Last month, after Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, hundreds of demonstrators congregated in front of the American embassy in Vienna to protest. Matthias F.—he has declined to give his last name in order to protect his safety—was curious. An Austrian-Jewish student whose mother is Israeli of Libyan and Iraqi descent, he figured he’d head over to the scene of the action and hear what the people there had to say, which, for someone curious about the Middle East, is a wholly reasonable thing to do. Two of his friends tagged along.
What they saw when they reached the demonstration shook them to the core: Many of the protestors were chanting “Khaybar, Khaybar, ya Yahud, Jaish Muhammad sa yahud,” a battlecry celebrating the battle in 628 CE in which Muhammad’s army slaughtered the Jews of the Khaybar oases who opposed him. Other chants included “Marg bar Israil,” a Persian ditty advocating death to the Jewish state, as well as run of the mill cries of “Intifada” and accusations that Israel purposefully murdered children.
“We were shocked by these slogans and did not want to leave this undisputed,” Matthias told Vice in a recent interview. “Anti-Semitism and hatred of Israel must not be tolerated.”
With little else to do, the three students decided to take a photo of themselves holding the Israeli flag. It was hardly an original thought: All around them, clusters of protestors smiled at cameras as they waved the Palestinian or the Turkish flag enthusiastically. Matthias and his friends did the same with their blue-and-white banner. Some anti-Israel protestors came running, and a mild scuffle broke out.
And then came the police.
The cops, Matthias recalled, “took us to a doorway and started a questioning while the attackers just went back to the demonstration. When I wanted to make film shots of the event, I was harshly prevented by an official of the Vienna police. Despite cold and rainy weather, we had to take off our jackets and sweaters in the entrance and submit to a search. We have done so without resistance, given the circumstances. The Israeli flag had been confiscated by the Vienna police. Also, our data was taken while the police overwhelmed us with snide and malicious comments: ‘We should have left you out there,’ ‘What do you think, what they do to you, if they catch you,’ ‘Are you really dumb?’ and so on.”
Eventually, each student was fined 100 Euros. Their citation, a copy of which was obtained by Israeli TV, accuses the students of having “behaved insensibly, violated public order and created a provocation.”
“Now,” says Matthias, “we want to get legal help and object to the injunction. It can not be that anti-Semitic slogans can be shouted without punishment and the… Israeli flag should be punished.”
Here’s a snapshot from the scene of the crime, courtesy of Matthias F.:
Jesse Bernstein is a former Intern at Tablet.