Germany's anti-Semitism commissioner warned Jews living in Germany on Saturday against wearing a skullcap in public.
His highly irregular and strongly-worded comment was perceived as such especially because Germany is home to some 100,000 Jewish citizens.
"My opinion on the matter has changed following the ongoing brutalization in German society," Felix Klein told Funke media group newspapers. "I can no longer recommend Jews wear a kippa at every time and place in Germany," he said.
Last year, it was the head of the Central Council of Jews, Josef Schuster, who called on Jews visiting large cosmopolitan cities to remove their skullcaps. Three years prior, Schuster also cautioned against wearing a kippa in areas with large Muslim populations.
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At the time, Schuster's comments drew sharp criticism from religious leaders in Israel, sparking a debate around the issue. Israel's chief rabbi, David Lau, called upon Jews not to hide their kippas in public, saying that the skullcaps are a Jewish symbol they should "continue to bear proudly."
Last April, Germans of various faiths donned skullcaps and took to the streets to protest an anti-Semitic attack in Berlin, during which two young men wearing kippas were assaulted in an upscale neighborhood of the German capital.
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The fact that the warning now comes from the German government highlights the gravity of the situation in the country. Earlier this month, German security officials said the number of anti-Semitic and anti-foreigner incidents rose in the country over the past year, despite an overall fall in politically-motivated crimes.
According to data from the German Federal Ministry of the Interior, there has been a rise of 20 percent in anti-Semitic crimes in the country. Extreme right-wing activists in Germany committed 90 percent of the 1,800 incidents that took place in 2018.
The data indicated that xenophobic incidents in the country rose by 19.7 percent to 7,701, amid an overall uptick in hate crimes.
'If we don't learn to deal with hatred of Jews, extreme right will take over'
In an interview he gave on Saturday, Klein, who was appointed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel last year as the anti-Semitism commissioner, said that about 90 percent of the anti-Semitic crimes in Germany are committed by far-right activists, "although 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."
Klein added that Germany's police forces have not been properly trained to deal with anti-Semitic crime. "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.
Among the causes for the increase in anti-Semitism he cited the internet and social media, in addition to "prolonged attacks against our culture of remembering."
Following Klein's warning, Joachim Herrmann, interior minister for the state of Bavaria, called on Germany's Jews to wear a kippa anywhere they wish. "Everyone can and should wear a kippa, no matter when or where," he said.
According to Herrmann, wearing a skullcap is protected under Germany's freedom of religion. "If we don't learn to deal with hatred of Jews, the extreme right will take over."
Michel Friedman, former vice president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, harshly criticized Klein's warning, saying it meant the state had failed. "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 was quoted by the Die Welt paper as saying.
If there is no security, he said, it's the state's responsibility to use all means available to it to make sure there is. "The state must ensure Jews can identify as Jews without fear," he said, adding that "in a place where cannot live freely and safely, soon others won't be able to either."
Earlier this month, the home of a Jewish couple living in Hemmingen, a town near the German city of Hannover, was spray-painted in red with the word "Jude."
In addition, the neo-Nazi Die Rechte party that is running for the European parliament in Sunday's election distributed leaflets that said "Israel is our misfortune," a play on the Nazi propaganda: "Jews are our misfortune."