Background Report 80 Percent of Austrian Population Harbors Anti-semitic Sentiments

After 36 years of democratic government, a prospering economy and social and political stability, anti-Semitic sentiments ranging from moderate to strong are still held by 80 percent of the Austrian population. This phenomenon occurs in a country of 1.6 million where the Jewish community numbers barely 8,000. And, paradoxically, one of the most popular politicians in Austria is Chancellor Bruno Kreisky who is Jewish.

The barometer of anti-Semitism was recently measured by Dr. Hildegard Weiss of the Institute of Sociology at the University of Vienna. Her 200-page dissertation on the subject was prepared to quality her for the position of permanent lecturer at the university.

Weiss told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that there are roughly three sets of attitudes toward Jews in Austria. Only 20 percent of the population is completely free of anti-Jewish prejudice she reported. “Those holding indifferent to moderately strong anti-Semitic views comprise 60 percent and those with strong anti-Semitic prejudice 20 percent,” she said. The variations in the intensity of anti-Semitic views were demonstrated in the responses to the questionnaire Weiss used in her study. Asked, “Should there be a limit placed on the amount of property and land Jews can acquire,” 20.5 percent replied affirmatively-Asked if they would oppose the marriage of their children into a Jewish family, 22.5 percent of parents said they would. Well over a quarter of the respondents — 29.4 percent — said they would not object “if somebody around you talks disparagingly about Jews.”

Weiss said the results of her survey corresponded to a similar one she made in 1976. Weiss found furthermore that there was no strong correlation between anti-Semitism and age or affluence as some theories suggest. She pointed out that poverty has been largely eradicated in Austria so dislike of Jews cannot be attributed to envy or to the search for a scapegoat for economic deprivation as was the case between the two world wars.

FACTORS INFLUENCING ANTI-SEMITISM

The most important factors influencing anti-Semitic prejudices are level of education and the opinions of former or current peers and relatives, Weiss said. People lacking higher education are considerably more hostile toward Jews, she found. But within families, prejudices seem to be passed from generation to generation without any discernable relation to sociological factors.

For example, Jews are still believed to control banks and financial institutions, when, in fact, they are virtually non-existent in those areas in Austria today. There was a correlation between prejudice and geography. Rural people tended to be more anti-Semitic than city dwellers, but that corresponded to their relatively lower level of education, Weiss noted.

She observed that people with a university or gymnasium (roughly equivalent to junior college) education showed less hostility toward Jews. But this is due as much to social unacceptability as to their humanistic training, she said. Intellectuals, public employees, teachers and white collar workers would be breaking the rules of their social class if they were openly anti-Semitic, according to Weiss. Consequently a high percentage of those people simply refused to answer questions which pin-pointed the extent of anti-Semitic prejudice.

Personal contact with Jews reduced the tendency to discrimination, Weiss reported. But because of the small size of the Jewish population this was possible for a minority of Austrians. Only 14 percent of her respondents said that anti-Semitic attitudes were grossly out of step with reality. But some people believed that Jews comprised 10 percent of the Austrian population, which would put their number at over 100,000. The old Nazi charge of Jewish domination of finance and foreign policy was often expressed, she said.

POSITIONS OF POLITICAL PARTIES

According to the study, anti-Semitism decreased in proportion to interest in political matters and information on the subject. Weiss said that the rightwing National Democratic Party was able to garner three percent of the vote in the last elections only because of public apathy.

She found, however, that members of the Freiheitliche Partei (Free Party) and its sympathizers were especially hostile toward Jews. Anti-Semitic prejudice was somewhat stronger among members of the conservative Volkspartei (Peoples Party) than members of Kreisky’s Socialist Party.

Weiss contrasted the degree of anti-Semitism in the Socialist Party today with the situation before World War II. At that time, the Chrisilichsoziale Partei (Christian Socialist Party), precursor of the Peoples Party, was outspokenly anti-Semitic whereas the Social Democrats carried most of the Jewish vote and had a number of leading Jews among its functionaries. She attributed the prejudice within the Socialist Party today to the large number of poorly educated working class voters who support it.

Anti-Semitic feelings do not necessarily translate into hostility toward Israel, Weiss found. Anti-Semites disapprove of Israel more than others but there is a considerable number of Jew-haters who admire Israel. A number of ex-Nazis are impressed by the military successes of the Israeli army, she said.

According to Weiss, her depressing statistics are not limited to Austria. Other Western European countries and the United States show similar levels of prejudice, she said.

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