Germans to Reject Anti-Semitism in ‘Kippah Marches’ After Attacks

BERLIN (Reuters) -
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas (Reuters/Yves Herman)

Attacks on Jews in Germany are directed against “all of us,” Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said on Wednesday in a call to join nationwide rallies in support of the Jewish community amid growing concern about anti-Semitism.

Jewish groups are trying to harness public outrage about an attack last week on an Israeli Arab who wore a kippah in Berlin as an experiment. He ended up being subjected to verbal abuse by three people and was lashed with a belt by a Syrian Palestinian. A video was posted on the internet.

That attack followed reports of bullying of Jewish children in schools and prompted the head of the Central Council of Jews, Josef Schuster, to advise Jews not to wear kippahs in big cities.

Thousands of people are expected to don kippas at rallies in cities across Germany in the evening to stand with the country’s Jewish community. Tagesspiegel daily even printed a photo of a skullcap for readers to cut out and wear.

“If young men here are threatened just because they are wearing a kippah, we must make clear: they are not alone,” Maas told Tagesspiegel.

“No one may be discriminated against because of their origin, the colour of their skin or their religion,” he said.

Germany is not alone in its struggle against hostility to Jews. France was shocked by the murder last month of a Holocaust survivor in a suspected anti-Semitic attack, and Britain’s main opposition Labour Party is embroiled in an anti-Semitism row.

However, the legacy of the Holocaust, in which the Nazis killed at least six million Jews, has left Germans with a special sense of responsibility.

Since 1991, the number of Jews belonging to a religious community has more than tripled to more than 100,000, boosted by an influx from the former Soviet Union. About the same number are non-practicing Jews or people with Jewish roots in Germany.

This compares to about 600,000 before the Nazi Holocaust and just 10,000 at the end of World War Two.

Tagesspiegel, citing government figures, has reported that four anti-Semitic crimes were reported on average per day last year, around the same level as in 2016. The majority – 1,377 of 1,452 – were committed by right-wing radicals.

The anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) blames the influx of more than 1.6 million migrants, many from the Middle East, since 2014.

“We sounded warnings very early about the huge strength of Muslim anti-Semitism,” said senior AfD member Georg Pazderski.

Schuster from the Central Council of Jews also called on Muslim groups to stand up to anti-Semitism. “There can be no tolerance of intolerance,” he said.

Germany’s Central Council of Muslims and Turkish groups have backed the rallies.

“If you want to fight Islamophobia, then you can’t tolerate anti-Semitism either. And we know where anti-Semitism ended up in German history,” Gokay Sofuoglu, head of the Turkish Communities in Germany, told the Berliner Zeitung.

In an attempt to assuage concerns, Germany has appointed an anti-Semitism commissioner, former diplomat Felix Klein, who starts work next month, but critics say Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government has done too little.