Germans are donning yarmulkes and rallying in the streets Wednesday in solidarity with the country’s Jewish community, after a recent attack in Berlin that reflects a trend of rising anti-Semitism.
At least 1,000 people, including senior political and religious figures, are expected to attend a “Berlin wears the kippah” rally Wednesday evening in front of the Jewish Community Center in the capital, with other demonstrations scheduled in Erfurt, Potsdam, Magdeburg and Cologne. German media outlets are supporting the initiative, with Berlin’s Tagesspiegel newspaper printing a cut-out, make-your-own yarmulke for readers to wear in solidarity.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas hailed the initiative Wednesday. “Today a sign of solidarity is to be set. Good! If young men are threatened just because they wear a kippah, we must show them: They are not alone,” he tweeted. “Every attack on Jewish life is an attack on us all.”
The protests are follow a high-profile anti-Semitic attack on two men wearing yarmulkes in Berlin’s upmarket Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood last week. Mobile footage of the April 17 assault, in which the attacker whipped at his victims with a belt, yelling “Yahudi,” the Arabic word for Jew, went viral, sparking outrage at the recent resurgence of anti-Semitism in the country responsible for the Holocaust.
In the wake of the attack, the head of Germany’s Central Council of Jews, Josef Schuster, said Tuesday that he advised people visiting large German cities against wearing yarmulkes, for their own safety.
The assault was condemned at the highest levels of the German government, with Chancellor Angela Merkel promising to respond "with full force" to what statistics show is a growing problem. According to data from Germany’s Anti-Semitism Research and Information Office, the number of anti-Semitic incidents in the German capital increased 60 percent from 2016 to 2017, with 947 cases recorded.
“This is the highest number since we began collecting data,” project director Benjamin Steinitz in a statement. “People in Berlin are confronted on a daily basis with anti-Semitism. On average we find out about two to three incidents a day.” Concerningly, the problem was especially noticeable in schools.
Police said Thursday they had arrested a suspect in the attack, a 19-year-old refugee from Syria. The far-right populist and anti-immigration party, the Alternative for Germany, has seized on the case as proof that the influx of mostly Muslim migrants and refugees since 2015 is bringing a new wave of anti-Semitism. “Germany is the world's leading importer – of Muslim anti-Semitism,” tweeted party co-chairman Jörg Meuthen.
But Merkel and anti-Semitism researchers have pushed back against this argument, with the German leader cautioning that anti-Semitism was found throughout society. “The problem didn't start in 2015,” Steinitz told German broadcaster DW.
It came to light that neither of the victims in the April 17 attack were Jewish, but had donned the yarmulke in a bid to prove a point to a friend that the city wasn’t as anti-Semitic as people said.