It was if a news dispatch from Berlin, circa 1937. In an interview with the German newspaper Die Welt, Felix Klein, the government official charged with monitoring outbreaks of anti-Semitism in Germany, suggested that Jewish men refrain from wearing kippas, or skullcaps. “I can’t tell Jews [it’s safe] to wear the kippa everywhere in Germany,” he said. It was a stunning admonition to the nation’s 200,000 Jews.
It was advice offered from a friend; Jews should avoid looking Jewish for their own personal safety. This was a remarkable and depressing turnabout in the European country that has done the most to fight anti-Semitism, and the country, in the wake of the Holocaust, with the most to repent.
Politically motivated crimes are generally down in Germany; the country is peaceful, tolerant, prosperous, shrinking and aging. There’s one key exception, and it’s a crucial one. As overall political crimes fall, attacks on Jews are rising, up by 20 percent over last year, according to government data. “Generally, I don’t tend to dramatize, but the situation has really gotten worse,” says Josef Schuster, the head of Germany’s Central Council of Jews. Attacks on Jews have been attributed to white nationalists and Germany’s growing Muslim population. German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to enable 200,000 migrants to move into Germany has had the perverse affect of planting many people afflicted with medieval intolerance toward their new Jewish neighbors.
The trends in Germany are of a piece with similar attacks across in Europe, including incidents in Sweden and France. France has seen double-digit percentage increases in the number of assaults on Jews simply going about their daily business. In Britain, the Labor Party has become a hotbed of anti-Semites. Mr. Klein’s suggestion of surrender — simply don’t wear skullcaps — has been sharply criticized. One newspaper printed instructions to readers on how to fold newspaper pages to make skullcaps to wear in solidarity. Richard Grenell, the U.S. ambassador to Germany, urged Germans to “wear your kippa. Wear your friend’s kippa. Borrow a kippa and wear it for our Jewish neighbors. Educate people that [yours is] a diverse society.”
Alas, what starts in the old world usually does not stay in the old world. Attacks on Jews who wear religious clothing have risen in the United States as well, including incidents in New York City. “In 2019 to date, anti-Semitic crimes have increased 106 percent over the same period last year, from 50 then to 103 now, according to the New York Police Department. “That’s disturbingly consistent with a doubling of anti-Semitic acts nationwide from 2017 to 2018, per the Anti-Defamation League,” reported the New York Daily News. The newspaper cited a rash of anti-Semitic incidents in recent weeks:
“Earlier this month in Williamsburg [neighborhood] four young men came upon a man in traditional Jewish attire, punched him in the face and calling him a vulgar term for Jew. Days later in the same neighborhood, a young man stalked a Jewish man and punched him in the head; a 16-year-old boy has since been arrested for the attack,” the newspaper reported. Deadly attacks on synagogues in Pittsburgh and near San Diego have inspired Jewish places of worship across the country to fortify the security of their premises.
Anti-Semitism, a scourge as old as Judaism, has a thousand fathers. There have long been conspiracy canards about supposed secret and demonic powers of Jews. Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, a Democrat, has suggested that Israel has “hypnotized” the world. Reasonable criticism of Israel often descends in some places into attacks on Jews. It’s difficult to see how to combat this. But it must be done, and it begins with sounding the alarm at the evil loosed in our midst.