Kurier, May 27, 2015
Because a neighbor felt disturbed, a student was asked to remove the national flag.
The Eurovision Song Contest in Vienna happened under the motto of tolerance, but now an antisemitic incident in Vienna’s Leopoldstadt district is causing a commotion. The tenant Sebestyén Fiumei was asked by property management to remove the Israeli flag from his window because another tenant was bothered by it. Fiumei had received the flag as a gift during a Song Contest party.
“It wasn’t that noticeable. And I didn’t have any specific thoughts when hanging it,” said the 23 year-old, who lives in the Jewish neighborhood. “But two days later I was told that the flag reminded another tenant of his sad past and that he didn’t want to have to see it every day.” A request made to property management to clarify the issue through a conversation with the neighbor went unanswered, according to Fiumei. Instead, his lessor asked him to remove the Mezuzah from his door as well.
“I mean it’s a Jewish neighborhood. Hundreds if orthodox Jews walk through, talking in Hebrew. Should they shut up as well in order not to hurt any feelings?”, he asks. Democracy meant to also accept things one maybe doesn’t like.
“This approach is the most abhorrent form of anti-Semitism and is particularly condemnable in Vienna. I expect that it will not be tolerated and that the property management and the lessor are being instructed accordingly”, the president of the Jewish Community, Oskar Deutsch, said. Specifically the Mezuzah would always hang at the entry to Jewish households. “Also at my home.” He had never heard of a similar incident anyway. Deutsch pointed out that antisemitic incidents have been on the rise since 2013. In any case, the community will offer support for the introduction of legal action by the aggrieved party.
The Austrian-Israeli Society (ÖIG), too, thinks the approach was not covered by law and is therefore objectionable. The flag of Israel is the flag of a friendly nation. “To ask a Jew to remove and hide a religious symbol like the Mezuzah is antisemitic and absolutely unacceptable, not just in light of Austrian history, but also in terms of freedom of religion. We do declare our solidarity with the discriminated tenant,” ÖIG president Richard Schmit said.
Property management trying to calm things down
The responsible property management firm explained that the neighborly request was passed on to the tenant uncritically by a holiday replacement, for which they were sorry. “Besides the absolutely unnecessary forwarding of the request regarding the repositioning of the window treatment, we did not ask for removal of the door decoration, nor did we threaten eviction or any other measures. We cannot follow what steps the main tenant vocalized; this will have to be resolved directly between the main- and subtenant. As a trustee management we have a clear set of duties and responsibilities that cannot refer to any religious or political contents,” the firm said in a statement.
The main tenant is currently abroad. Fiumei is now concerned about his spot in the shared flat. “Legally things are always different. The relationship with my lessor probably won’t go back to being good,” he said. However, he did make a conscious decision to disclose the incidents. “Maybe then the next lessor or management company won’t do this anymore,” the student explained. However, the 23 year-old does not want to charge the property management or the lessor with anti-Semitism. Rather, the issue was ignorance and imprudent actions.