More than 1,000 demonstrators, many wearing yarmulkes, gathered in Bonn, Germany, Thursday to protest the latest attack on a Jewish man amid concerns of rising anti-Semitism in the country.
The rally came a week after a visiting academic, Yitzhak Melamed, was assaulted in broad daylight by a young German of Palestinian descent. Melamed’s assailant reportedly knocked his kippah from his head while yelling abuse at him, including the phrase “No Jews in Germany!”
Melamed, a 50-year-old philosophy professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, told Zeit Online that a pushback against rising anti-Semitism in Germany was overdue.
“The situation for Jews in Germany is concerning right now,” he said. “Many people are scared to go outside wearing a kippah. That's unacceptable and it can't be allowed to continue.”
The brazen assault was just the latest in a string of high-profile recent attacks on Jews in Germany, prompting high-level concern about the resurgence of anti-Semitism in the country responsible for the Holocaust. In April, similar rallies were held in cities across Germany after footage of a Syrian refugee attacking two men wearing yarmulkes on a Berlin street went viral. In the wake of that attack, the head of Germany’s Central Council of Jews, Josef Schuster, advised people visiting large German cities against wearing yarmulkes, for their own safety.
The attacks have fuelled a thorny national debate about what Chancellor Angela Merkel described in April as a “different type of anti-Semitism” brought by Arab and Muslim migrants into the country in recent years. But amid attempts by the far-right to hijack the issue to drum up hostility towards refugees, the political mainstream has pushed back, cautioning that anti-Semitism pre-existed the recent migrant influx and has deep roots across the spectrum of society.
That’s backed up by a study released Wednesday, that found anti-Semitic content on German social media had increased significantly in its prevalence and extremity in recent years.
The study, led by Monika Schwarz-Friesel of the Technical University of Berlin, examined 300,000 pieces of online content, mostly from social media sites. It found that anti-Semitic content thrived online, and came from all sectors of society, from liberals and the left as well as right-wing extremists and Muslims.
"We were shocked to see that prejudices against Jews had changed so little over the last hundred years," she told German news outlet DW.
Statistics suggest that the rise in hate speech is spilling over into real world aggression. According to data from Germany’s Anti-Semitism Research and Information Office, the number of anti-Semitic incidents in Berlin rose 60 percent from 2016 to 2017, with 947 cases recorded.
Speaking at Thursday’s rally, the head of Bonn’s Jewish community, Margaret Traub, said the recent attack was not an isolated incident. “It’s enough,” she told the crowd. “We won’t tolerate being treated with hostility for only one reason – that we’re Jewish.”
An anti-Semitism scandal in April prompted the organizers of Germany’s equivalent of the Grammys, called “Echo,” to announce that they are permanently scrapping the annual event.
The event suffered a backlash after this year’s best hip-hop/urban album was awarded to a rap duo who had anti-Semitic lyrics about the Holocaust, leading organizers to announce that they were planning to relaunch the awards under a different format, as the brand had been so badly damaged.
Cover image: After the anti-Semitic attack on a Jewish professor in Bonn, the city reacts with the 'Tag der Kippa' (Day of Kippa). The picture shows participants of the event with Kippa in Bonn city center. In the background the old City Hall. (Ulrich Baumgarten via Getty Images)