Austrian anti-Semitism incidents hit record in 2020, report says

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VIENNA (Reuters) - Anti-Semitism incidents in Austria rose last year to the highest level since the Jewish community's official records began 19 years ago, with protests against coronavirus restrictions helping to fuel the rise, a report showed on Monday.

The number of reported incidents, which range from online abuse to physical attacks, increased by 6.4% in 2020 to 585, the Anti-Semitism Reporting Office of the body that officially represents Austria's Jews, the Jewish Community of Vienna (IKG), said in an annual report that showed a rising trend continuing.

The two months with the most incidents were November and December, when protests against coronavirus restrictions gained momentum, though the office also launched a public awareness campaign in November that might have increased the number of cases reported.

"The protests against the government's coronavirus measures also left their mark, leading to a strong increase in anti-Semitic incidents," the report said. Those incidents mainly involved Holocaust relativisation and spreading anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, it added.

The generally unauthorised protests against issues including lockdowns and face-masks have been attended by a mixed crowd whose allegiances are often difficult to determine, though they have included conspiracy theorists and neo-Nazis.

The report said some protesters wore yellow stars of David like those the Nazis made Jews wear in an attempt to suggest those who oppose restrictions were being persecuted as Jews were during the Holocaust.

Although the lines between categories are often blurred, it identified 42 incidents as related to the coronavirus.

Breaking all incidents down by associated ideology, the biggest category was right-wing with 229, followed by "not possible to assign" with 195.

Abusive behaviour, including online abuse, accounted for 62% of incidents. The only category in which incidents did not increase was property damage. Physical attacks were 2% of the total, or 11 incidents, up from six in 2019.

(Reporting by Francois Murphy; editing by Barbara Lewis)