BERLIN (JTA) — Police in Berlin have arrested a 23-year-old man who allegedly attacked and seriously wounded a Jewish student in a bar on Friday. The Jewish student and his family say the attack was a hate crime.
The victim, Lahav Shapira, 30, was hospitalized and underwent surgery for non-life-threatening injuries to his face. He is the grandson of Israeli athletics coach Amitzur Shapira, who was murdered by Palestinian terrorists in the Munich Olympics terror attack in 1972.
His older brother, Shahak Shapira, is a prominent comedian and writer who has lampooned Germany’s relationship to the Holocaust. The brothers moved from Israel to Germany with their mother as children, and Shahak himself entered public consciousness in 2015 after several Arab men beat him on a Berlin train because he had objected to their singing anti-Israel and antisemitic chants.
Police told German media that the incident at the bar began with a dispute between the two Free University in Berlin students.
“During the argument, the younger man is said to have suddenly hit the older man [Shapira] in the face several times, causing him to fall,” the statement said. “The perpetrator is then said to have kicked the man who was lying on the ground.” Multiple reports said the two had argued about the Israel-Hamas war.
The family’s account is different. Shahak Shapira tweeted, “There was no political debate whatsoever. He was recognized by the attacker in the bar, who followed him and his companion, spoke to them aggressively and then punched him in the face unannounced.”
Shapira’s mother, Tzipi Lev, who also lives in Germany, told Israeli media her son had been “sitting in a bar with his girlfriend. She felt like someone was constantly looking at her, and then Lahav told her that it was someone he knew from university.” She described the attacker as an Arab student.
According to Lev, the younger student “suddenly started attacking Lahav in a very harsh manner. He shouted at him: ‘Why are you posting pictures of kidnapped people?’ He was full of hate.”
On Monday, Lahav Shapira offered his own account to Israeli media from his hospital room. “He suddenly punched me from the side. Then another one and I lost my balance,” he recalled in the interview. “I tried to get up, so he kicked me in the face. And then when I got up, he ran away from the scene.”
Shapira has engaged in pro-Israel activism at the Free University since Oct. 7, when Hamas attacked Israel, killing some 1,200 and taking more than 250 people hostage. He was one of several students to clash with pro-Palestinian students there in December.
Shahak Shapira tweeted that his brother had been a target online and in real life and that he had not commented about it to avoid betraying his brother’s identity. “This consequence was almost unavoidable and I feared it from the beginning,” Shahak wrote about Lahav’s assault.
The Free University in Berlin has been the site of several pro-Palestinian protests since the start of the war, all unauthorized as the university has not sanctioned any protests. The demonstrations are relatively unusual in Germany, where criticism of Israel is widely discouraged and antisemitism is heavily criminalized, reflecting the country’s reckoning with its perpetration of the Holocaust. Academics and students at the Free University protested the university’s crackdown on pro-Palestinian expression at the school after police were called to disperse a protest in December.
“We are deeply horrified by the brutal, allegedly anti-Semitic attack on a Jewish student at our university and condemn the act in the strongest possible terms,” the school said in a statement on Monday. “Our condolences go out to the student and his family. We wish him a speedy and complete recovery.”
The school said it would “immediately examine possible legal steps” against the alleged perpetrator if he is confirmed to be a Free University student. Saying that it stands for “openness and tolerance,” the school added, “The Free University is doing everything in its power to prevent Jewish students from being threatened on campus. Our unrestricted solidarity goes out to all victims of antisemitic hostility and violence.”
Meanwhile, law enforcement is continuing its investigation. Local reports said police officers pursued and arrested the attacker, searched his apartment and confiscated his smartphone.