BERLIN (Reuters) - Thousands of Germans wearing Jewish caps took part in nationwide rallies on Wednesday evening in support of the Jewish community amid concerns about growing anti-Semitism.
Jewish groups are trying to harness public outrage about an attack last week on an Israeli Arab who wore the Jewish cap, or kippa, in Berlin as an experiment. He ended up being subjected to verbal abuse by three people and was lashed with a belt by a Syrian Palestinian. A video was posted on the internet.
That attack followed reports of bullying of Jewish children in schools and prompted the head of the Central Council of Jews, Josef Schuster, to advise Jews not to wear kippas in big cities.
In Berlin, more than 2,000 people participated in the so-called ‘kippa march’, a police spokesman said. Similar rallies were held in Cologne and other German cities.
The marches followed a decision by Germany’s music industry on Wednesday to scrap its prestigious annual Echo awards after a row over anti-Semitism.
The awarding of this year’s Echo music prize to a rapper duo accused of reciting anti-Semitic lyrics caused outrage. Several previous winners returned their awards in protest.
The BVMI music association said on Wednesday the Echo prize had been so damaged by the row that a new start was required.
“On no account do we want this music prize to be a platform for anti-Semitism, contempt for women, homophobia or for belittling violence,” it said in a statement.
The controversial winners were Kollegah and Farid Bang, whose lyrics include “I’m doing another Holocaust, coming with a Molotov” and who sing that their bodies are “more defined than Auschwitz prisoners”.
Germany is not alone in its struggle against hostility to Jews. France was shocked by the murder last month of a Holocaust survivor in a suspected anti-Semitic attack, and Britain’s main opposition Labour Party is embroiled in an anti-Semitism row.
However, the legacy of the Holocaust, in which the Nazis killed at least six million Jews, has left Germans with a special sense of responsibility.
MOST ATTACKS BY FAR-RIGHT
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told the Tagesspiegel daily that anti-Semitic attacks were directed at “all of us”.
“No one may be discriminated against because of their origin, the colour of their skin or religion,” he said.
Since 1991, the number of Jews belonging to a religious community has more than tripled to more than 100,000, boosted by an influx from the former Soviet Union. About the same number are non-practising Jews or people with Jewish roots in Germany.
This compares to about 600,000 before the Nazi Holocaust and just 10,000 at the end of World War Two.
Tagesspiegel daily, citing government figures, has reported that four anti-Semitic crimes were reported on average per day last year, around the same level as in 2016. The majority - 1,377 of 1,452 - were committed by right-wing radicals.
The anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) blames the influx of more than 1.6 million migrants, many from the Middle East, since 2014.
“We sounded warnings very early about the huge strength of Muslim anti-Semitism,” said senior AfD member Georg Pazderski.
Schuster from the Central Council of Jews also called on Muslim groups to stand up to anti-Semitism. “There can be no tolerance of intolerance,” he said.
Germany’s Central Council of Muslims and Turkish groups have backed the rallies.
“If you want to fight Islamophobia, then you can’t tolerate anti-Semitism either. And we know where anti-Semitism ended up in German history,” Gokay Sofuoglu, head of the Turkish Communities in Germany, told the Berliner Zeitung.
In an attempt to assuage concerns, Germany has appointed an anti-Semitism commissioner, former diplomat Felix Klein, who starts work next month, but critics say Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government has done too little.
Editing by Gareth Jones