Mandula van den Berg

Yesterday afternoon I was sitting in the park with a friend, reading and eating oranges, when a guy of about our age came up to us. On his head he wore a white kippah and in his outstretched hand he held another two, clearly intended for us. “Hello,” he smiled, “we’re doing a protest action against the increased anti-semitic attacks. For this, we invite people to wear kippot, because in the sight of the recent events they have become explicitly political symbols. Would you be willing to put these on as a sign of solidarity, and to feel how it is to be a minority?”. After a brief silence, we took the kippot from him and watched as he walked away, back towards the path where the majority of passersby was wearing the white caps as a police van stood by, at least two police men surveying the area. My friend and I looked at each other for a moment before hesitantly putting the kippot on.

I believe in solidarity, and obviously I think that all sorts of discrimination should be condemned. Also, I fully realise that in Germany anti-semitism is still a sensitive issue and the recent events in Berlin have justly caused an outrage in the German media. I put the white kippah on for these reasons. However, I don’t know whether I really believe that was the right thing to do.

Firstly, I simply can not get the image of the police van out of my head. “Experience what it is like to be a minority,” is what the guy said, but it seems to me that minorities do not have the police looking out for them like this. I think it is a question to what extent these organised protest actions are ever ‘realistic’, but I do think it touched upon a deeper question. How vulnerable is the Jewish community really in Berlin? Especially in comparison with the Arab migrant communities who in the media are often blamed for the resurgence of anti-semitic incidents, but are themselves also discriminated against? Would a park of white Germans just as easily put on a sign of solidarity with these people? Would the police be as eager to stand by?

On a similar note, I was struck by the way that the guy said that the kippah has now become a political symbol. The temporal implication is symptomatic of the racialisation of anti-semitism in the German discourse. Among others, this topic has been explored by Esra Özyürek, who writes about the distinction made between “old” and “new” anti-semitism, the latter being located outside of Europe and categorised as Muslim anti-semitism. The problem is framed as something foreign and external, denying any connection between anti-semitic and anti-islamic sentiments in German society and falsely framing them as inherently different kinds of discrimination. I wonder, what made yesterday the right moment to do such a protest? Do I support this notion of urgency if it implies the mentioned temporal distinctions?

Finally, I think the performance of Germans wearing kippot in Volkspark Friedrichshain is perhaps simply too sentimental. It is so easy to wear a kippah and dwell in guilt and grief. The image of all these kippot was truly touching, but I wonder whether that experience is really about the Jewish community, or whether it is (partially) about the feelings of the German people. How to actively counter anti-semitism is an important question, but I’m just scared that broadcasting one’s alliance and indignation in such a superficial and sentimental way might be unproductive, if not even counter-productive.