German anti-Semitism envoy says ‘understandable’ that Jews may want to leave

Newly appointed official Felix Klein promises to tackle hate crimes ‘like a surgeon,’ says ‘we must do everything to avoid’ Jewish exodus

Germany's special envoy on anti-Semitism Felix Klein. (Courtesy German Interior Ministry)
Germany's special envoy on anti-Semitism Felix Klein. (Courtesy German Interior Ministry)

Germany’s new anti-Semitism czar has said it is “understandable” that a wave of anti-Semitic incidents in the country might lead Jews to want to leave.

“It is quite understandable that those who are scared for the safety of their children would consider leaving Germany,” said Felix Klein, the government’s first-ever special envoy on Jewish life and combating anti-Semitism, according to the Guardian newspaper.

“I hear this from my own Jewish friends,” he added. “But we must do everything to avoid that.”

The Jewish community in Germany has complained of a rising tide of anti-Semitic attacks and harassment, and the issue was highlighted earlier this month when video surfaced of a young Syrian asylum seeker in Germany assaulting an Israeli Arab man who had decided to wear a kippah, or Jewish ritual skullcap, to gauge responses on Berlin streets.

The footage led the head of the umbrella organization of German Jews, the Central Council of Jews in Germany, to warn that Jewish men should avoid wearing kippot in public.

Josef Schuster told broadcaster Radioeins last Tuesday that wearing the Jewish yarmulke was right in principle, but that he was advising individuals “against showing themselves openly with a kippah in a big-city setting in Germany, and [to] wear a baseball cap or something else to cover their head instead.”

The comment, and the string of recent reported attacks, led Berlin’s Jewish community to organize a “Berlin wears a kippa” protest, in which thousands, including non-Jews, donned kippot and gathered in front of the Fasanenstrasse Jewish community center.

The assault incident was followed by the scrapping of this year’s top music award from the German music industry to the most successful music album of the year. The award was canceled as one of its winners was a rap duo whose winning album included anti-Semitic lyrics, that mocked the suffering of Holocaust victims.

At his first meeting with journalists over the weekend, the newly appointed Klein, who is not Jewish, announced plans for a registry of attacks on the Jewish community, the Guardian reported on Saturday.

Anti-Semitism, Klein said, was both a mainstay in German society and an import that came with the influx of Muslim immigrants fleeing conflict in the Middle East.

“Around 20 percent of all Germans hold anti-Semitic views, a statistic that has remained stable for years and never gone down,” he noted.

At the same time, there was the “imported” anti-Semitism brought in the wave of Muslim immigration.

When he is better able to track and understand the precise sources of anti-Semitic incidents in the country, he said, he plans to “tackle it like a surgeon.”

Klein’s latest comments echoed an interview he gave to The Times of Israel last week in which he warned of a “brutalization of our political culture,” and argued that the Berlin assault proved that German Jews’ concerns about the major influx of Muslim and Arab refugees were legitimate.

In that interview, he also agreed that Jews might have to be careful with their religious expressions in public.

While Germany is generally safe for Jews, he said, Jews who wish to display signs of their religion in public “have to be vigilant. It’s not entirely without danger; one has to be alert.”

Raphael Ahren contributed to this report.

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