After kippa warning, Rivlin urges Berlin: Avoid defeatist response to Jew hatred
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After kippa warning, Rivlin urges Berlin: Avoid defeatist response to Jew hatred

President says Israel will never submit to anti-Semitism, will ‘demand our allies act in the same way,’ after German anti-Semitism czar warns Jews against wearing kippa in public

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

President Reuven Rivlin (R) and Israel's ambassador to Germany, Yakov Hadas-Handelsman (L) take part in a wreath laying ceremony at the 'Gleis 17' (platform 17) memorial of the deportation of Jews from Berlin to concentration camps at the Grunewald railway station in Berlin on May 11, 2015. Photo credit: Odd Andersen/AFP)
President Reuven Rivlin (R) and Israel's ambassador to Germany, Yakov Hadas-Handelsman (L) take part in a wreath laying ceremony at the 'Gleis 17' (platform 17) memorial of the deportation of Jews from Berlin to concentration camps at the Grunewald railway station in Berlin on May 11, 2015. Photo credit: Odd Andersen/AFP)

President Reuven Rivlin on Sunday said he was “shocked” about the German anti-Semitism czar saying that wearing a skullcap may not be safe for Jews in parts of the country, urging the government in Berlin not to accept this situation.

Saturday’s statement by Felix Klein, the German government’s anti-Semitism commissioner, “shocked me deeply,” Rivlin said in a statement.

“Responsibility for the welfare, the freedom and the right to religious belief of every member of the German Jewish community is in the hands of the German government and its law enforcement agencies,” the president went on.

“We acknowledge and appreciate the moral position of the German government, and its commitment to the Jewish community that lives there, but fears about the security of German Jews are a capitulation to anti-Semitism and an admission that, again, Jews are not safe on German soil.”

Rivlin added: “We will never submit, will never lower our gaze and will never react to anti-Semitism with defeatism — and expect and demand our allies act in the same way.”

On Saturday, Felix Klein, the German government’s anti-Semitism commissioner, was quoted in a newspaper interview as saying that he “cannot recommend to Jews that they wear the skullcap at all times everywhere in Germany.” He didn’t elaborate on what places and times might be risky.

Klein, who last year become Germany’s first-ever special envoy for Jewish life and combating anti-Semitism, blamed “increasing social disinhibition and brutality.”

Felix Klein, the German government’s first-ever special envoy to the Jewish community, at the ‘Berlin wears a kippah’ protest, April 25, 2018 (courtesy BMI)

Klein’s comments garnered a great deal of attention in Israel and Germany, though he had expressed similar sentiments in the past. In April 2018, Klein, who is not Jewish, told The Times of Israel in an interview that Jews can generally feel safe on Germany’s streets, even when they are recognizably Jewish.

“But they have to be vigilant. It’s not entirely without danger; one has to be alert. In the end, everyone has to assess the risks for himself. The danger is there. But I wouldn’t necessarily agree with those who say it’s absolutely impossible to show one’s Jewishness in public in Germany,” he said.

Asked if a Jew in today’s Germany can wear a kippah in public without fear, Klein, replied: “In principle, yes. But not always.”

Last year, Germany’s main Jewish leader said that he would advise people visiting big cities against wearing Jewish skullcaps.

Government statistics released earlier this month showed that the number of anti-Semitic and anti-foreigner incidents rose in Germany last year, despite an overall drop in politically motivated crimes.

Klein also said better police training was needed to tackle the problem.

“There is much insecurity among police and government officials in dealing with anti-Semitism. Many officials do not know what is allowed and what is not,” he said. “There is a clear definition of anti-Semitism, and it has to be taught in police schools. Likewise, it should be part of the education of teachers and lawyers.”

German security officials said earlier this month that the number of anti-Semitic and anti-foreigner incidents rose in the country last year, despite an overall fall in politically motivated crimes.

Anti-Semitic incidents rose by 19.6 percent to 1,799 in 2018, with 89.1% of them involving far-right perpetrators.

AP and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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