By David Fiorentini, EJP
Martin Engelberg is a member of the Austrian parliament. The first Jew to have been elected to the parliament in Vienna. A member of the Conservative Austrian People’s party (ÖVP), MP Engelberg has been seating in the parliament since 2017 where he is a member of the foreign affairs committee and the spokesperson for international cooperation.
In addition to his role at the Parliament, MP Engelberg is a lecturer at the Vienna University of Business and Economics and also serves as a leadership consultant.
On Monday, four people were killed when Islamist gunmen opened fire at six locations, including near the Stadttempel synagogue, in the center of Vienna. Twenty-two people were wounded in the attacks, including one of the police officers responding to the incident. The attacks were claimed by the Islamic State (IS) terror group.
‘’At least symbolically it was an attack on the Jewish community, however, I believe that at the same time it was also an attack to Western society,’’ Martin Engelberg said in an interview with European Jewish Press (EJP).
How do you see the attacks that happened in Vienna? Was the Jewish community a target ?
Maybe it is too early to tell, if someone really wanted to attack Jewish people, that was not a good time to do it. Anyone would know that at 8pm everything is closed, so there was no way to cause any harm. The synagogue is just the representative centre of the Jewish community, however not many Jews live in that area. I’d say that at least symbolically it was an attack on the Jewish community but I believe that at the same time it was also an attack on Western society. Originally the targets of terrorist attacks were mainly Jewish communities but very soon they have expanded to the Western society altogetser. So maybe there was the intention to harm the synagogue or the Jewish community, but it quickly ended up being an attack on the entire Western open and modern society.
Whether the attacks were targeting the Jewish community of Vienna or not, what are your thoughts on the security of Jews in Austria, considering also the recent closure of the synagogue?
Actually, everything was shut down for just one day, yesterday, because it was not sure whether there were more attackers or not. Police asked people not to come to Vienna’s first district and all businesses of the area were closed, not only Jewish buildings. It was solely to make sure that police could continue their search. Therefore, from today on, everything is back to normal, as well as the synagogue and kosher restaurants.
In addition to that, the Jewish community has a very well organized security department, which is also supported by the state. In fact, just a couple of weeks ago we added 4 million euros per year to the budget of the Jewish community in order to provide more widespread security. Everything, from Jewish schools to kosher shops, has been protected very well for many years, so I don’t expect any impact on the Jewish community at all.
Do you see a correlation between the attacks in France and the one in Vienna? Is this a new wave of terrorism? Are Jewish communities safe in Austria and Europe?
Of course Jewish communities are always priority targets, but I see them as part of a wider target which is Western civilization. I’m a bit against singling out the Jewish community as a unique and decontexualized target; as the years go by, we see that these attacks are driven by a hate towards our entire civilization, rather than only antisemitism, which obviously still is a primary factor in the islamist mentality.
Moreover, we have to say that Austria lived in golden times for the last 35 years or so. I’m 60 years old, so I’m old enough to remember that in my youth we had regular attacks in Vienna. There had already been an attack on the synagogue in 1981, one against the airport in 1985, OPEC in 1975 and in 1981 when the President of the Austrian Israelitic Society was assassinated.
I’m sure that nowadays the government, the Chancellor and the Minister of Interior are absolutely determined to fight the “Islamistic scene”. There were a couple of people, sympathizing radical Islam, who have joined ISIS and then came back, but until now the scene was very calm and quiet. Just now there was this one single case where a person got out of control, but I’m sure the government is extremely determined and that they will do their best to stop any further attacks.
Do you think this trend of rising hate of the West has to do with migration of 2015 or more in general with other past immigration waves?
As far as I know, Monday’s attacker was born in Austria. He or his family was not part of the immigration wave of 2015. There is also no indication he had any connection with people who have immigrated in the last five years. So, even though that immigration wave had its specific problems, I don’t think it is connected with this attack.
On a wider point of view, I agree completely that the Muslim immigration of the last decades, mainly to France but also to other countries, continues to be a huge issue. Integration didn’t really work and immigrants have developed a strong anti-western attitude. It’s inevitable. Therefore, our main goal must be to defend our Western values against the mindset of part of the Muslim community. And I repeat, part of the Muslim community, which we must fight as well those extremists who strongly oppose our way of life. As (Austrian) Chancellor Kurz said: “It is not a fight between Muslims and Christians, Muslim and Jews, Austria and Syria or Austria and Turkey. It is a fight against any people that defies the West, and in this case it happens to be radical Muslism and Islamists.”
In light of what happened in France and the recent statements of President Macron, what do you believe should be done next to guarantee the security of European citizens?
Well, for that you need a whole lecture (laughs ndr). First of all, our efforts for integration must be multiplied. Since the beginning of this year a new government has been formed in Austria, and it has established for the first time a Ministry for Integration, dealing specifically with the issue. Moreover, we have created a “Documentation Centre for Islamist Activity”. Like we have a “Documentation Centre of Austrian Resistance”, focused on countering rising neo-Nazi activies, we have created this new entity to closely observe and monitor the inititatives of specific areas of the Muslim community. On top of that, I think educational programs in particular in schools must be implemented, as well as the importance of learning German in order to be fully integrated in society, in the workforce and not to isolate in peripheric neighborhoods.
We are strongly increasing our efforts in that direction, introducing laws that many other countries still have to adopt. For example, foreign funding to Muslim communities has been prohibited, Imams and Muslim teachers are constantly monitored. That is why we felt quite safe in Austria, but I don’t want to speak too much in the past tense, that is why I think we are still confident that Austria will remain quiet.