Jewish leaders said the scheduling conflict reflects an unfortunate but unsurprising lack of attention to their religious calendar. The situation is especially awkward for Austria, which holds the rotating presidency of the Council of the EU and has long struggled with allegations of state-sponsored intolerance.
Austria’s far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ) is a member of the country’s governing coalition, and its leader, Heinz-Christian Strache, is vice chancellor. While Strache has repudiated anti-Semitism, Jewish leaders in Austria say anti-Jewish sentiment is at the core of FPÖ’s ideology and still pervades it ranks.
The EU leaders’ summit, in Salzburg, which will focus on migration and is also expected to be the setting for potentially critical discussions about Brexit, is set to begin with a dinner on September 19. Yom Kippur, when Jews fast and pray to repent for their sins, begins on the evening of September 18 and ends at sundown the following day when families typically gather to break the fast. For the observant, work and travel on the holiday is prohibited.
None of the 28 EU leaders is Jewish, and in a statement, the Austrian presidency noted that the summit was scheduled for September 20, the day after the holiday, though an official acknowledged that the leaders’ dinner would take place on September 19 and that EU leaders, staff and journalists were largely expected to arrive before then.