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Judentum und Israel
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Rabbi attacked in subway station

January 11, 2001

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.

Copyright 2001 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.



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