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Is only an invisible Jew a safe Jew?

DW Moderator Michel Friedman (Auf ein Wort…)
Michel Friedman
May 29, 2019

That the German government's anti-Semitism commissioner advised Jews against wearing a yarmulke is a scandal. If Felix Klein is right, then German society has a fundamental problem, writes Michel Friedman.

A man wearing a yarmulke
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/F. Rumpenhorst

What an admission of failure! What a declaration of bankruptcy! And what an abominable reasoning when the anti-Semitism commissioner of the Federal Republic of Germany says: "I cannot advise Jews to wear the kippa everywhere all the time in Germany."

Following this sentence to its logical conclusion, it means that if the propensity to violence against Jews in Germany — sowing hatred or actual physical attacks — is now so great that Jews can no longer wear their kippa, or yarmulke, safely, they should just take it off.

The correct response would have been: We will fight hatred and all those who hate in our country until Jews never have to remove their yarmulke in public!

Combating anti-Semitism

Does anyone advise Christians to hide their crucifixes?

According to Article 4 of Germany's Basic Law, this country guarantees freedom of religion: All faiths should be able to express their religion in public freely. Nobody in Germany would ever dream of advising Christians to no longer hang up a crucifix.

And therefore it is all the more astonishing — but also all the more revealing — when Jews are advised not to wear their yarmulke anymore.

The next step would then be to hide the Star of David worn around the neck — essentially conceal all external symbols that identify a Jew. In the future, should I really advise my children to only live their Jewish identity internally and hide it in public?

If you follow Felix Klein's advice to the letter, then living visibly as a Jew is no longer safe in Germany. Being invisible is more secure. Can you only be a Jew behind closed doors in Germany? If that is the case, Jewish life in Germany has no future.

What do Jews in Berlin think about the yarmulke debate?

If Klein's diagnosis is correct, it shows that too little has happened in recent decades to improve the sociopolitical climate so that hatred of Jews — and the hatred of minorities in general — in Germany would have become negligible.

For the first time since the liberation from Hitler and the founding of the Federal Republic of Germany, we have elected to the Bundestag and all state parliaments a racist party with anti-Semitic narratives that distorts and trivializes the Nazi era.

In plain terms: Leading voices of this party try to play down Hitler and the Third Reich, are not afraid of spreading malice and wish for a different democracy in Germany.

The wolves in sheep's clothing have definitively shown their true colors in the Bundestag. Those who still vote for this party today cannot claim to do so out of protest — they are complicit.

Decades of institutional failure

If Klein's diagnosis is correct, then the political institutions have also failed for decades: "Nip it in the bud" has been a standard refrain touted by German politicians when it comes to anti-Semitism. And yet we are already right in the thick of it.

For far too long, far too many have overlooked the first signs. For far too long, far too many have not reacted and not led the sociopolitical debate.

Each and every individual has to reflect on their own attitudes — amongst family, at work, in society. How often have you heard a Jewish joke being told by your boss, your father, the chairman, and let it pass by without reacting? But those who do not confront the origins of anti-Semitism are complicit. And in doing so, allow their moral compass to be altered.

"Human dignity shall be inviolable," according to Article 1 of the Basic Law. But it seems that Jews in Germany can no longer rely on it 100%.

Those who still fall back on customary bromides such as "From now on the police and public prosecutor's office have to deal with it more sensitively" or "Let's all wear the yarmulke for one day out of solidarity" — what about all the other days? — or those who plead for a great speech from the German president, in which he calls for anti-Semitism to be combated, have still not understood that this is nowhere near enough.

The situation is serious. If it is indeed true that Jews in Germany, as soon as they are visible, cannot live their everyday lives without fear, then this republic is in a crisis of democracy.

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