April 18, 2018 / 2:33 PM / 3 months ago

German police investigate anti-Semitic attack on men in Berlin

BERLIN (Reuters) - German police said on Wednesday that they had launched an investigation after two men wearing Jewish skullcaps were attacked and insulted in Berlin on Tuesday, an incident that comes amid concern that anti-Semitism could be on the rise in Germany.

Anti-Semitism remains a sensitive issue in Germany given that more than 6 million Jews were murdered during the Nazi-era Holocaust.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the attack was a “absolutely dreadful” and stressed any form of anti-Semitism would be dealt with firmly and decisively, adding: “This fight against these kind of anti-Semitic excesses needs to be won.”

Police said they did not know the identity of the attackers.

Merkel said there was anti-Semitism among both German nationals and people from Arabic-speaking areas.

The two men, aged 21 and 24, were attacked by three people, police said. The 21-year-old suffered minor injuries.

One of the three attackers hit the 21-year-old with a belt and also tried to hit him with a glass bottle. A female witness placed herself between them and prevented any further violence.

Deidre Berger, director of the AJC Berlin Ramer Institute for German-Jewish Relations, said the assault showed that people had lost their inhibitions against anti-Semitic violence.

“We mustn’t close our eyes to anti-Semitism, which is becoming increasingly frequent in parts of the Arab and Muslim community,” she said. “We must not allow Jews on our streets to become fair game.”

Official figures for the first eight months of 2017 showed nearly 93 percent of reported anti-Semitic crimes in Germany were linked to far-right extremism, despite predictions that a large growth in the Muslim population since Europe’s 2015 migrant crisis could fuel attacks or discrimination against Jews.

Germany recently appointed Felix Klein to serve as the government’s first commissioner to combat anti-Semitism.

There has been a spate of reports of anti-Semitic bullying in schools. On Wednesday, education ministers from Germany’s federal states and the Central Council of Jews in Germany together presented material that teachers can use to inform their students about Judaism.

Helmut Holter, education minister in the eastern state of Thuringia, said that Judaism was largely only talked about in the context of the Holocaust at school, and added that while this remained essential, education about Judaism needed to be broader to help reduce prejudices.

Reporting by Michelle Martin; Editing by Toby Chopra

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