Over 2,000 people sporting religious Jewish headwear – the kippah or yarmulke – took to the streets of the German capital to support the Jewish community after a video showing an attack on a man wearing the garment went viral.
Thousands of people across Germany joined the so-called 'kippah marches' to show solidarity with Jews and people of Jewish descent on Wednesday. In Berlin, some 2,500 people flocked to the Jewish community center to take part in the "Berlin wears a kippah" protest, according to police.
The rally attracted many senior politicians, including Germany's recently-appointed government commissioner on anti-Semitism, Felix Stein, and Green MP of Turkish origin, Cem Ozdemir, who also donned a kippah while addressing the crowd.
RT's Peter Oliver, who was on the scene in Berlin, reported that people of all religious backgrounds, as well as atheists, were in attendance.
A man who said he was a Christian told Oliver he came to the rally because he was concerned about what appears to be a rising anti-Semitic sentiment in Germany, that has spread beyond the streets and into schools and even nurseries.
"I'm actually a Christian. Jewish people belong to the same group of religions as I do. I'm here to share my support. What's happening in Germany right now is not good. We see people beaten simply because they're wearing a kippah, schools have to be protected at all times, kindergartens as well. This is unacceptable," he said.
According to the fresh data from Department for Research and Information on Anti-Semitism (RIAS), the number of anti-Semitic incidents in Berlin, involving either verbal or physical abuse, skyrocketed last year, going up by some 60 percent. A total of 947 of such incident occurred in 2017, which is the highest number since it began tracking data.
RIAS Director Benjamin Steinitz estimated that three to four incidents motivated by hatred of Jews take place in Berlin every day on average.
However, the final straw that sparked the protests was the April 16 attack on two young men wearing kippahs by a 19-year-old Syrian refugee. The video of the disturbing incident that went viral shows the young Arab man swinging his belt and shouting "Jew" in Arabic. It was later revealed that the victim of the assault, Adam Armush, and his friend were themselves of Arab origins and decided to put on kippah to test what it is like to wear the traditional Jewish skullcap in public as they were on their way to meet with a Jewish friend, Deutsche Welle reported.
In wake of the attack, Josef Schuster, the head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, courted controversy by advising fellow religious Jews to refrain from wearing kippahs in public in some parts of big cities, particularly in "problem neighborhoods with large Muslim populations."
Speaking at the rally, he lamented that Jewish parents had to tell their children to cover their kippah with baseball caps and hide any other symbols, such as the Star of David, that they may wear. "It's enough. There should be no longer 'business as usual.' We have made ourselves a bit too comfortable in Germany. A bit of anti-Semitism, a bit of racism, a bit of Islam-hatred – is this all not so bad? No, it is bad," he said.
The fact that the attacker was a Muslim refugee prompted the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany party (AfD), which entered the German parliament in September for the first time, to blame the incident on "imported" anti-Semitism.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel later admitted that Germany faces a new wave of anti-Semitism that comes with "people of Arab origin who bring another form of anti-Semitism into the country."
As the surge in anti-Semitism and response to it are making headlines in Germany, the BVMI music association was forced to pull the plug on the prestigious Echo Awards over controversial lyrics in one of the songs from rap duo Kollegah and Farid Bang, who were set to receive an award. "I'm doing another Holocaust, coming with a Molotov" and "our bodies are more defined than an Auschwitz prisoner" are some of the lines from the song "0815" by the rappers.