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By Madeline Chambers and Michael Nienaber
BERLIN (Reuters)

Thousands of Germans wearing Jewish caps took part in nationwide rallies on Wednesday evening in support of the Jewish community amid concerns about growing anti-Semitism

Jewish groups are trying to harness public outrage about an attack last week on an Israeli Arab who wore the Jewish cap, or kippa, in Berlin as an experiment. He ended up being subjected to verbal abuse by three people and was lashed with a belt by a Syrian Palestinian. A video was posted on the internet.

 

People wear kippas as they attend a demonstration in front of a Jewish synagogue in Berlin
People wear kippas as they attend a demonstration in front of a Jewish synagogue, to denounce an anti-Semitic attack on a young man wearing a kippa in the capital earlier this month, in Berlin, Germany, April 25, 2018. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

 

That attack followed reports of bullying of Jewish children in schools and prompted the head of the Central Council of Jews, Josef Schuster, to advise Jews not to wear kippas in big cities.

In Berlin, more than 2,000 people participated in the so-called ‘kippa march‘, a police spokesman said. Similar rallies were held in Cologne and other German cities.

 

An Israeli flag is held during a demonstration in front of a Jewish synagogue in Berlin
An Israeli flag is held during a demonstration in front of a Jewish synagogue, to denounce an anti-Semitic attack on a young man wearing a kippa in the capital earlier this month, in Berlin, Germany, April 25, 2018. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

 

The marches followed a decision by Germany’s music industry on Wednesday to scrap its prestigious annual Echo awards after a row over anti-Semitism.

The awarding of this year’s Echo music prize to a rapper duo accused of reciting anti-Semitic lyrics caused outrage. Several previous winners returned their awards in protest.

 

People hold a sign and Isreali flag as they attend a demonstration in front of a Jewish synagogue in Berlin
People hold a sign and Isreali flag as they attend a demonstration in front of a Jewish synagogue, to denounce an anti-Semitic attack on a young man wearing a kippa in the capital earlier this month, in Berlin, Germany, April 25, 2018. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

 

The BVMI music association said on Wednesday the Echo prize had been so damaged by the row that a new start was required.

“On no account do we want this music prize to be a platform for anti-Semitism, contempt for women, homophobia or for belittling violence,” it said in a statement.

The controversial winners were Kollegah and Farid Bang, whose lyrics include “I’m doing another Holocaust, coming with a Molotov” and who sing that their bodies are “more defined than Auschwitz prisoners”.

 

People wear kippas as they attend a demonstration in front of a Jewish synagogue in Berlin
People wear kippas as they attend a demonstration in front of a Jewish synagogue, to denounce an anti-Semitic attack on a young man wearing a kippa in the capital earlier this month, in Berlin, Germany, April 25, 2018. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

 

Germany is not alone in its struggle against hostility to Jews. France was shocked by the murder last month of a Holocaust survivor in a suspected anti-Semitic attack, and Britain’s main opposition Labour Party is embroiled in an anti-Semitism row.

However, the legacy of the Holocaust, in which the Nazis killed at least six million Jews, has left Germans with a special sense of responsibility.

 

MOST ATTACKS BY FAR-RIGHT

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told the Tagesspiegel daily that anti-Semitic attacks were directed at “all of us”.

 

President of the Centra Council of Jews in Germany, Josef Schuster, speaks during a demonstration in front of a Jewish synagogue in Berlin
President of the Centra Council of Jews in Germany, Josef Schuster, speaks during a demonstration in front of a Jewish synagogue, to denounce an anti-Semitic attack on a young man wearing a kippa in the capital earlier this month, in Berlin, Germany, April 25, 2018. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

 

“No one may be discriminated against because of their origin, the colour of their skin or religion,” he said.

Since 1991, the number of Jews belonging to a religious community has more than tripled to more than 100,000, boosted by an influx from the former Soviet Union. About the same number are non-practising Jews or people with Jewish roots in Germany.

 

People wear kippas during a demonstration in front of a Jewish synagogue in Berlin
People wear kippas during a demonstration in front of a Jewish synagogue, to denounce an anti-Semitic attack on a young man wearing a kippa in the capital earlier this month, in Berlin, Germany, April 25, 2018. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

 

This compares to about 600,000 before the Nazi Holocaust and just 10,000 at the end of World War Two.

Tagesspiegel daily, citing government figures, has reported that four anti-Semitic crimes were reported on average per day last year, around the same level as in 2016. The majority – 1,377 of 1,452 – were committed by right-wing radicals.

 

People wear kippas as they attend a demonstration in front of a Jewish synagogue in Berlin
People wear kippas as they attend a demonstration in front of a Jewish synagogue, to denounce an anti-Semitic attack on a young man wearing a kippa in the capital earlier this month, in Berlin, Germany, April 25, 2018. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

 

The anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) blames the influx of more than 1.6 million migrants, many from the Middle East, since 2014.

“We sounded warnings very early about the huge strength of Muslim anti-Semitism,” said senior AfD member Georg Pazderski.

 

People wear kippas as they attend a demons
People wear kippas as they attend a demonstration in front of a Jewish synagogue, to denounce an anti-Semitic attack on a young man wearing a kippa in the capital earlier this month, in Berlin, Germany, April 25, 2018. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

 

Schuster from the Central Council of Jews also called on Muslim groups to stand up to anti-Semitism. “There can be no tolerance of intolerance,” he said.

Germany’s Central Council of Muslims and Turkish groups have backed the rallies.

 

 

“If you want to fight Islamophobia, then you can’t tolerate anti-Semitism either. And we know where anti-Semitism ended up in German history,” Gokay Sofuoglu, head of the Turkish Communities in Germany, told the Berliner Zeitung.

In an attempt to assuage concerns, Germany has appointed an anti-Semitism commissioner, former diplomat Felix Klein, who starts work next month, but critics say Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government has done too little.

 

(Editing by Gareth Jones)

 

A member of the Jewish Community stands on the stage during a demonstration in front of a Jewish synagogue in Berlin
A member of the Jewish Community stands on the stage during a demonstration in front of a Jewish synagogue, to denounce an anti-Semitic attack on a young man wearing a kippa in the capital earlier this month, in Berlin, Germany, April 25, 2018. The sign reads: “Berlin wears kippa.” REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

 

VIP and members of the Jewish Community stand on the stage during a demonstration in front of a Jewish synagogue in Berlin
VIP and members of the Jewish Community stand on the stage during a demonstration in front of a Jewish synagogue, to denounce an anti-Semitic attack on a young man wearing a kippa in the capital earlier this month, in Berlin, Germany, April 25, 2018. The sign reads: “Berlin wears kippa.” REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

 

People wear kippas during a demonstration in front of a Jewish synagogue in Berlin
People wear kippas during a demonstration in front of a Jewish synagogue, to denounce an anti-Semitic attack on a young man wearing a kippa in the capital earlier this month, in Berlin, Germany, April 25, 2018. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch

 

People wear kippas as they attend a demonstration in front of a Jewish synagogue in Berlin
People wear kippas as they attend a demonstration in front of a Jewish synagogue, to denounce an anti-Semitic attack on a young man wearing a kippa in the capital earlier this month, in Berlin, Germany, April 25, 2018. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch