Jewish leader warns against wearing kippa on German streets

Berlin (AFP) –


The head of Germany's Jewish community said Tuesday that Jews should avoid wearing religious symbols in the country due to a heightened risk of targeted attacks.

Following a spate of anti-Semitic assaults, the president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Josef Schuster, told Berlin public radio that members of the 200,000-strong community needed to exercise caution.

"Defiantly showing your colours 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."

However, president of the European Jewish Association, Rabbi Margolin, called on Schuster to withdraw his comments, saying "Jews -- or any other religious or ethnic groups -- should not be encouraged to give up their religious attributes".

The Brussels-based religious leader said: "Unfortunately, he is mistaken in the cure for this serious problem. To not wear the kippa in fear of anti-Semitism actually fulfils the vision of anti-Semites in Europe."

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.

A video of the assault, filmed by one of the Israeli victims, went viral on social media and sparked widespread revulsion.

Days later, Chancellor Angela Merkel 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.

"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 the private Channel 10 network.

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.

In the wake of the belt attack, the Jewish community in the capital called a "Berlin Wears Kippa" rally for Wednesday. Mayor Michael Mueller and Schuster are due to speak at the event.