Syrian convicted of Berlin assault on Arab Israeli wearing kippa
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Syrian convicted of Berlin assault on Arab Israeli wearing kippa

Knaan al-Sebai sentenced to 4 weeks in juvenile detention, denies attack on Haifa man he mistook for a Jew was motivated by anti-Semitism

The defendant, a Syrian asylum seeker of Palestinian origin, hides his face behind a folder as he waits for the opening of his trial at the district court in Berlin, where he was charged with attacking an Arab-Israeli man wearing a kippa, on June 19, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / STEFANIE LOOS)
The defendant, a Syrian asylum seeker of Palestinian origin, hides his face behind a folder as he waits for the opening of his trial at the district court in Berlin, where he was charged with attacking an Arab-Israeli man wearing a kippa, on June 19, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / STEFANIE LOOS)

A German court convicted a Syrian migrant of Palestinian origin on assault charges for using his belt to lash out at an Israeli man wearing a kippa, in an assault that stoked fears of resurgent anti-Semitism.

Knaan al-Sebai, 19, was sentenced Monday to four weeks of juvenile detention, but was allowed to walk free, having already served over two months in pre-trial detention.

“I made a mistake and I have learned from it,” he told the Berlin court, after a trial in which he denied that the April 17 attack was motivated by anti-Semitism.

A video of the street assault, filmed by the victim on his smartphone, sparked widespread public revulsion, as it spread on social media, and triggered street rallies in solidarity with Jews.

The footage showed the attacker, one of a group of three, shouting “yahudi” — Jew in Arabic — before striking the victim, leaving him injured.

At a hearing last week, Sebai told the court that he had never intended to hurt the victim, only scare him. He also told the court that he was both high and tired at the time of the attack.

The victim, a 21-year-old student, later revealed that he is not Jewish, but an Israeli Arab named Adam Armouch, who was walking at the time with a German-Moroccan friend, aged 24.

Armouch told the Deutsche Welle news agency that he had grown up in an Arab-Christian family in Haifa, and said that he had worn the kippa as an experiment to see “how bad it is to walk Berlin’s streets as a Jew today.”

Solidarity marches

The attack was the latest to raise alarm bells about renewed anti-Semitism in Germany, from both the far-right and a large influx of predominantly Muslim asylum seekers since 2015.

The anti-immigration Alternative for Germany party, which garnered nearly 13 percent of the vote in the general election in September, has broken a taboo by challenging Germany’s “remembrance culture” and atonement for the Nazi era.

Muslim woman Samar Allaham, center, fixes the Jewish kippa on her head besides the Muslim woman Iman Jamous, right, during a demonstration against anti-Semitism in Germany in Erfurt, Germany, April 25, 2018. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer)

AfD co-leader Alexander Gauland has described the Nazi period as a “speck of bird shit in over 1,000 years of successful German history.”

News of the belt attack coincided with another public outcry, over a rap duo who made light of Nazi death camp prisoners, but went on to win the music industry’s sales-based Echo award, which was subsequently axed.

Days after the assault, some 2,000 people rallied at a “Berlin Wears Kippa” solidarity demonstration, matched by smaller events in several other German cities.

Chancellor Angela Merkel denounced the emergence of “another form of anti-Semitism,” beyond that of right-wing extremist groups, from Muslim refugees.

She reaffirmed that the security of Jews and the State of Israel was a central concern for Germany, given its “eternal responsibility” for the Holocaust, in which the Nazis murdered six million European Jews.

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