Austrian-Jewish Cultural Heritage Act passed in the National Council

“Today’s resolution combines history and the future; it is both historic and forward-looking. Judaism has been a natural part of Austria for centuries. Nevertheless, Jews have been subjected to persecution time and again. After the caesura of the Shoah, it took decades for Jewish community life to become visible again. The Austrian-Jewish Cultural Heritage Act passed today contributes to safeguarding Jewish life and culture. It is also an expression of the Republic’s recognition of the security work as well as the youth, cultural and educational work of the Jewish Communities.

Our thanks go to Federal Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, with whom we worked for years on this project, as well as to Federal Minister Karoline Edtstadler, who led the detailed negotiations and finally brought them to a conclusion together with Vice Chancellor Werner Kogler and Member of Parliament Eva Blimlinger. I would also like to thank the members of parliament from the SPÖ and NEOS for the discussions and continued support for this project.”

This is the prompt reaction of the IKG leadership to the important step just taken in the National Council in a process that has taken more than two years: the Austrian Jewish Cultural Heritage Act (ÖJKG) was passed unanimously in the National Council. With it, the Republic wants to support the safeguarding of Jewish community life in Austria.

IKG President Oskar Deutsch summarized in a dispatch the importance of this law and expressed his gratitude and joy about the decision of the National Council:
The National Council has just taken an important step in a process that has taken more than two years: With the Austrian-Jewish Cultural Heritage Act (ÖJKG), the Republic wants to support the safeguarding of Jewish community life in Austria. I am particularly pleased that the National Council has unanimously passed the ÖJKG.

This is primarily about recognizing Judaism as a natural part of Austria. A special aspect of the ÖJKG is that it expresses that Judaism is more than a religion. From now on, the Israelite Religious Society (IRG) will receive four million euros, which are earmarked for security, cultural, youth as well as educational work. These funds are intended to secure the IRG and the four religious communities in Austria as we know them today for our children and grandchildren.

Thanks to those involved

Before I go into details of the law, I would like to express my sincere thanks to a few people: First and foremost, Federal Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, with whom we worked for more than two years on the project to provide legal protection for the Jewish community. And Federal Minister Karoline Edtstadler, who took over the detailed negotiations for the federal government in the spring of 2020. Vice Chancellor Werner Kogler and National Council Member Eva Blimlinger of thePreview (opens in new tab) Greens, who also played a key role. I would like to expressly thank the members of the SPÖ and NEOS who immediately pledged their support. At this point, I would also like to thank all employees and officials of the IKG, who have worked for years to bring about the law.

Securing the community for our children

Today, the IKG is one of the most secure Jewish communities in Europe, with unparalleled infrastructure and services for all members. An unfortunately necessary prerequisite for this is the security work, which was continuously improved after the terrorist attack on the Vienna City Temple in 1981. Today, security costs account for more than 20 percent of the total expenses of the IKG Vienna. The cooperation of the four religious communities in Austria with the Ministry of the Interior and the security authorities serves as a model throughout the EU.

Seven years ago, the security work of the Kultusgemeinde also received monetary recognition from the state for the first time. With the help of the then Minister of the Interior, Johanna Mikl-Leitner, a funding contract was agreed for the security work of the IKG. Expenditures amounting to 3.7 million euros were subsidized, most recently with 1.3 million euros per year. The new law replaces the previous security funding contract.

The ÖJKG provides for the earmarking of funds to the IRG for the following areas:

– Protection of Jewish institutions

– Preservation and maintenance of the Austrian-Jewish cultural heritage

– Promotion of Jewish community life and its structure

– Dialogue between religions

– Promotion of youth

– Promotion of social exchange initiatives

Next steps

Now the Federal Council must pass the law. After confirmation by the Federal President and promulgation of the law, it enters into force. Subsequently, the IRG concludes a contract with the federal government and decides on the allocation of funds to the religious communities in Austria. For Vienna, the Kultusvorstand decides on the use of the funds. A one-time allocation of five million euros is budgeted for 2020 throughout Austria, and four million euros from 2021.