In a stunning and stark warning on Saturday, Felix Klein, the federal government commissioner for Jewish life in Germany and the fight against antisemitism, told the Funke Media Group: “I can no longer recommend Jews wear a kippah at every time and place in Germany.”
It was a reversal of his previous stand on the issue, and a brutal admission that the fight against antisemitism in Germany has failed. Eighty years after the start of World War II, the European country with the most troubled history regarding the Jewish people said it cannot protect its own Jews. This was stated as elections for the European Parliament were taking place.
Germany’s neo-Nazi party, Die Rechte, which is running in the elections, emphasized how anti-Israel hatred is a continuation of classic antisemitism in a new guise, by turning the Nazi slogan “The Jews are our misfortune!” (Die Juden sind unser Unglück!) into “Israel is our misfortune!”
Klein’s warning accompanies figures showing an increase in antisemitic sentiment across Europe, and an increase in antisemitic attacks committed on German soil. As The Jerusalem Post’s Benjamin Weinthal noted on Sunday, the German Federal Ministry of the Interior reported a 20% increase in antisemitic crimes last year. According to the ministry, right-wing extremists committed 90% of the 1,800 incidents in Germany in 2018.
The German Jewish community numbers just under 100,000.
Klein’s comment did not go unnoticed. President Reuven Rivlin expressed shock, saying: “The statement of the German government’s antisemitism commissioner – that it would be preferable for Jews not to wear a kippah in Germany out of fear for their safety – shocked me deeply. 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. 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 antisemitism and an admittance that, again, Jews are not safe on German soil.
“We will never submit, will never lower our gaze, and will never react to antisemitism with defeatism – and we expect and demand our allies act in the same way.”
US Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell reacted to Klein’s comments in a similar vein, calling on Jews to wear kippot with pride, saying Jews in Germany should not conceal their religious identity. “The opposite is true,” tweeted Grenell. “Wear your kippah. Wear your friend’s kippah. Borrow a kippah and wear it for our Jewish neighbors. Educate people that we are a diverse society.”
Simon Wiesenthal Center associate dean Rabbi Abraham Cooper told the Post, “Jews should never be relegated to second-class citizens. Stand with your Jewish neighbors, punish antisemitism from the extreme far Right, far Left and Islamist.”
British media commentator Tom Gross posted on Facebook, “Imagine the outcry if the German authorities had to warn Muslims not to wear hijabs in public for their own safety, or said that it was dangerous for Christians to wear crosses.”
Perhaps the most positive response came from Germany’s best-selling newspaper Bild, which not only printed a front-page commentary on the issue on Monday, declaring: “The kippah belongs to Germany,” but accompanied it with a cut-out kippah, decorated with three stars of David that can be worn as a sign of solidarity.
Bild’s editor-in-chief, Julian Reichelt, wrote in the commentary, “We should be forever thankful in Germany that Jewish life is again blossoming.” He urged readers to “explain to your children what the kippah is, and post pictures on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.” And above all, Reichelt called on readers to “Go on the street wearing the kippah.”
We thank him for his heartwarming gesture and concur with his sentiments. It is unconscionable that Jews should be scared to wear a kippah in public, anywhere.
Germany itself needs to understand the implications of what stands behind Klein’s warning: If German Jews feel threatened, then all of Germany is at risk. Hatred never stops with the Jews.
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