The news from Berlin this week proved, above all, that reality is sometimes too complicated to be conveyed in a newspaper headline.
The German Jewish community took to the streets on Wednesday after a Syrian Arab immigrant violently attacked an Israeli Arab from Haifa who was wearing a kippa, or skullcap, in solidarity with his Jewish friends. Several German Facebook pages have speculated about the motive for the assault, which took place in Berlin last week. But the fact that the victim wore a kippa sufficed to classify it as an anti-Semitic incident.
This, coupled with the fact that the assault was filmed and the clip subsequently went viral, was enough to bring several thousand people – Jews, Germans and Muslim immigrants – into the streets in Berlin and other cities under the slogan “Germany wears a kippa.”
One of the kippa-wearers was German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, who explained that any assault on Jews in Germany was an attack “on all of us.” The German press ran reports headlined “What is a kippa?” and explained that the kippa has become the symbol of the battle against anti-Semitism in Germany.
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The German Jewish community has warned for years of a deterioration in its members’ feelings of personal security, caused by both the rise of the far right and the Israel-hatred characteristic of some Arab immigrants, which sometimes translates into verbal or physical attacks on Jews.
“We’re at the 11th hour,” said Gideon Joffe, head of Berlin’s Jewish community, during the demonstration in that city. “In Berlin, it’s become uncomfortable, but we still haven’t reached the situation of France or Belgium.”
Chancellor Angela Merkel also made headlines when, in an interview with Channel 10 television this week, she admitted for the first time that the recent wave of migrants to Germany has brought a different type of anti-Semitism than the type found in Berlin in the 1930s, and that the source of this new type of anti-Semitism was “refugees or people of Arab origin.”
Academics have already found a name for this development. Prof. Monika Schwarz-Friesel, a well-known scholar of anti-Semitism from Berlin, said that anti-Israelism is the leading form of Jew-hatred in Germany today.
The assault on Adam Armoush, the Israeli Arab who is studying in Germany, made headlines because it was filmed. Another filmed assault took place during Wednesday’s solidarity demonstrations, when young men grabbed an Israeli flag from demonstrators’ hands in Berlin’s Neukolln neighborhood.
Anti-Semitic attacks occur every day in Germany, but since they aren’t filmed, they don’t go viral on Facebook and Twitter. Statistics published by the German government two months ago revealed that German police nationwide documented an average of four criminal incidents with an anti-Semitic motive every day last year, for a total of 1,453 incidents.
Yet these statistics are only partial, because they count only incidents reported to the police. The head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Josef Schuster, published an article in the Jewish paper Judische Allgemeine Zeitung this week in which he wrote that anti-Semitism can be found everywhere. “Whether on the soccer field or on Facebook, at school or in the malls, anti-Semitism often happens below the threshold of criminal responsibility, but it’s always hurtful and troubling,” he wrote.
Earlier, Schuster had sparked a heated public debate when he urged German Jews to remove their kippas when they walk around in major cities.
“In Berlin alone, there are anti-Semitic incidents every day,” said a press statement published recently by RIAS, the Anti-Semitism Research and Information Office. The German group said that Jew-hatred has become widespread, encompassing all segments of German society.
Statistics published by the German Interior Ministry show that one third of German Jews have experienced either verbal or physical anti-Semitism. Its survey found that Muslims are responsible for most of Germany’s anti-Semitic assaults, whether physical or verbal.
Sarah Rembiszewski, a researcher at the Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry, has been tracking the rise of anti-Semitism in Germany. By her count, the number of anti-Semitic incidents (verbal, physical, violent crimes and property crimes) rose to 707 last year from 644 in 2016.
The Kantor Center’s annual report, published on Holocaust Remembrance Day, said Germany ranked high on the list of countries with the largest number of violent anti-Semitic incidents, with 36 in total last year. Britain and the United States scored even worse, with 55 and 99 violent incidents, respectively.
But Rembiszewski admitted that the numbers can be misleading. “The numbers aren’t so relevant, because the increase or decrease in the number of anti-Semitic incidents depends on different methods of counting by different agencies with different criteria for tracking anti-Semitism,” she said.
Moreover, while the increased security around major Jewish centers in Germany over the last year may reduce the number of anti-Semitic incidents, the very fact that such security is needed illustrates the problem. “Jewish public life in Germany is always under guard,” Rembiszewski said. “Admittedly, this provides a sense of security, but it also attests to a feeling of fear and discomfort.”
In the Kantor Center’s latest report, Rembiszewski described an atmosphere of rising anti-Semitism, both on the internet and in real life. She detailed displays of anti-Semitism on social media, in letters to the editor, in the streets, on playing fields, at soccer stadiums, at synagogues and in schools.
As noted, most of these incidents didn’t make headlines. But a year ago, when a 14-year-old Jewish boy from Berlin was forced to switch schools because of anti-Semitic bullying, the incident sparked public discussion. The boy had suffered both verbal and physical attacks from students of Arab and Turkish origin, who said things like “all Jews are murderers” and threatened him with a toy gun.
In an unscientific survey of 27 teachers at 21 schools in Berlin this year, all said that some of their students held “anti-Semitic and Islamist” views.
Judging by statements from Jewish community leaders, the anti-Semitic atmosphere in Germany has other repercussions as well, such as a decline in the number of people attending synagogue services on the Jewish holidays. But there is no hard data on this.
“Jews feel like strangers in their own land,” Rembiszewski said. “They feel as if they don’t belong, as if they have been left outside by the right, by the left and by radical Islam.”
Nevertheless, the popular Facebook group “Israel in Berlin” has shown no evidence of greater fear of anti-Semitism following the recent high-profile incidents. “Can anyone recommend a good shoemaker in Neukolln?” one group member asked this week. Another post invited Israelis in Berlin to participate in the hummus festival that will take place there this summer.