By Max Breene
Felix Klein, a federal official in Germany responsible for combating anti-Semitism, warned German Jews against wearing kippas everywhere in public last week after a government report showed a 20% increase in anti-Semitic crimes since 2018. Klein has since clarified that his comments were meant to “shake up the debate” after his initial remarks were met with swift condemnation from officials around the world.
Klein’s suggestion amounts to no less than an admission of failure on the part of the German government to quell the rise of anti-Semitic attacks by the country’s radical far-right. To suggest, as Klein did, that Germany’s Jewish citizens should hide their religious identities because their government has failed to protect them against anti-Semitic attacks is shameful. No, Mr. Klein, German Jews should not have to fear expressing their faith in public. It is your job to stop these attacks from happening, and telling Jews to stop wearing their kippas in public does not absolve you of that responsibility.
Jews throughout the world are all too familiar with the threat of anti-Semitism, but history tells us that turning inward and hiding our faith is the wrong way to stop these attacks. On the contrary, that is exactly what the far right in Germany wants Jews to do.
In the 1930s, during the early years of the Holocaust, the Nazi government of Germany systematically restricted the rights of Jews, including barring German Jews from practicing their faith in public. 80 years later, German Jews must resist the call to cease wearing their kippas in public, lest we allow anti-Semitism to win again.
In order to stop the rising trend of anti-Semitism in Germany and around the world, governments should face this problem head on by doubling down on their support for Jewish communities. Instead of suggesting that Jews should not wear kippas in public, Klein and other officials should encourage it. Hatred thrives on the idea that there is some moral equivalency between those who are the perpetrators of hate and those who are its targets. In fact, we’ve seen this in our own country in recent years.
After a woman was killed at an alt-right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, President Donald Trump responded by defending the white nationalists who organized the rally, claiming there were “some very fine people on both sides.” By falsely equating the actions of the perpetrators of hate with its victims, Trump further emboldened white nationalists by giving them exactly what they wanted: legitimacy. In this case, Klein’s comments do the same for far-right groups in Germany.
By suggesting that Jews hide their faith in public to avoid anti-Semitic violence, Klein’s comments place the burden on Jews to diminish acts of anti-Semitism when the burden should be on the German government to root them out. Giving in to hate will only allow anti-Semitism to flourish even more than it already has. When Jews are told to hide their faith in public, that sends a message to the perpetrators of hate that their attacks have been successful. We must never allow anti-Semites to believe they have won.
Even in the face of rising anti-Semitism at home and abroad, Jews must not bow down to these hateful attacks. Jews in Germany should ignore these calls and continue wearing their kippas in public proudly. It is only when we relinquish our freedom that hate can win, and instead of encouraging its Jewish citizens to hide their faith, the German government must begin to cherish it, encourage it and continue the fight against anti-Semitism without surrendering the moral high ground to those who do not deserve it.