A senior Jewish police officer in Berlin is facing disciplinary proceedings for wearing a skullcap in public while on duty. Chief inspector Tuvia Schlesinger was said to have violated police neutrality rules when he donned a white kippa during a demonstration in solidarity with recent victims of anti-Semitic attacks in the city.
On September 2, Schlesinger, 59, was sent by his superiors to police a demonstration in central Berlin. During the event, some 1,000 people marched in solidarity with Rabbi Daniel Alter, who had been injured by attackers because of his faith, and in solidarity with Germany’s Jewish community, which is currently battling a court ruling outlawing ritual circumcision. At the demonstration, during which many people wore skullcaps, a journalist asked Schlesinger if he was Jewish.
When he responded in the affirmative, the reporters asked him to don a kippa.
“I usually don’t wear a kippa, but I granted his request,” Schlesinger was quoted by Berliner Zeitung as saying. “As soon as I donned the kippa and the cameras started clicking, I realized that it was the wrong thing to do.”
Schlesinger, a prominent member of the local Jewish community, also wore buttons with slogans supporting the right to perform religious rituals. An often-fierce debate on the matter has been raging since June, when the Cologne District Court declared circumcision tantamount to causing illegal bodily harm.
Speaking to journalists at the demonstration, Schlesinger said that the situation for Berlin’s Jews was becoming increasingly difficult due to rising anti-Semitism.
The episode spurred controversy in Berlin. While some officials said Schlesinger was justified in expressing solidarity with the Jewish community, others argued that civil servants should refrain from making ideological statements.
Authorities also noted that by donning a kippa, Schlesinger had violated the neutrality law of 2005, which bars policemen, judges and teachers from displaying religious symbols in public.
In the days immediately following the incident, German papers wrote that the Berlin police would not seek to punish Schlesinger, aiming to avoid headlines about the prosecution of a Jew for wearing a kippa. This week, however, police spokesman Stefan Redlich said that “the neutrality law applies to everyone.”
Still, it remains to be seen whether Schlesinger will actually be sanctioned for his offense. Before making a decision, Schlesinger’s superiors would have to conduct a personal hearing with him, to establish how the events transpired and what his motives were.
Schlesinger said he knew that he was violating the rules and generally agreed with the neutrality regulations. Still, he told Der Tagesspiegel, it was “ludicrous” to cite this regulation in this particular instance.
“I don’t want anybody to forbid me from wearing a kippa — not even my superiors,” he said. “I am Jewish and I stand by that, and that’s it.”
However, wearing a kippa together with the police uniform was not planned as a political act, he added.
The son of Holocaust survivors, Schlesinger was born in Haifa. Besides serving on the Berlin police force for 32 years, he is also a member of the board of governors of the Jewish community and a former longtime chairman of local Jewish sports club TuS Makkabi.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday, hundreds of young Jews and Christians staged a “flash mob” rally in support of religious freedom for Jews in Germany, donning kippot and then walking in silent protest to a Holocaust memorial.
“With this flash mob we set a sign of Christian solidarity with our Jewish fellow citizens and we stand determined against any form of anti-Jewish violence. We campaign for unrestricted religious practice for Jews in Germany,” said Gottfried Bühler, the national director of the German branch of the International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem (ICEJ), one of the organizers of the demonstration.
“I believe that this event had a positive signal effect for our Jewish fellow citizens. In a responsible attitude toward our past, we can learn and help to build a better future.”