Chancellor calls for end to religious tensions

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Chancellor calls for end to religious tensions
Chancellor Werner Faymann (Centre) with religious leaders. Photo: APA/ROLAND SCHLAGER

Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann called for peace and tolerance after meeting religious leaders on Monday amid mounting tensions highlighted by an attack against an Israeli football team last month.


"Only the community can prevent a spiral of violence," Chancellor Werner Faymann told reporters after inviting leaders of Austria's 16 officially recognised faiths to the chancellery for a one and a half hour meeting.

Representatives from Christian churches, the Islamic community and the Jewish community joined Faymann.

"We are proud to have something like an inter-religious dialogue", the Chancellor said. He also warned against those who are trying to "incite and stir up" friction between religious communities.

Cardinal Christoph Schönborn warned against radicalization, and referenced a recent unprovoked attack on two Muslim women in Vienna. "There can be no anti-Semitism in our country and no discrimination of religious beliefs," he said.

The Chancellor called the meeting after mostly Muslim protesters against Israel's offensive in Gaza invaded the pitch to attack Maccabi Haifa players at a friendly match against Lille in the town of Bischofshofen near Salzburg, causing the game to be abandoned.

In addition, the Austrian-Israeli Society has accused President Heinz Fischer of bias for criticising Israel's response to rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip as being disproportionate.

Fischer defended his comments at the weekend, saying not all criticism of Israel could be "raised to the level of anti-Semitism".

Oskar Deutsch, leader of Austria's Jewish community, told the Kurier newspaper that “incidents with an Islamic background are on the rise, especially on the part of the Turkish community". He pointed to "massive political agitation by Turkey".

"There have been a number of demonstrations at which people have screamed 'Death to the Jews' or 'Death to the Israelis'. Swastikas were also visible. This is a red line that cannot be crossed," he added.

Roughly half a million Muslims live in Austria, representing about six percent of the population. They have complained about mounting Islamophobia, with Muslim religious sites being defaced.

Austria’s once-vibrant Jewish community now numbers around 15,000, who are mainly post-war immigrants from eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.


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