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Attacks Shock German Jews, Government to Step Up Security

April 3, 2002
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German Jewish leaders have been shaken by an attack on two visiting American rabbis and the vandalism of a Holocaust memorial here.

The incidents come on the heels of a string of violent attacks on synagogues and other Jewish venues in Belgium and France.

The Berlin attack on Sunday night came after German officials said they would increase security at Jewish sites following the Belgian and French attacks, and following pressure from German Jewish leaders — though no steps to increase security have been taken yet.

To extend Middle East violence “to include all Jews shows the true, grotesque face of fanatical Islamists, who ultimately want to dump Israel in the sea and see Judaism as public enemy No. 1,” said Michel Friedman, vice president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany.

There has been an increase in anti-Semitic attacks here during the past year and a half, but nothing comparable to the surge that has shocked the Jewish community of France.

The latest incident may have been a wake-up call. Berlin Inforadio reported Tuesday that two young Orthodox rabbis visiting from the United States were attacked by a group of young men on the city’s main shopping street last Saturday night.

One of the men was beaten and kicked so badly that he had to be brought in an ambulance to the hospital, where he was treated for injuries to his face.

Berlin police reported that the rabbis had come out of a synagogue and were on their way to the home of Chabad Lubavitch Rabbi Yehudah Teichtal when they were accosted by six to eight men who appeared to be Arabs.

One asked the Americans, “Are you a Jew?” When the young man confirmed this, the attackers allegedly beat and kicked him to the ground.

State Police said they have no trace of the attackers. They are looking for witnesses and have published a hotline number for information on the case.

“We were all shocked,” Rabbi Teichtal told reporters Tuesday. “Our guests were in Berlin for the first time. It is regrettable that they have to leave the city with such a negative impression.”

Berlin’s Jewish community of about 12,000 is the largest in Germany, with seven synagogues, several schools and Jewish cemeteries.

Security for Jewish venues there, already greatly increased after the Sept. 11 terror attacks in the United States, has not been further strengthened, according to Berlin police spokesperson Hansj rg Dr ge.

Police with machine guns are posted outside most Jewish venues, and some locations have double police barriers.

The Berlin community and the Central Council responded with shock that such an attack could take place in Germany’s capital.

Alexander Brenner, head of the Berlin community, said unfair media reports on Israel were partly to blame for anti- Semitic attacks.

The community’s vice president, Moishe Waks, said the community is planning a demonstration of solidarity with Israel.

Paul Spiegel, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, told German television that he was worried the situation in Israel could lead to attacks on German Jews.

Friedman said the radicalization is “easy to see” in Germany. It used to be that Jews had to protect themselves from right-wing extremists, he said, but now they also have to guard against “Islamic criminals.”

The previous day, a Jewish Holocaust memorial in Berlin was vandalized. Police reported that their patrols found swastikas painted on the memorial shortly after midnight. The perpetrators have not yet been found.

Meanwhile, some 40 Palestinian sympathizers demonstrated Tuesday in front of the Israeli Embassy. They called their action a symbolic occupation of the embassy, in protest at Israeli military strikes in Ramallah and other parts of the West Bank.

The Federal Crime Bureau of Germany reportedly has warned local bureaus about the possibility of attacks on Jewish venues in Germany.

Federal Interior Minister Otto Schily called on all German states to check their security plans and strengthen them if necessary, but there were no concrete threats reported.

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