German Jewish leader advises against wearing yarmulkes in cities

Warning by Josef Schuster, head of Central Council of Jews in Germany, follows assault by Syrian asylum-seeker on Arab Israeli wearing skullcap in Berlin

Josef Schuster, President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, attends a press conference following his election in Frankfurt am Main, central Germany, on November 30, 2014. (AFP/Daniel Roland)
Josef Schuster, President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, attends a press conference following his election in Frankfurt am Main, central Germany, on November 30, 2014. (AFP/Daniel Roland)

BERLIN, Germany — Germany’s main Jewish leader said Tuesday he would advise people visiting big cities against wearing Jewish skullcaps, following a street assault last week on an Arab Israeli young man wearing it.

The attack in Berlin, in which a 19-year-old Syrian asylum-seeker of Palestinian origin is a suspect, added to growing concern in Germany about anti-Semitism.

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

Schuster suggested three years ago that Jews shouldn’t wear skullcaps in areas with large Muslim populations. But he stressed there’s increasing anti-Semitic sentiment among non-migrants.

The young Syrian man assaulted his kippah-wearing victim with his belt last week and repeated the Arabic word for Jew, “Yahudi,” in public in the trendy Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood.

The victim, Adam Armush, 21, filmed part of the incident and posted it online. He later told German news media that he is a non-Jewish Israeli from Haifa and that he had donned the kippah to prove to another friend that Berlin is not as anti-Semitic as rumor would have it.

His video was shared widely by the Berlin-based Jewish Forum for Democracy and Against Antisemitism, and went viral.

Meanwhile, the Berlin Jewish community is organizing a demonstration against anti-Semitism in response to the attack. A broad coalition from interfaith, political, academic and pro-Israel circles is backing the “Berlin wears a kippah” protest set for Wednesday evening in front of the Jewish community center in the German capital.

On the same day, a similar demonstration is planned for Erfurt, the capital of the former East German state of Thuringia, organized by ACHAVA Festspiele Thüringen, a private cultural organization. The event will take place in the morning and conclude at the New Synagogue in the center of the historic city.

Adam Armush, right, an Arab Israeli living in Germany interviewed by Kan’s European correspondent Antonia Yamin, in Berlin, April 18, 2018. (Twitter screen capture)

“If you can’t make it to Erfurt, then wear a kippah wherever you happen to be at that time,” the announcement said.

The attacker turned himself in to the State Criminal Police Office on Thursday accompanied by his lawyer. He has been identified as “Knaan S.” in news reports.

The incident has sparked heated discussion on social media.

In Berlin, some 40 individuals gathered Sunday for a “kippah flashmob,” starting from the Alexanderplatz and ending up at the Brandenburg Gate.

“Today we were 40, and next time we’ll be 100,” one of the organizers said in a Facebook post.

JTA contributed to this report.

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