In the midst of May’s Israel-Hamas conflict, the Austria chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, had the flag of the Jewish state hoisted over the seat of the government in central Vienna’s Ballhausplatz. Meir Soloveichik explores the “unique and profound poetry” of this gesture:
In 1895, Theodore Herzl, working as a journalist in Paris, returned home to Vienna and found the city in the midst of a mayoral election that would be won by the charismatic Karl Lueger, known to his admirers as “Der schöne Karl,” [handsome Karl]. Lueger would come to be seen as the man who would change Vienna, reconfigure it into an embodiment of modernity, technology, and beautiful gardens, which is why he is celebrated to this day in the city’s Karl Lueger Square.
But Lueger would herald the coming 20th century in another, more ominous manner: he demagogically described the Jews as a cabal controlling Europe and as the central threat facing European civilization. . . . Lueger’s anti-Semitic diatribes earned him the adulation of the Austrian masses, among them a young man by the name of Adolf Hitler who studied in Vienna during the mayor’s administration. Hitler would cite Lueger as his role model and make special mention of Der schöne Karl in his own memoir, Mein Kampf.
It is often assumed that it was the Dreyfus affair that inspired Herzl’s vision, but in fact, as Rick Richman has noted, Herzl had originally assumed Dreyfus’s guilt, and he had dismissed French anti-Semitism as a mere “salon for the castoffs.”
Rather, as Richman has demonstrated, it was Lueger’s anti-Semitism that truly moved Herzl to reconsider the fate of European Jewry. Soloveichik concludes:
We are now able to understand the meaning of what it meant to fly the Zionist flag in the city that taught Hitler the power of hate and the city that taught Herzl the importance of Jewish nationalism. In a speech to American Jews, Kurz argued that Austria’s history “guides my political work today,” reminding him that “we have to be a strong partner of Israel.” By flying the Israeli flag, Kurz communicated that Vienna faces a choice: to stand with the locus of living Jewry, or to stand with Hamas, the heirs of the Nazis’ quest for genocide of the Jewish people.