Syrian admits to Berlin assault on Israeli wearing kippa

Hannah RUEDIGER and Frank ZELLER
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Germans donned the kippa in solidarity demonstrations across the country after an assault on two men wearing the Jewish skullcap

A Syrian migrant apologised in a German court Tuesday for lashing out with his belt at an Israeli man wearing a Jewish kippa skullcap in an assault that stoked fears of resurgent anti-Semitism.

A video of the attack, filmed by the victim on his smartphone, sparked widespread public revulsion as it spread on social media, and later triggered large street rallies to show solidarity with Jews.

The defendant, a 19-year-old Palestinian from Syria, is charged with dangerous assault and hate speech and could be judged under juvenile law.

The footage of the assault in Berlin on April 17 shows the attacker, one of a group of three, shouting "yahudi" -- Jew in Arabic -- before lashing out at the victim, leaving him injured.

"I'm sorry, it was a mistake", the defendant told the court, while insisting he had been insulted first and that the attack was not motivated by anti-Semitism.

"I didn't want to hit him, I only wanted to scare him," he said in his testimony, which switched from halting German to Arabic.

"I don't hate Jews or Christians or anyone else," he said, explaining the attack by confessing he "had smoked some dope, my head was tired".

Bild daily has identified the belt attacker as Knaan al-S., who was registered at a refugee home near Berlin, but then went on to live "out of a suitcase" in the capital.

The victim who shot the video, a 21-year-old student, later revealed that he is not Jewish, but an Israeli Arab called Adam, who was walking at the time with a German-Moroccan friend aged 24.

Adam, a veterinary student, has said they had wanted to test whether wearing a kippa was safe in the fashionable inner Berlin district of Prenzlauer Berg.

In court, he rejected the defendant's version and said that since the unprovoked attack he felt "unsafe" in the same district.

"Berlin was always a dream city for me where I could live in peace," he said, "but I don't think I'll wear a kippa again while walking alone."

- 'Eternal responsibility' -

The attack was the latest to raise alarm bells about renewed anti-Semitism in Germany from both the far-right and a large influx of predominantly Muslim asylum seekers since 2015.

The anti-immigration Alternative for Germany party, which captured nearly 13 percent of the vote in the general election in September, has broken a taboo by repeatedly challenging Germany's "remembrance culture" and atonement for the Nazi era.

Party member Bjoern Hoecke has called Berlin's Holocaust memorial a "monument of shame", and AfD co-leader Alexander Gauland described the Nazi period as a "speck of bird shit in over 1,000 years of successful German history".

News of the belt attack coincided with another public outcry, over a rap duo who made light of Nazi death camp prisoners but went on to win the music industry's sales-based Echo award, which was subsequently axed.

After the street assault, the head of the Jewish community in Germany, Joseph Schuster, said that Jews should avoid wearing religious symbols in big cities due to a heightened risk of targeted attacks.

The advice earned him a rebuke from the European Jewish Association, whose head Rabbi Margolin argued that to not wear the kippa "fulfils the vision of anti-Semites in Europe".

Days after the assault, some 2,000 people rallied at a "Berlin Wears Kippa" solidarity demonstration, matched by smaller events in Cologne, Potsdam, Magdeburg and Erfurt.

Chancellor Angela Merkel, speaking with Israeli television, denounced the emergence of "another form of anti-Semitism" beyond that of right-wing extremist groups, from Muslim refugees.

She reaffirmed that the security of Jews and the state of Israel was a central concern for Germany because of its "eternal responsibility" for the Holocaust in which the Nazis murdered six million European Jews.