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Germany

Attack on Berlin rabbi sparks outrage and debate

An anti-Semitic attack has caused consternation in Berlin. Politicians have called for more moral courage. Jews in the German capital have expressed fear, while Jewish organizations worldwide demanded more security.

ARCHIV - Ein Mann trägt am 27.01.2011 in der Synagoge eine Kippa mit einem aufgenähtem Stern (Foto vom 27.01.2011). Mitten in Berlin wird ein Rabbiner von Jugendlichen verprügelt und beleidigt. Der kleinen Tochter des Mannes drohen die vermutlich arabischstämmigen Täter mit dem Tod. Die antisemitische Tat löst Entsetzen aus. Foto: Fredrik von Erichsen dpa (zu dpa 0057 vom 29.08.2012) +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++

Symbolbild - Kippa

The attack was completely unexpected for Rabbi Daniel Alter, who was walking down the road with his 6-year-old daughter. Four young men jumped the 53-year-old, beat him viciously and threatened to kill his child. Before attacking Alter, who was wearing a kippa, the men asked him if he was Jewish.

Alter, who later underwent surgery for a cheekbone fracture, described his attackers as Arab-looking. The beating did not take place in one of Berlin's districts with a large number of Arab immigrants - it happened in affluent suburb Friedenau, southwest of the city.

Negative experiences

Since the incident on Tuesday (28.08.2012), several members of Berlin's Jewish community have described their negative experiences when appearing recognizably Jewish on the street - in any district of the city. Many have taken to hiding their kippas under a baseball cap. Rabbi Andreas Nachama, a well-respected representative of the city's Jewish community, has said he tries to avoid public transport after being attacked ten years ago on one of Berlin's elevated trains.

Chief Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt Foto: Ronald Wittek/dapd

Goldschmidt said there is a conflict raging in Germany

There is a good chance that many incidents do not find their way into the official statistics, but police reported a slight drop in the number of anti-Semitic crimes last year, from 148 to 126. In most cases, the attacks are motivated by far-right extremism. But there are many reports of an aggressive anti-Jewish and anti-Israeli sentiment in certain schools and among young Arab people. It has become a highly charged political issue.

Problematic context

Governing politicians and police in Berlin would not reveal exactly how many police officers are allocated to protect Jewish public buildings, such as synagogues, Torah schools, kindergartens or other facilities - though they are protected around the clock, 365 days a year.

Guarding property is one thing, but creating a sense of security for Jews in their everyday lives is a task that can't be solved with more personnel.

The outrage over the attack against Alter is also part of a wider context. Not only is Berlin still a city closely associated with the persecution of Jews by the Nazi regime, and many Jews are deeply concerned by the current legal debate over circumcision.

Crossroads

The president of the Conference of European Rabbis, Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt who is the chief rabbi of Moscow, said on Friday that Germany's Jewish community was currently "at a crossroads." He said it was becoming clearer "that there is a conflict in Germany between those who truly respect freedom and tolerance, and those who would like to see an end of the German Jewish community."

Aiman Mazyek, chairman of the Central Council of Muslims Foto: Rainer Jensen dpa

Mazyek condemned the attack and called for solidarity with Jews

Jews, Goldschmidt said, were being faced "with narrow-minded humanist activists and violent thugs." Many believe that what is being threatened is nothing short of the successful restoration of Jewish life in Germany after the Shoah.

Politicians have reacted with the usual appeals. Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit called the Alter attack an "attack on the peaceful co-habitation of everyone in the capital," while the federal government's Integration Commissioner Maria Böhmer called on the population to show more courage. She said every individual should stand up "whenever people from whichever background are threatened or discriminated against."

'Deep revulsion'

There were also clear signals from members of Germany's Muslim community. Aiman Mazyek, chairman of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, said such acts caused "deep revulsion" among Muslims. He then professed solidarity and empathy with all Jews in Germany. Other Muslim associations joined Mazyek in condemning all religious hate and violence.

In the coming week, 80 leading Jews and Muslims from 18 European countries will meet in Paris. The conference, which has long been planned, has now gained extra significance because of the violence in Berlin. The European Jewish Congress has already said it intends to make the attack on Alter a main talking point.


Rabbi Alter will be the guest on our talkshow "Agenda" on DW-TV this Tuesday (4.9.2012). Check out broadcast times at www.dw.de/english/agenda, where you can also find a recording after the show.

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