Batya Brownstein

Opinion: Austrian citizenship for returning Jews is unintentionally anti- Semitic

Willing victims of a wanderlust culture (a categorization in which I include myself), Israelis have begun in recent years to accumulate international citizenships in order to avoid the bureaucracy of visas and the like, as well as to provide their children with as many future options and choices as possible.

As part of my work as a paralegal at a top Israeli law firm which specializes in immigration among other fields, I have become somewhat familiar with the immigration processes of various countries.

The demand for EU passports in particular has spiked sharply, with many Israelis qualifying for passports of various European countries with proof of heritage, and depending on a given country’s criteria for eligibility.

Most notable is the demand for Portuguese citizenship for those of Sephardic descent, and Austrian citizenship for those descended from Austrians and stateless persons forced to flee Austria or relocated to Austria between the years 1933 and 1955. Both of these states issue citizenship to Jews (and non Jews as well, in the case of Portugal, as descendants of Jews who were forced to flee Spain, and then Portugal ) who meet each country’s criteria, as a form of reparation for wrongs done to the Jewish people, and for Jewish suffering at or enabled by their hands.

Ironically, the wrongs committed by Portugal 500 and some years ago, following the Spanish expulsion of 1492, are being “repaired” more fully than those committed by Austria against its Jews both before, during and after the Nazi occupation of Austria, or Anschluss, as it’s known.

Setting aside the obvious fact that one evil is unfathomably less recent than the other, the nature of the events themselves is clearly incomparable. While the events surrounding 1492 were designed to eradicate a religion, those of the Holocaust, in which Austria took part, were intended to eradicate people.

In a visit to Vienna one year ago as a tourist, I was shocked at Austria’s success in gliding over the war chapter of its history book. It was as if there had never been a war, and any mention of the war brought only uncomfortable glances and changes in subject.

I suppose the granting of citizenship to eligible Jews is an attempt at apology and reparation, alongside monetary reparations to victims, albeit with a criteria I find very odd. In my work as a paralegal I’ve been exposed to these criteria to some extent, and am familiar with some aspects of the Austrian law, which up until last year only granted citizenship to descendants of Austrian (or stateless) men and not women! As if only men were killed by Austrians in the Holocaust, or forced to flee and abandon all possessions if they were lucky.

This patrilineal oversight has since been corrected. However one thing that has not, and the thing that really got me writing, is the fact that current or future military service in the IDF precludes one from being granted Austrian citizenship. The absurdity of this has me searching for words.

Some questions that come to mind include, how has Austria completely missed the point of this law? How is Austria attempting to make up for the attempted genocide of the Jewish people with anti Israel (and arguably anti Semitic) discrimination against those who protect their country- after Austria butchered their grandparents?

The reason I make the accusation that this law has anti Jewish sentiments is that the Holocaust (the evil for which the law is essentially attempting to atone) created a reality in which at the time and since, Jews were only safe in Israel. Faced with a choice of genocide or Israel, Jews fled to the only safe place left- Israel. Furthermore, even Israel wasn’t safe, and still isn’t, making it necessary for Jews to protect their lives in Israel. How do Jews do this? Through military service in the IDF.

To penalize Jews for trying to stay alive, while attempting to rectify an attempt at Jewish genocide only 70 and some short years ago, is at the very least misguided and contradictory to the spirit of this immigration law. The most extreme categorization of this detail in the law is anti Semitism.

Additionally, and in another vein, Israel is an ally of Austria for all intents and purposes, raising questions in my mind as to the diplomatic implications of this law and what purpose it actually serves, in contrast to the purpose it was designed to serve.

Very few articles have been written about this law, all of them in glowing, borderline pandering appreciation of the inherent kindness of the Austrian legislation is deigning to return to Jews what should be rightfully theirs. None mention this caveat. None discuss how this caveat contradicts the entire concept of this law.

Each country certainly has the autonomy and legal right to determine its own immigration laws, that is not in question, however it’s my personal opinion that the nuance of this immigration law of Austria’s is salt in the wound, much less a bandaid. What do you think?

About the Author
Born to a French mother and American father, Batya came to Israel at a young age. Upon graduating high school in Israel, she spent her military service in the IDF's Foreign Press Branch. She now studies International Relations and Political Science (B.A.) at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and lives in Jerusalem with her beautiful daughter.
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