The recent leaks of the Whatsapp group of the Austrian student union "AG", showing vile racist, antisemitic and misogynistic jokes, memes, and statements by more than 30 students at Vienna's law faculty has shaken Austrian student life to the core.
This is particularly problematic because this is not a fringe group we're talking about, it's a group of students active in the national student leadership in Austria, which has close political links to a mainstream political party in the ruling coalition. This very well may be Austria's future political elite judges, lawyers and politicians who may have influence in Austrian public life in years to come.
This matter has been of great concern to our Austrian Jewish student member union, JÖH. in a recent interview to the Wiener Zeitung, Co-chairman Benjamin Hess reported that a member of the student council of the same law faculty, where Hess himself studies, was also a member of the Whatsapp group. However, since her resignation would mean the AG losing their majority in the council.
"Our concern is that Jewish students feel comfortable contacting their student representatives without fear of them being antisemites"
Looking back at the recent election to the Austrian national student council, this does not seem to be an institutional problem. For Hess, this is rather a question of cultural values and family traditions, but also respect for minorities and the relationship to Austria's nazi past.
By far the most troubling finding of the AGleaks scandal is the realisation that efforts to combat racism and antisemitism with education will not always be successful.
However, we can rest assured that students like Benjamin Hess and the JÖH will stand up for what's right: Democracy, human rights and tolerance.