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German Police Report Rise In Anti-Semitic Hate Crimes

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Police in Germany are reporting a rise in anti-Semitic hate crimes. The German government wants answers. NPR's Daniel Estrin reports from Berlin.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Monty Ott is a young Jewish LGBT activist in Berlin. On his walk home from work, he told me about what's happened to him while wearing a Jewish head covering, a kippa.

MONTY OTT: I've seen people spitting out in front of me because I was wearing a kippa. People shouting at me, Jew, in the middle of the streets, in the center of the city. And if I tell people about things I experience, they say, what? This happened to you. I didn't even know that there is anti-Semitism today in Germany.

ESTRIN: There is some disagreement about the nature of anti-Semitism in Germany today. For example, when does criticism of Israel cross into anti-Jewish expression, and whether far-right anti-Semitism or anti-Semitism from Muslims is the bigger problem.

DEIDRE BERGER: There have been problems with rising anti-Semitism amongst the Muslim community, most of whom are of migrant background, going back several generations now for many years.

ESTRIN: Deidre Berger heads the American Jewish Committee in Berlin. The group surveyed Berlin schoolteachers who reported some students crossing out Israel from maps and expressing fundamentalist Muslim ideologies. Her group is helping teachers develop lesson plans to address the issue with students.

DERVIS HIZARCI: (Speaking German).

ESTRIN: Dervis Hizarci, another Berlin activist, addresses a seminar of high school counselors about how to identify anti-Semitism. He's Muslim, and he says some Muslims in Germany go on the defensive when they're accused of anti-Semitism. They see it as part of a campaign of Islamophobia fueled by Germany's growing far-right.

HIZARCI: We are searching for ways how we can win people to be aware of problems such as anti-Semitism, and how can we communicate this issue to them so that they take responsibility and not deny it?

ESTRIN: Last year, Germany appointed its first national commissioner to combat anti-Semitism, Felix Klein. He told me his focus right now is to collect data. Police say anti-Semitic crimes rose 10 percent last year, with 90 percent of the attacks coming from the far-right. But there's a dispute about some of the figures.

FELIX KLEIN: If you talk to the Jews in this country, they perceive attacks emanating from Muslims - from radical Muslims, of course (laughter) - as much higher. They think it's around 40 percent when it comes, also, to physical attacks.

ESTRIN: Klein hopes to clear this up with a nationwide online reporting portal launched last month for Germans to report behavior they witness that's not officially criminal but is still anti-Semitic, like graffiti, or bullying in schools. He hopes by the end of the year to have enough examples to draw some conclusions.

KLEIN: Because then we know more about the perpetrators, about their social backgrounds maybe, where anti-Semitic incidents do appear. And that, of course, will constitute a very, very important piece of information for our strategies for preventing anti-Semitism.

ESTRIN: Some Jews say they face lots of skepticism about their complaints, and they hope Klein's statistics will highlight the extent of anti-Semitism in Germany today.

Daniel Estrin, NPR News, Berlin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.