German Anti-Semitism Official Warns Jews Not to Wear Skullcaps in Public Amid Increasing Attacks

By Zachary Stieber

A top German official warned Jews amid an increase in anti-Semitic attacks that they should avoid wearing skullcaps in public.

Felix Klein is the top official for federal efforts against anti-Semitism. But he said that an increasing amount of anti-Semitism has led to a setting where it’s dangerous for Jews across the country to openly present themselves as Jews.

“My opinion on the matter has changed following the ongoing brutalization in German society,” Klein told Funke media group. “I can no longer recommend Jews wear a kippa at every time and place in Germany.”

Similar comments have been made in the past. Josef Schuster, the head of the Central Council of Jews, said last year Jews visiting large cities shouldn’t wear their skullcaps, also known as kippas, after two Jews wearing them were assaulted by a 19-year-old Syrian national. In 2016, Schuster said Jews shouldn’t wear the head coverings in areas with large numbers of Muslims.

In this April 25, 2018 file photo, people wear Jewish skullcaps, as they attend a demonstration against an anti-Semitic attack in Berlin. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

The stance in the country that perpetrated the Holocaust, with the Nazis killing some six million Jews across Europe, came as the German Federal Ministry of the Interior found a 20 percent increase in anti-Semitic crimes in the country, with 1,800 incidents recorded in 2018.

The majority of anti-Semitic hate crimes are said to be committed by far-right activists, including Neo-Nazis. But “the interior ministry and security agencies frequently conflate radical Islamic antisemitic attacks with extreme right-wing incidents against Jews,” reported the Jerusalem Post, adding: “The real number of Islamic-animated antisemitic attacks in Germany is not well documented due to authorities characterizing Islamic antisemitism as right-wing antisemitism.

skullcap in germany
A Jewish kippa skullcap with a star of David is pictured during an ordination ceremony at the Bet Zion synagogue in Berlin, Germany on Oct. 8, 2018. (Tobias Schwarz/AFP/Getty Images)

Klein admitted that part of the problem is the influx of migrants, who are primarily Muslim.

“There are several developments. One, of course, is the great influx of refugees and people who came to Germany that were raised and educated in countries that are still in the state of war with Israel, or that have been brought up with certain perceptions of Jews in Israel that are totally unacceptable to a German society. So we’re facing an integration problem,” he told the Washington Post last year.

The problem also extends to Palestinians who have been in Germany for a long time, he noted.

Asked which group presents more problems—the “extreme right” or migrants—he said both are major problems, saying that the extreme right is threatening and insulting Jews, but that “more aggression and physical attacks maybe generally fall more into the category of anti-Semitic attacks that are motivated by Muslims.”

In the new interview with Funke, Klein added: “There are Muslims who have been living here for a while and watch Arab channels in which a murderous image of Israel and of Jews is shown.”

He also said that police officers in Germany don’t know how to respond to such crimes.

“Many of them don’t know what’s allowed and what’s not. There is a clear definition of anti-Semitism and cops should be taught it during their training,” he said.

Klein’s warning set off a backlash by some, including from Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin.

“The statement of the German government’s anti-Semitism commissioner that it would be preferable for Jews not wear a kippa in Germany out of fear for their safety, shocked me deeply,” Rivlin said in a statement.

“We acknowledge and appreciate moral position of the government of Germany 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 admittance that, again, Jews are not safe on German soil

“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,” he said.

Michel Friedman, former vice president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, also weighed in.

“When an official government representative tells the Jewish community they can’t be protected from violence, it’s a show of poverty for Germany’s legal and political reality,” he told Die Welt.

“The state must ensure Jews can identify as Jews without fear,” he said, adding that “in a place where [anyone] cannot live freely and safely, soon others won’t be able to either.”

Richard Grenell, U.S. ambassador to Germany, also urged Jews to continue wearing skullcaps.

“The opposite is true. Wear your kippa. Wear your friend’s kippa. Borrow a kippa and wear it for our Jewish neighbors. Educate people that we are a diverse society,” he said.

Klein told The New York Times, which itself has recently landed in hot water over accusations of anti-Semitism, that his comments were aimed at sparking a reaction.

“I wanted to shake up the debate and am happy that it caused such ripples,” he said. He said he wants to see renewed support for combating anti-Semitism: “I don’t see it as resignation, but the exact opposite.”

BILD editor in chief Julian Reichelt reacted to Klein’s commented by publishing a kippa cut-out on the front page of BILD’s next edition.

“If anyone in our country can’t wear a kippa without putting themselves in danger, the only answer can be that we all wear kippas,” he wrote.

“The kippa belongs to Germany!”

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said on Monday that Germany is responsible for ensuring security for all Jews wearing skullcaps, two days after Klein made his original comments, reported the Associated Press.

“It’s the job of the state to ensure that anybody can move around securely with a skullcap in any place of our country,” Seibert said in a statement.