Rabbi attacked in subway station
BERLIN, Germany (AP) -- An attack on a rabbi by a
group of youths in a Berlin subway station prompted condemnation from
politicians and the Jewish community on Thursday, but the rabbi himself
cautioned against overreacting.
Rabbi Walter Rothschild was hit in the face and had
his glasses broken during a confrontation with three youths on Wednesday
night, requiring four stitches. Before he was hit, Rothschild said one
of the youths told him: "I hate all Jews."
But the three attackers weren't neo-Nazi skinheads.
The one 15-year-old arrested was a German of Lebanese origin, according
to Berlin officials. "It's a Middle East conflict spilling over into
Germany," said Rothschild, who is British. "It's got nothing to do with
the Holocaust and with German guilt and all the garbage that comes out
in these situations."
Rothschild said he did not feel he had been singled
out because he is Jewish, and that the confrontation started when he
tried to calm them down when they began arguing with the subway
conductor who had kicked them off for throwing bottles onto the track.
The Berlin city government on Thursday praised the
quick arrest of one suspect. Leaders of the Berlin Jewish community
"sharply condemned" the attack and called for a panel to examine safety
on public transport.
Yet the attack illustrates the complexity of dealing
with hate crimes in Germany, where the desire to demonstrate vigilance
against the far-right because of its Nazi past has sometimes been
misplaced. Several recent incidents where the right-wing was suspected
later turned out to be something else, most notably the 1997 death of a
young boy whose father was Iraqi.
The case was reopened in autumn last year after
witnesses claimed neo-Nazis drowned the boy, only to recant days later.
Investigators say they see no evidence of the far-right involvement in
the death, originally ruled accidental.
In this climate of heightened sensitivity,
Rothschild's wife Jacqueline issued a statement to the media hours after
the attack "to ensure that the press coverage which will undoubtedly
ensue does not get the wrong end of the stick and create more panic."
"They were three teenagers possibly slightly drunk, certainly out of bed
too late at night, excitable, too much testosterone and not enough
common sense!" she wrote. "I just don't think it's worth making into a
national or international scandal," Rothschild said. "I'm staying in
Berlin, I'm not packing my bags. "I'm grateful that people are taking it
seriously, I just don't want them to take it out of proportion."
Rothschild, 46, worked as the liberal rabbi for
Berlin's Jewish community until the end of last year. He was pushed out
after a struggle within the community sparked by his maverick style, and
lost appeals in Jewish community courts to keep his job. He said he
plans to run for a position in the community leadership in March.
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