A 19-year-old Syrian man turned himself in to Berlin police as the perpetrator of the attack, which has made headlines in Germany and abroad as an anti-Semitic assault.
The police spokesperson, cited by the Euronews, stated that the suspect came to Germany from Syria as a refugee. Being registered in the federal state of Brandenburg, he doesn’t have a permanent residence in Berlin. His motives, however, haven’t been clarified by the police.
He allegedly whipped two young men wearing Jewish skullcaps in a posh district of Berlin with a belt, crying out the Arabic word for Jew, "Yahudi." Although the attack was branded anti-Semitic, the victims turned out to have no Jewish background. One of them is an Israeli citizen, according to the DW broadcaster, but he came from an Arab family. The other one has a German citizenship and Moroccan origins.
Both young men got kippahs as gifts and wore them like some kind of social experiment to find out if it was safe to wear this Jewish symbol publicly in Germany. According to one of them, they didn’t believe it could provoke any anti-Semitic response. The young men were caught off guard as they were taking selfies, which allowed them to film the attack and posted it online.
The video soon went viral and triggered a stormy reaction from the Jewish community and German authorities about the rise of bigotry and anti-Semitism in the country.
After the clip emerged, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the incident was “absolutely dreadful” and promised that any form of anti-Semitism would be dealt with firmly and decisively. She also pointed out at the dual nature of anti-Semitism, as it finds support both among German nationals and in the Arabic-speaking community.
German Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs Heiko Maas also condemned the deed.
Wenn junge Männer bei uns attackiert werden, nur weil sie eine Kippa tragen, ist das unerträglich. Juden dürfen sich bei uns nie wieder bedroht fühlen. Wir tragen Verantwortung dafür, uns schützend vor jüdisches Leben zu stellen. https://t.co/n0gjePnPac— Heiko Maas (@HeikoMaas) 18 апреля 2018 г.
"It is intolerable if young men are being attacked here just because they wear a kippah. Jews shall never again feel threatened here. It's our responsibility to protect Jewish life here," he posted on his Twitter page.
The right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which entered Germany's national parliament with an anti-migrant agenda, connected the attack with the migrant crisis in Germany. AfD Co-Chairman Jörg Meuthen named Germany "the world leader of imported Muslim anti-Semitism" on Twitter.
Guten Morgen 🇩🇪!— Prof. Dr. Jörg Meuthen (@Joerg_Meuthen) 19 апреля 2018 г.
Das ist eine Schande, und damit muss endlich Schluss sein. Die Bürger in Deutschland wollen eine friedliche Gesellschaft. Sie wollen eine Gesellschaft, die nicht in kulturellen Konflikten zu versinken droht.#AfD
➡️ https://t.co/NWHK2LnX5U pic.twitter.com/o9BndgTgjw
Meanwhile, the Antisemitism Research and Information Office (RIAS) warned against rush conclusions, stating according to the DW, that anti-Semitic moods can be seen in the home-made extremist organizations and in the mainstream movements as well.
Project Director Benjamin Steinitz told the media "We see that incidents perpetrated by people of Arab origin attract special attention and are often connected with reductions of the problem to so-called imported anti-Semitism. But there was always anti-Semitism here. The problem didn't start in 2015."
The latest stats, issued by RIAS recently, show that the number of anti-Semitic incidents in 2017 was double that recorded in 2016. The organization reported about 947 incidents last year; 18 of them were physically violent.
The official criminal statistics classifies about 90 percent of anti-Semitic incidents as far-right extremism. However, as new Anti-Semitism Commissioner Felix Klein told the German newspaper Die Welt, that Muslim anti-Semitism is greater than the existing numbers, according to the Jews in Germany.