Can Jews feel safe in Germany? Not everywhere, says the Central Council of Jews, citing hostility from Muslim citizens as one of the reasons. Muslim representatives have even acknowledged that there are problems.
The Bavarian regional parliament made an appeal: Its delegates unanimously adopted a motion that called on Jews to stay in the southern German state. "Dear Jewish fellow citizens, we guarantee that we will do everything in our power to safeguard your security and that of your establishments," said Oliver Jörg of the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU).
These well-meant words have been directed at the Jewish community at a time when people are, once again, questioning how safe it is for Jews to live in Germany.
The debate was sparked by the president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Josef Schuster, in an interview with the Berlin broadcaster RBB Inforadio on Thursday (26.02.2015).
Jews should not hide away in fear, he said: Most Jewish buildings and institutions were well protected. "However," he went on, "the question is whether in problematic neighborhoods, areas with a large Muslim population, it's really sensible to announce yourself as a Jew by wearing a kippah, or whether it's better to wear a different head covering."
Schuster said that while the phenomenon of increasing anti-Semitism is not new, in the past year the Central Council of Jews had consciously observed an unexpected alliance for the first time: "There's the far right on the one hand, combined with an anti-Semitism on the left that presents itself as anti-Israel sentiment, and all this is combined with anti-Semitism among young Muslims."
The Central Council of Muslims (ZMD) expressed understanding for Schuster's comments. "These fears are justified," Aiman Mazyek, the secretary-general of the ZMD, told the Berliner Zeitung. He pointed out that the ZMD had explicitly distanced itself from attacks on Jews by young Muslims.
"Attacks on Jews are an attack on our society," said Mazyek. "Understood correctly, Islam regards anti-Semitism and all other forms of racism as a grave sin."
The debate is not a new one. In 2013 the Berlin Rabbi Daniel Alter was already speaking of "no-go areas for Jews" in certain parts of Berlin.
The previous year he was beaten up by a group of youths believed to have been of Arab and Turkish origin. Schuster's predecessor as head of the Central Council of Jews, Charlotte Knobloch, repeatedly advised Jews in Germany not to be too obvious about their Jewishness when going about their public life.
'Hello and shalom!'
The question of whether Jews can feel safe in Germany provokes a strong response with the German public. For many, it's a horror scenario to think that, 70 years after the Holocaust, Jews could once again be the focus of hostilities.
German Interior Minister, Thomas de Maizière, for example, has expressed great concern that the Jewish community in Germany should find it necessary to debate whether or not it is safe there.
Jews in Germany report very varied personal experiences. "I'm always walking around with a kippah," Maximilian Feldhake, a 26-year-old American, told DW. "People can see that I'm a Jew – and nothing happens. They either greet me nicely with 'Hello, shalom!', or they're just neutral." Feldhake has been living in Germany since 2012. After one year in Dresden he's now in Potsdam, where he's studying to become a rabbi.
However, the observations of Leonid Goldberg are quite different. The president of the Jewish cultural association in Wuppertal told DW last month that for years now his community's rabbi has been unable to walk through the center of town in a kippah. "People who wear the kippah try to conceal that fact, for example by wearing a cap or hat over it, so as not to be abused by predominantly Muslim youths," he said.
The warning from the Central Council coincided with the publication of new figures concerning anti-Semitic attacks.
According to information gathered by the Amadeu Antonio Foundation, 864 such crimes were recorded last year – an increase of 10 percent on 2012, when there were 788.
Jan Riebe, the leader of the foundation's project, pointed out that there were also a lot of unrecorded cases. "Many offenses go unreported, which is also because of the very low percentage of crimes that get solved," he said.
The German interior ministry suspects that, when all the data is collated, the total figure will be much higher than the one provided by the foundation.
The discussion takes place within the wider context of a debate on the security of Jews in Europe as a whole. After the terrorist attacks in Copenhagen, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on Jews to emigrate to the Jewish state.
At the time, Josef Schuster, the president of the Central Council of Jews, said he could see no reason for this, commenting that life in Germany was no less safe than life in Israel.
So far, unlike in neighboring France, there has been no wave of emigration from Germany. Quite the reverse, in fact: The balance of migration is in Germany's favor, with many young Israelis relocating to Berlin in particular. Nonetheless, Schuster said recently that "for Jews all over the world, Israel is our life insurance."