Angela Merkel has admitted that anti-Semitism is a problem in Germany — just as the country's government was forced to backtrack over comments it made about Jewish people wearing their religious skullcaps in public.
The German chancellor, who is set to step down in 2021, said in an interview that aired Tuesday that "we have always had a certain amount of antisemites among us, unfortunately."
“There is to this day not a single synagogue, not a single day care center for Jewish children, not a single school for Jewish children that does not need to be guarded by German policemen," she told CNN.
“Unfortunately over the years, we have not been able to deal with this satisfactorily … but we have to face up indeed to the specters of the past," she said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks with the media as she arrives for an EU summit in Brussels, Tuesday, May 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
"Germany … will not uncouple itself from developments we see all over the world, we see this in Germany as well,” the chancellor said. “But in Germany they always have to be seen in a certain context, the context of the past, which means we have to be that much more vigilant than others.”
Referring to the rise of nationalism and racism across Europe, Merkel said this is "why we are for democracy, why we try to bring about solutions, why we always have to put ourselves in the other person's shoes, why we stand up against intolerance, why we show no tolerance toward violations of human rights."
On Saturday, the German government's anti-Semitism commissioner, Felix Klein, said in an interview he “cannot recommend to Jews that they wear the skullcap at all times everywhere in Germany" due to safety concerns. Klein didn't elaborate on what places and times might be risky.
The statement sparked international outcry and was strongly criticized by many, including U.S. Ambassador to Germany Richard Grenell, who condemned the statement and urged Jewish people and others to wear their skullcaps — also known as a yarmulke or kippah.
“The opposite is true. Wear your kippa. Wear your friend’s kippa. Borrow a kippa and wear it for our Jewish neighbors. Educate people that we are a diverse society,” he tweeted.
Steffen Seibert, a spokesperson for Merkel, backtracked on the statement on Monday, saying: “The state must see to it that the free exercise of religion is possible for all… and that anyone can go anywhere in our country in full security wearing a kippa."
Klein, meanwhile, has now said that all Germans wear “the kippa next Saturday if there are new, intolerable attacks targeting Israel and Jews on the occasion of al-Quds day in Berlin.”
The al-Quds day is an annual anti-Israel day that was created by the Iranian regime that protests against the state of Israel and its control of Jerusalem.
Germany, similar to the rest of Europe, has been suffering from an increasing number of anti-Semitic attacks and a rise in white supremacist, neo-Nazi groups.
Government data indicated that anti-Semitic crimes increased by 20 percent in Germany last year.
Fox News' Lukas Mikelionis and The Associated Press contributed to this report.