Visibility is incredibly vital in today’s day and age. In fact, one could go as far as to say that it is one of the only ways to champion diversity and redeem marginalized groups from a haunting past.
Unfortunately, not everyone agrees with this.
After all, when a government official- supposedly tasked with taking all possible action against discrimination- encourages a marginalized community to hide their identities, there is something incredibly wrong.
Felix Klein is Germany’s first ever anti-Semitism commissioner- and this is made glaringly obvious he sheer ignorance he and his office are currently displaying. The efforts they make are especially impactful on the Jewish community as of current due to the severe rise in anti-Semitic activity. However, Klein’s response has been to make active efforts to warn German Jews not to wear the Kippah- a religious skullcap piece traditionally worn by Jewish men.
Germany continues to have a very complicated relationship with anti-Semitism. On one hand, the German government explicitly takes responsibility for the injustices committed against Jews and the other target marginalized groups of the Holocaust. Yet still, German social culture has failed to keep up with this change. Traditionally anti-Semitic beliefs continue to be preserved and passed on, generation after generation- perpetually spawning new far-right groups continuously proving even more dangerous than their predecessors. Additionally, the rise of online media as a social influencer has only expanded their realm of control.
As a result, Klein’s line of reasoning may actually be somewhat justified. With the shock of the increased rates of violences, Klein simply claims that he “can no longer recommend that Jews wear a kippah at every time and place in Germany,’ and that his opinion on the matter “has changed following the ongoing brutalization in German society”.
Klein’s statements have received quite a lot of backlash from both Jewish communities in Germany and outside of it. U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell responded to the warning on Twitter: “The opposite is true. Wear your friend’s kippah. Borrow a kippah and wear it for our Jewish neighbors. Educate people that we are a diverse society.” Israeli president Reuven Rivlin stated that the German warning shocked him deeply and that “such comments constituted a capitulation to anti-Semitism and an admittance that, again, Jews are not safe on German soil.”
Still, Klein testifies that he will continue to stand by his remarks, but hoped that his warning would not be interpreted as a sign of capitulation. He has since even encouraged all Germans, non-Jews and Jews alike, to wear the kippah as a sign of support when anti-Semitic protests occur.
Diedre Berger, director of the American Jewish Comittee (AJC) in Berlin, said that his response to the public dissatisfaction with his initial remarks showed that “ he recognizes the dimension of this discussion and the importance of confirming the Jewish presence in Germany.” But while representatives for Jewish groups in Germany support Klein’s new encouragement for these same reasons, they still wish more emphasis was placed on strengthening acceptance to begin with.
The harsh reality is that anti-Semitism has continued to persist, and even risen, in several countries all around the world. And while Klein’s initial intentions clearly come from a place of concern, this does not make this approach any more appropriate. After all, while this worry may stem from a place of compassion, the Jews are still being denied representation.
After all, asking Jews to hide their identity, especially after the hard work Holocaust survivors had put in to secure lives for future generations, denies Jewish people the bare minimum reparations they deserve: to continue the legacies of those who had been denied one.
Much like the LGBTQ+ and Muslim communities, Jews are constantly placed in a position to choose between visibility and safety, with the fear of being shunned is ever-present regardless of which decisions are made.
As a person on the margins, I definitely resonate with the Jewish struggle. While it is easy for many to overlook the importance of visibility, this only gives me more reasons to defend people’s rights to it. Because when my best friend finally found empowerment in wearing his kippah out in public, I could only think of how awful it was that he ever had to deliberate against it. When I learned about how strongly the Jews still identified with the Star of David even after years of it being used to shun them, I found more strength to push through in my fight for intersectional rights.
The Jewish people have forcefully been subjected to the worst of humanity, and yet they continue to make sure their culture survives. This rings so true that a popular saying describing most Jewish holidays goes: “They tried to kill us, they didn’t succeed. Let’s eat!” In finding such humor in the darkness, they not only overcome their past but laugh at the pure idiocy of those who scorned them.
Ultimately, the whole matter reinforces that when a group is facing discrimination, the solution is to stand with them, not encourage them to hide. You do not ask the victim of a murder to change their habits- you take action against the perpetrator and get to the bottom of the issue. Stand firm and tolerate nothing less than acceptance. After all, only in empowering the marginalized will society truly find unity.