(CNSNews.com) – The German government’s anti-Semitism commissioner has reversed a warning to Jewish men not to identify themselves by wearing kippas, and is now urging Germans across the country to don the distinctive headwear in an act of solidarity.
Drawing attention to an upcoming anti-Israel event, Felix Klein called on citizens in Berlin and elsewhere to wear the kippa, or yarmulke, “if there are new, intolerable attacks targeting Israel and Jews on the occasion of Al-Quds Day in Berlin.”
Al-Quds Day is an annual event, usually on the last Friday of Ramadan, purportedly in support of the Palestinians – Al-Quds is Arabic for Jerusalem. Held in many countries around the world, it was inaugurated in 1979 by the founder of the Islamic republic in Iran, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, as an opportunity for protestors to demonstrate their opposition to Israel’s existence.
In Germany and elsewhere, the demonstrations have included slogans and banners in support of Hezbollah, Hamas and other terrorist groups. The event is biggest in Iran, where rallies are characterized by “Death to Israel” and “Death to America” chants.
Klein called on Germans to wear kippas, and to take part in pro-Israel rallies instead this weekend.
Klein earlier drew criticism for saying in a weekend newspaper interview that he could not “advise Jews to wear the kippa everywhere all the time in Germany,” given an increase in harassment of and attacks on Jews.
Among those who responded to that call was U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell, a close ally of President Trump, who encouraged Germans to do just the opposite of what Klein’s was recommending.
“The opposite is true,” Grenell tweeted on Sunday. “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.”
The interior minister of Bavaria State, Joachim Herrmann, also contradicted Klein, urging Jews to wear the kippa wherever and whenever they want, and not to “buckle in the face of hatred.”
On Monday, Germany’s biggest-selling daily newspaper, Bild, took the same approach, printing a design for a kippa decorated with the Star of David that readers could cut out and wear, to “raise the flag of anti-Semitism.”
Klein’s comment was supported by the country’s largest Jewish group, the Central Council of Jews. Its president, Josef Schuster, was quoted as telling the Welt am Sonntag newspaper that while he generally tends not to overdramatize the situation, “it has been the case for a while now that Jews are at risk in some major cities if they are recognizable as Jews.”
Other voices, including that of an official who fulfils a similar function to Klein’s, but for the Jewish community of Berlin, expressed dismay.
“I would have expected him to add that he’ll do everything in his power to make sure Jews can wear their kippa everywhere in Germany, and at all times of the day and night,” Sigmount Königsberg told the Deutsche Welle broadcaster.
Klein then said he had hoped his words would start a debate about the security of Jews in Germany, stressing that he “of course” did not believe any area of the country should be no-go zones for Jews or any other minority.
According to government figures, 2018 witnessed a ten percent rise in the number of crimes motivated by hatred of Jews, with 1,646 offenses recorded. They included 62 violent offenses that left 43 people injured, up from 37 physical attacks the previous year. Among the attacks, men wearing kippas were assaulted on Berlin streets.
Most crimes were linked to Germany’s extreme right, which has grown in strength since the influx of almost 900,000 migrants and refugees, many from Muslim-majority countries, in 2015. A minority of offenses were attributed to migrants from Arab states.
In his original interview, Klein said Muslim perpetrators tend to watch Arab television stations which portray Jews and Israel in a negative light.
This year Al-Quds Day is being marked in Germany on Saturday, and the Central Council of Jews is calling on citizens of Berlin to join a counter-demonstration, “to show that anti-Semitism and hatred of Israel have no place in our capital.”
Schuster, the council president, said it was “incomprehensible” that the authorities each year allowed an event that calls for the destruction of Israel and praises the Iranian regime.
Klein was appointed by the federal government in May 2018, and is the first to hold the post of “Commissioner for Jewish Life in Germany and the Fight against Anti-Semitism.”
The rise in anti-Semitic incidents comes almost eight decades after Germany’s Nazi regime oversaw the systematic murder of two-thirds of European Jewry.