Germany's commissioner to combat anti-Semitism on Saturday advised German Jews not to wear kippahs in public.
"I cannot advise Jews to wear the kippot everywhere all the time in Germany," Felix Klein, a federal official, told the Funke media group. "My opinion has unfortunately changed compared with what it used to be."
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Klein also said he has urged German police to train to combat anti-Semitism, the Jerusalem Post noted.
"There is a clear definition of anti-Semitism, and it has to be taught in police schools," Klein said. "It likewise belongs in the education of teachers and lawyers."
Klein's warning comes amid a surge in anti-Semitism in Germany. Two weeks ago, the German government released a report showing that anti-Semitic crimes increased in Germany by 20 percent last year. Government statistics released in February revealed that violent anti-Semitic attacks in Germany increased by 60 percent in 2018 compared to the previous year.
The rise in anti-Semitism is not limited to Germany. Anti-Semitic incidents in the Netherlands increased over the same time period by 19 percent, according to the Center for Information and Documentation Israel, a non-governmental organization. The United Kingdom saw a similar increase of 16 percent, and France experienced a massive spike of 74 percent.
The rise in anti-Semitism has even reached the United States, where, according to the Anti-Defamation League, anti-Semitic incidents on college campuses increased by 89 percent in 2017 from the previous year.
German media and American officials quickly denounced Klein's comments, saying that Jews should be able to practice their religion in public spaces rather than submit to fear. On Monday, Germany's best-selling newspaper, Bild, printed a cut out of a kippah on its front page that one can wear, along with the words: "The kippah belongs to Germany."
Richard Grenell, the U.S. ambassador to Germany, echoed that message of solidarity. In response to Klein's warning, Grenell tweeted, "The opposite is true. 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."
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin similarly denounced Klein's words, calling them a "capitulation to anti-Semitism."
The backlash seemed to reach Berlin, which suggested that Klein was wrong to advise against wearing kippahs.
"The state must see to it that the free exercise of religion is possible for all … and that anyone can go anywhere in our country in full security wearing a kippah," Merkel's spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said Monday. "It's the job of the state to ensure that anybody can move around securely with a skullcap in any place of our country."
Since Saturday, Klein has apparently reversed his position. He urged all German citizens "to wear the kippah next Saturday if there are new, intolerable attacks targeting Israel and Jews on the occasion of al Quds day in Berlin."
Al Quds day is an annual day of protest when people participate in anti-Israel marches and rallies in various cities around the world.
"The al Quds demonstration conveys nothing but anti-Semitism and hatred of Israel," said Dr. Josef Schuster, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany. Schuster called the annual rally in Berlin an "Islamist propaganda campaign against Israel that seeks the conquest of Jerusalem and the destruction of Israel."
Despite Berlin's verbal support for the German Jewish community, Merkel warned Tuesday that every Jewish institution in the country needs police protection.
"Unfortunately there is to this day not a single synagogue, not a single day care center for Jewish children, not a single school for Jewish children that does not need to be guarded by German policemen," Merkel told CNN host Christiane Amanpour. "There has always been a certain number of anti-Semites among us, unfortunately."