Stop wearing Star of David Question arises in Berlin

BERLIN — Berlin police are giving mixed messages about whether they are advising Jews to hide their identity to prevent anti-Semitic attacks.

A police spokesperson told an Israeli reporter that Jews in Berlin might want to hide their Stars of David or avoid wearing yarmulkes because police can't protect all of them from possible attack.

Later, the office of the city's police chief issued a statement denying that police were giving Jews such advice.

Tuesday's statement, however, did not deny that such measures might help prevent anti-Semitic attacks.

There have been a series of recent attacks against Jews and Jewish sites in Germany linked to the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In the statement, the Berlin Police Department declared that Jewish and Israeli sites in Berlin receive the highest possible degree of protection.

"The Berlin police express their sincere regret if the words of a colleague have led to any misunderstanding in Israel and in the Jewish community," the statement said.

But the statement acknowledged the rash of recent incidents in which Jews here were accosted and attacked, allegedly by Arab youths. No arrests have been made.

"The possibility of isolated attacks by Arab youths against Jewish citizens cannot be excluded completely, considering the background of the Mideast conflict," the statement added.

The statement was issued following a broadcast Tuesday on Israel's Army Radio, subsequently picked up by the Israeli daily Ha'aretz, about a conversation between an Israeli journalist based in Berlin and a press spokesperson for the Berlin police department.

According to a transcript of the broadcast provided by Berlin police, the reporter quoted the spokesperson as advising that "Berlin Jews be careful, but not anxious, and occasionally alter their accustomed routes when walking in the city."

The spokesman also "promised that all Berlin is safe for Jews. But the Berlin police can not personally protect every rabbi or Orthodox Jew."

The police spokesman then agreed with the reporter, saying Jews who wear jewelry with Jewish symbols or Orthodox garb "are naturally recognizable. And unfortunately it is not possible to protect them in every situation."

According to the transcript, the spokesman then said he could recommend ways for Berlin Jews to avoid problems, but "could well imagine that my suggestions might offend our Orthodox fellow citizens.

"Naturally one thing to try would be not displaying one's faith to the outside world, whether through clothing or symbols, through the kipah or similar objects, Stars of David, naturally," he said.

"But it is clearly a difficult subject, especially if one wants to display one's faith.

"Anyway, that would be one means [to protect oneself], and everyone can determine if this is something they consider useful for themselves."

The spokesperson's comment, as well as the official police statement, drew an angry reaction from Rabbi Chaim Rozwaski, one of Berlin's chief rabbis.

"It is time to create an atmosphere where hostility toward Jews is not acceptable," he said. "Jews should not have to hesitate to express their Jewishness. Problems in the Mideast are no excuse for hooliganism in Berlin."

He added that police "should address themselves to the mosques in Germany and especially in Berlin. The imams should preach tolerance, respect and friendly relations among all the citizens of Berlin."

Rabbi Yehudah Teichtal, the Lubavitch rabbi in Berlin, expressed shock at the Israeli news report, but said he would not alter his dress.

"We answer darkness with light, and terror with more positive acts," Teichtal said.

Two rabbinical students who visited Teichtal from the United States were attacked, allegedly by Arab men, during Passover.

In a private conversation, some Berlin Jews have said they have stopped wearing Jewish stars openly, fearing that they, too, will be victimized.

Toby Axelrod

Toby Axelrod is JTA’s correspondent for Germany, Switzerland and Austria. A former assistant director of the American Jewish Committee’s Berlin office, she has also worked as staff writer and editor at the New York Jewish Week and published books on Holocaust history for teenagers.