Austria’s anti-BDS resolution and SLAPP case receive concern from UN Special Rapporteurs. This is our response

Vienna, October 17th 2022

In an address to Austrian authorities on the 20th of May 2022 four UN Special Rapporteurs voiced their concern on the motion adopted by the municipal council of Vienna on 27.07.18 against Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) and the lawsuit against a member of BDS Austria.

The letter is signed by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967; Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association and Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. It can be accessed here:

The motion, which follows up a similar resolution by the Austrian Parliament, excludes from the use of municipal premises events that are organized by BDS or by groups pursuing its aims. Furthermore, it accuses the BDS movement of antisemitism. This accusation is of course presented without any proof or basis.

As stated by the UN Special Rapporteurs, these resolutions include undue restrictions to the rights to freedom of opinion and expression, peaceful assembly and of association. Furthermore, they express their concern that the City of Vienna’s motion follows a worrying trend of unduly limiting the rights to freedom of opinion and expression, peaceful assembly and of association. The lawsuit mentioned refers to a SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) case where the city of Vienna accuses one of our members of defamation for posting a picture of a poster denouncing the Israeli apartheid next to a City of Vienna logo. More info here:

The response of the Austrian authorities to this detailed and direct communication again showcases this government’s negligence, carelessness, and lack of accountability.

AUT 08.07.22 (2.2022) Response

In typical Austrian/German self-centred fashion, the Austrian authorities begin their response with their tried and tested clause: Austria reiterates that fighting antisemitism at national, European and international level is a top priority for Austria, as if this statement exempted them from any abuse or wrongdoing. They continue by referencing their contribution and adoption of the heavily contested IHRA definition of antisemitism, which widens the definition of antisemitism beyond its meaning to conveniently include any criticism towards Israel. It has also been contested by human rights  organizations and hundreds of renowned Jewish scholars and intellectuals (more info here). It is also ironic that Austria, of all places, gives itself some sort of higher moral ground in defining antisemitism and allegedly fighting it by using this definition adopted under the presidency of a President who found no problem in forming a coalition with a racist and neo-fascist party (FPÖ).

As pointed out by the Special Rapporteurs, calling for economic, academic and cultural boycotts is a legitimate method of political protest against countries that violate international law and don’t respect human rights. We denounce the hypocrisy and double moral standards of the Austrian government which finds no objection and applies these methods in full force when targeted towards people and organizations from countries that considers enemies such as Russia or Iran, but feels outraged about them when applied to countries that considers political allies such as Israel.

The response by the Austrian government fails to fundament in the slightest way its very grave accusation of antisemitism against BDS and they consider it sufficiently justified by simply stating that “Their movement’s campaigns (referring to BDS) are often referred to as antisemitic.”. We challenge the Austrian government which so arrogantly pushes out baseless accusations against its citizens to provide proof of any antisemitic statement or action made by BDS Austria. This response only illustrates the disregard for basic civic and political rights and the lack of accountability in Austria when it comes to the defence of Palestinian rights. It also shows the dreadful anti-Palestinian racism of the Austrian government and the Municipality of Vienna.

Regarding the FB post behind the lawsuit against a BDS member, the Austrian government argues that The City of Vienna’s lawsuit is based on the gross violation of the rights of the City of Vienna, including the violation of the personal and name rights as well as defamation. However, it purposely fails to acknowledge the clear sarcastic intention of a comment on a post referencing the picture of a poster found on the street, which is further remarked by an emoji of a winking face. Of course, this fact is not mentioned in their letter.

But more relevant is the zeal of the Viennese authorities in prosecuting and intimidating with up to 35.000€ in damages and fees a citizen for a post which had no public repercussion, that simply associates them it with the denunciation of a human rights violation which has been widely documented by International, Palestinian and Israeli organizations. This adds to the clear message that the City of Vienna is trying to send to any citizen trying to speak up against Israel that they will be targeted and they will use any means available to prosecute, defame and stifle them without hesitation or consideration for basic civil and political rights. They should know however that they will not silence us. That we will continue speaking up on behalf of the rights of the Palestinian people that are being flouted by Israel, with the connivance of a great part of the international community and in particular the Austrian government.

Likewise, the Austrian government’s communication shamelessly concludes with a reference to its participation in the 2004 EU Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders and its adoption of the UNESCO framework to combat impunity. However, it seems that smearing and attacking civil society groups with lawsuits (we must remember at this point the threats of lawsuits that climate activists have also received) doesn’t conflict with their view on this. Neither Austria sees the need to speak up against the attacks by Israel against the Palestinian civil society organizations, such as the 6 Palestinian HR organizations, which recently draw the condemnation of the EU and the great majority of the international community. Neither is willing to accept any criticism of Israel as expressed in the dozens of UNESCO resolutions against Israel’s human rights violations and will smear and attack those echoing what the UNESCO’s resolutions denounce.

The response by the Austrian authorities and the repressive actions they are trying to justify only showcase their acute cynicism and disregard for civil, political and human rights that might stand in the way of their neo-colonial strategic interests and those of its criminal allies.

The repressive actions the Austrian authorities against activists for Palestinian rights only showcase their acute cynicism and disregard for civil, political and human rights that might stand in the way of their neo-colonial strategic interests and those of its criminal allies. Their thinly elaborated response to the concerns expressed by the UN Special Rapporteurs are just yet another example of their disdain for international law and accountability. 

Post Author: Autor:in