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German official warns Jews against wearing yarmulkes

May 25, 2019

Anti-Semitic attacks in Germany have surged in the past few years. Last year, an attack on two men wearing yarmulkes — also known as kippahs — on a street in Berlin caused widespread outrage in in the country.

A 2014 demonstration against anti-Semitism in Berlin
Image: Reuters/Thomas Peter

The German government's anti-Semitism commissioner on Saturday warned the country's Jewish community to avoid donning yarmulkes, the traditional Jewish head coverings for males, in some public spaces due to a rise in anti-Semitic crimes.

"I cannot advise Jews to wear the kippah everywhere all the time in Germany," Felix Klein said in an interview carried by the Funke media group, using another word for yarmulke.

The official said he had "changed his mind (on the subject) compared to previously."

The number of attacks against Jews in Germany increased from 1,504 in 2017 to 1,646 in 2018 — a rise of 10%. The number of reported violent cases against Jews rose from 37 to 62 over the same period, according to official figures.

Justice Minister Katarina Barley told the Handelsblatt newspaper the increase was "shameful for our country" but added that the police were "vigilant."

Read more: Germany: Syrian man faces charges for yarmulke attack

For those wearing the yarmulke, political reassurances aren't enough. Sigmount Königsberg, the anti-Semitism commissioner of Berlin's Jewish congregation, said he found Klein's statement lacking.

"I would've expected him to add that he'll do everything in his power to make sure Jews can wear their kippa everywhere in Germany and at all times of the day and night," Königsberg told DW.

He hopes that Klein's warning works as an alarm signal to society and that politicians will take action so that "Jewish people can openly wear their kippa in public."

Last year, a man wearing the Star of David was beaten down and kicked right in the center of Berlin. Some weeks earlier, a similar incident in Germany's capital caused public outrage and sparked a nationwide debate on anti-Semitism when a 19-year-old Syrian attacked an Arab-Israeli and his companion with a belt in broad daylight. Both victims wore yarmulkes in what was an allegedly anti-Semitic attack.

Read more: Anti-Semitic crime in Germany: 1 in 5 offenses in Berlin

'Deep-rooted' prejudice

After several high-profile incidents of anti-Semitic violence, Germany's Jewish community appealed to the government to institute an anti-Semitism oath for groups seeking public funding.

What do Jews in Berlin think about the yarmulke debate?

Germany's anti-Semitism commissioner, Felix Klein, suggested that police, teachers and lawyers should be better trained to recognize what constitutes anti-Semitism.

Read more: 2,000 Berliners wear skullcaps to protest anti-Semitism

According to Klein, "the lifting of inhibitions and the uncouthness which is on the rise in society" are factors behind the recent anti-Semitic wave.

"The internet and social media have largely contributed to this — but so have constant attacks against our culture of remembrance," he added.

A few weeks earlier, Claudia Vanoni, Berlin's top legal expert on anti-Semitism, said that anti-Semitism remained deeply rooted in German society.

"Anti-Semitism has always been here. But I think that recently, it has again become louder, more aggressive and flagrant," Vanoni told the Agence France-Presse news agency.

Analysts say the rise of far-right political groups in Germany has also contributed to anti-Semitism in the country. Parties like Alternative for Germany (AfD) openly question Germany's culture of atonement for World War II. Some experts also attribute the new wave of anti-Semitism to the arrival of millions of asylum-seekers, mainly from Muslim-majority countries such as Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Read more: 'Solidarity Hoodie': Kippah-capped clothing challenges anti-Semitism

shs/jlw (AFP, dpa)

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