European Jewish leaders on Tuesday pushed back against a call on Jews in Germany not to wear Jewish skullcaps in major cities due to a heightened risk of anti-Semitic attacks, saying that this would only embolden anti-Semites and warned that hatred from Muslim immigrants could engulf the whole country.
The president of the European Jewish Association, Rabbi Menachem Margolin called on Josef Schuster, the leader of Germany’s Jewish community, to withdraw his comments, saying “Jews — or any other religious or ethnic groups — should not be encouraged to give up their religious attributes.”
“Unfortunately, he is mistaken in the cure for this serious problem. To not wear the kippa in fear of anti-Semitism actually fulfills the vision of anti-Semites in Europe,” the Brussels-based religious leader said.
Earlier on Tuesday, Schuster told Berlin public radio that members of the 200,000-strong community needed to exercise caution. “Defiantly showing your colors would in principle be the right way to go,” Schuster said.
“Nevertheless, I would advise individual people against openly wearing a kippa (traditional Jewish skullcap) in big German cities.”
On the eve of a solidarity rally in Berlin, Schuster said that if Germans refused to stand up to anti-Semitism, “our democracy would be at risk”. “This is not only about anti-Semitism — it goes along with racism, it goes along with xenophobia. You need a clear stop sign here.”
Mordechai Mendelson, a Chabad rabbi in the German city of Karlsruhe, said that while Schuster’s remarks were probably intended as a warning to German leaders, it sent the wrong message to people in the streets.
However, he warned the German authorities they had to act and singled out anti-Semitism among Muslim immigrants. as opposed to traditional anti-Semitism in Germany.
“Along with the traditional anti-Semitism, there is then new anti-Semitism that has arrived here from the Islamic nations,” Mendelson told Israel’s Army Radio. “Hatred of Jews was normal and imbibed with mother’s milk; there is a large amount of people who have arrived with this hatred.”
And he warned German leaders to act before it was too late. “The authorities have to act so that no Jew should be afraid to walk in the streets with Jewish symbols or signs.”
“If Jews can’t feel safe in Germany, it will lead to Christians also not feeling safe because the immigrants are coming and saying, we negate your reality,” Mendelson said. “As soon as it ends with the Jews, it will move to the Christians.”
Chancellor Angela Merkel has also denounced the emergence of “another form of anti-Semitism”, aside from that by right-wing extremist groups, from Muslim refugees, in an interview with Israeli television earlier this week.
“We have a new phenomenon, as we have many refugees among whom there are, for example, people of Arab origin who bring another form of anti-Semitism into the country,” Merkel told Channel 10.
She reaffirmed that the security of Jews and of the state of Israel was a central concern for Germany because of its “eternal responsibility” for the Holocaust in which the Nazis murdered six million European Jews.
A number of high-profile incidents in recent months have raised alarm bells about a possible resurgence of anti-Semitism in Germany from both the far-right and a large influx of predominantly Muslim asylum-seekers since 2015.
Last week, a 19-year-old Syrian refugee attacked two young men wearing Jewish kippa skullcaps in Berlin, shouting “yahudi” — Jew in Arabic — and lashing out at his victim with a belt.
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.
“If you can’t make it to Erfurt, then wear a kippa 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 “kippa 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.