In assessing the threat of rising anti-Semitism posed to Jews in Germany, the country’s commissioner on anti-Semitism, Felix Klein, was honest and forthcoming, even if his response to the problem was incomplete and unsatisfying. 

Asked in a newspaper interview last week about the safety of Jews who wear a kippah in public, Klein responded: “My opinion has unfortunately changed on that point. I can’t recommend that Jews can wear a kippah everywhere and any time. Sad to say.”

As in this country and elsewhere around the world, anti-Semitic crimes are on the rise in Germany —up about 20% last year —with the vast majority of those 1,800 hate crimes attributed to the far-right political fringe.

So what did Klein suggest as the remedy for the mounting problem? More education. “There is a clear definition of anti-Semitism [the International Alliance for Holocaust Remembrance definition, which Germany adopted in 2017] and it must be taught in police academies. It also must be included in the training of teachers and lawyers.” Really? Germany’s commissioner on anti-Semitism believes that further education for law enforcement, teachers and lawyers is going to influence the far-right fringe of haters and provocateurs, and suggests that in the meantime, Jews in Germany should be more careful about public religious observances? 

Klein’s comments were met with a mixture of anger and frustration, with public responses coming from critics as diverse as the U.S ambassador to Germany and the president of the State of Israel. Ambassador Richard Grenell was defiant in a Tweet: “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.” And Israel’s president, Reuven Rivlin, who said he was “shocked” by Klein’s comments, noted that “fears about the security of German Jews are a capitulation to anti-Semitism and an admittance that, again, Jews are not safe on German soil.”

We share the disappointment with Klein’s response. Anti-Semitism is not an intellectual exercise that will be solved through more education. Rather, carefully considered communal responses and vigorous enforcement of existing laws will be far more effective in confronting and defeating hatred.   

But what about personal safety? In this fight, the kippah is a symbol. It’s a marker of Jewish identity and pride, but it is not a religious imperative. For those who regularly wear a kippah, the decision where and when to wear it needs to be made with care and judgment. There is no purpose in using the kippah to provoke responses, controversy or confrontation — no matter how noble the intended ultimate purpose — since there are other ways to cover one’s head and satisfy the religious custom.  

Anti-Semitism is real, and it is growing. We need to keep talking about it, we need to do something about it and we need to be careful.  JN

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