Why Vienna’s Latest Attempt to Come to Terms with Its Anti-Semitic History Falls Flat

Oct. 21 2022

On Vienna’s famous Ringstrasse there stands a twelve-foot-tall bronze statue of Karl Lueger, who served as the city’s mayor from 1897 until his death in 1910, and did much to give the city its current form. A leader of the staunchly Catholic Christian Social party, Lueger was one of the very first successful politicians to make anti-Semitism a key plank of his political platform. The anti-Jewish fervor of Lueger’s loyal voters, more than anything else, convinced Theodor Herzl that the Jews would never find enduring security in Europe.

Last week, the city Vienna—responding to controversy in recent years concerning the statue of Lueger and his place in the city’s history—unveiled an installation intended to “contextualize artistically” the Lueger monument. Liam Hoare examines this “enormous wooden structure,” created by Nicole Six and Paul Petritsch and titled Lueger Temporary.

The Austrian Union of Jewish Students . . . protested the decision to “colorfully window-dress” the Lueger monument. From the point of view of the city, however, the color and bombast as well as people’s protestations are part of Lueger Temporary’s attraction. The installation will be, it hopes, something that will draw people in, make them curious, and initiate a conversation.

But a conversation about what, exactly? The Lueger monument as a standalone piece is an honorific object that perpetuates the cult of personality Lueger himself helped construct during his lifetime: Lueger as a modernizing mayor who was a champion of the downtrodden and disenfranchised. A successful act of artistic contextualization would have to cut this myth down to size and undermine the monument’s political foundations by framing it with the information the monument doesn’t tell us: that Lueger was a Catholic supremacist . . . and political anti-Semite.

By this measure, Lueger Temporary is a failure. Six and Petritsch’s elementary-school collage amounts to little more than a compendium of what the artists learned in the course of doing their research about Lueger monuments. It neither directly addresses nor communes with the very monument it is supposed to be contextualizing. Rather, Lueger Temporary is guilty of distracting and shifting the focus away from the Lueger monument, relativizing and minimizing the subject at hand. Instead of deepening the debate about the very thing the city has spent more than two years arguing about, Lueger Temporary seeks to broaden it, making it thinner in the process.

Read more at Vienna Briefing

More about: Anti-Semitism, Monuments, Theodor Herzl, Vienna


Why President Biden Needs Prime Minister Netanyahu as Much as Netanyahu Needs Biden

Sept. 28 2023

Last Wednesday, Joe Biden and Benjamin Netanyahu met for the first time since the former’s inauguration. Since then, Haim Katz, Israel’s tourism minister, became the first Israeli cabinet member to visit Saudi Arabia publicly, and Washington announced that it will include the Jewish state in its visa-waiver program. Richard Kemp, writing shortly after last week’s meeting, comments:

Finally, a full nine months into Benjamin Netanyahu’s latest government, President Joe Biden deigned to allow him into his presence. Historically, American presidents have invited newly installed Israeli prime ministers to the White House shortly after taking office. Even this meeting on Wednesday, however, was not in Washington but in New York, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.

Such pointed lack of respect is not the way to treat one of America’s most valuable allies, and perhaps the staunchest of them all. It is all about petty political point-scoring and interfering in Israel’s internal democratic processes. But despite his short-sighted rebuke to the state of Israel and its prime minister, Biden actually needs at least as much from Netanyahu as Netanyahu needs from him. With the 2024 election looming, Biden is desperate for a foreign-policy success among a sea of abject failures.

In his meeting with Netanyahu, Biden no doubt played the Palestinian issue up as some kind of Saudi red line and the White House has probably been pushing [Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman] in that direction. But while the Saudis would no doubt want some kind of pro-forma undertaking by Israel for the sake of appearances, [a nuclear program and military support] are what they really want. The Saudis’ under-the-table backing for the original Abraham Accords in the face of stiff Palestinian rejection shows us where its priorities lie.

Israel remains alone in countering Iran’s nuclear threat, albeit with Saudi and other Arab countries cheering behind the scenes. This meeting won’t have changed that. We must hope, however, that Netanyahu has been able to persuade Biden of the electoral benefit to him of settling for a historic peace between Israel and Saudi Arabia rather than holding out for the unobtainable jackpot of a two-state solution.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Joseph Biden, Saudi Arabia, U.S.-Israel relationship