been accompanied by an unprecedented outbreak of mob violence between Jews and Arabs inside Israel.

Meanwhile, protests related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are spreading across Europe, including France, Germany and Denmark.

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Church slams Austria’s ‘Islam Map’

The Austrian Catholic church became the latest religious group to criticise a government-backed, online map of hundreds of Islamic organisations which sparked violence against the country's Muslim minority.

Church slams Austria's 'Islam Map'
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz. Photo: JOHANNA GERON / POOL / AFP

The highly controversial map shows details of more than 600 Muslim associations — from youth groups to mosques — including details on their location and photos of members.

The map was first presented by a government-funded group monitoring Muslim extremism and by Austria’s Integration Minister Susanne Raab, a member of conservative, anti-migration Austrian People’s Party (OeVP), who called it a tool to “fight political Islam as a breeding ground for extremism.”

Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, the head of the Austrian Catholic church, wrote in an op-ed Friday that it was “dangerous to give the impression that one of the religious community is under general suspicion”, and asked why one of the country’s many religious communities was singled out.

Umit Vural, head of the Islamic Religious Community of Austria, described the map as a “massive security threat” to Muslims, while the Muslim Youth Austria organisation said several Muslims had already been attacked and a mosque has been defaced since that map went online in late May.

About a quarter of Austria’s majority Catholic population vote for the Islamophobic far-right party, and far-right extremists in the past week have put up signs reading “Be careful! Political Islam is near you” on streets where the map showed Muslim organisation, calling on “fellow patriots” to join them.

EU Special Representative on Antisemitic and Anti-Muslim Hatred and Hate Crimes Daniel Hoeltgen urged the government to take down the map, while a range of representatives of other religious communities, including the president of the Conference of European Rabbis, Pinchas Goldschmidt, also rebuked it.

Verbal and physical attacks against Muslims have already been on the rise since an Austrian-born Jihadist killed four in Vienna in early November, according to a group documenting Islamophobia and anti-Muslim racism.