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Jews are at risk in Germany, says Jewish council

May 26, 2019

Germany's central Jewish council has weighed in on the anti-Semitism debate, saying the security situation for Jews has "deteriorated" in major cities. Israel's president has expressed concern over the situation.

A man wears a yarmulke during a demonstration in front of a Jewish synagogue in Berlin
Image: Reuters/F. Bensch

Josef Schuster, the head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper that the security situation for Jews in the country has worsened in the past few years.

"On the whole I don't tend to dramatize, but the situation has by and large really deteriorated," Schuster said on Sunday.

"It has been the case for a while now that Jews are at risk in some major cities if recognizable as Jews," he added.

The kippah debate

Schuster was weighing in on a debate triggered by Berlin's anti-Semitism commissioner's warning that the Jewish community in Germany should avoid donning yarmulkes, the traditional Jewish head coverings for males, in some public spaces.

"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 on Saturday, using another word for yarmulke. The German official said he had "changed his mind (on the subject) compared to previously."

"It is to be welcomed if this situation receives more attention at the highest political level," Schuster said of Klein's warning.

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 cases of violence against Jews rose from 37 to 62 over the same period, according to official figures.

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: Germany: Syrian man faces charges for kippah attack

Anti-Semitism surge

Clarifying his comments, Klein said that he wanted to start a debate about the safety of Jews in Germany.

"I deliberately wanted to initiate a debate on the security of the Jewish community in our country," he said. "Of course there be cannot be no-go areas for Jews or members of other minorities anywhere in Germany."

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.

Read more: Anti-Semitism in German schools to be tackled with anti-bullying commissioners

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.

Klein said Saturday that "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.

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

A 'capitulation to anti-Semitism'

Meanwhile, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin took to Twitter to express his concern about Klein's comments.

"The statement of the German government's anti-Semitism commissioner ... shocked me deeply," Rivlin wrote on Twitter.

"We acknowledge and appreciate the moral position of the government of Germany and its commitment to the Jewish community that lives there," Rivlin said, "but fears about the security of German Jews are a capitulation to anti-Semitism and an admittance that, again, Jews are not safe on German soil."

On Saturday, Germany's Justice Minister Katarina Barley told the Handelsblatt newspaper the surge in anti-Semitic attacks was "shameful for our country" but added that the police were "vigilant."

What do Jews in Berlin think about the yarmulke debate?

shs/jlw (AFP, dpa, AP)

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