Germany: Jewish musician’s claims of anti-Semitism fall apart after surveillance video surfaces, but not before national outcry

By Lucie Ctverakova
6 Min Read

A famed Israeli musician, Gil Ofarim, is being accused of lying about an alleged anti-Semitic incident inside the Leipzig Hotel Westin after video footage and other evidence led police to doubt his claims, but not before the case after sparked national headlines in Germany.

According to the singer Ofarim, who was born in Israel but found success as a musician in Germany, an employee at the check-in counter asked him to remove his Star of David chain from sight if he wanted to be checked in. Ofarim made the claim in an emotional Instagram video entitled “Antisemitism in Germany 2021” where he ended his story by holding up the necklace chain in question. The viral video sparked protests involving thousands of people in front of the hotel and the claims were spread widely by anti-Semitism watchdogs.

The two employees, who said the incident did not occur as the singer described it, were suspended by the hotel. The main one in question who Ofarim claimed told him to remove the necklace has filed a defamation claim.

Ofarim said the defamation claim was not true, and that the incident happened “exactly like how I described it in the video.” He also told Spiegel Online: “I find it shameful and sad that I still have to justify and explain myself after such an incident.”

In an interview with Funke media group, the German government’s commissioner for Jewish life and the fight against antisemitism, Felix Klein, said he offered his “sympathy and solidarity” to Ofarim and slammed anti-Semitism in the country.

The president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Josef Schuster, condemned the “anti-Semitic hostility against Gil Ofarim” and called it “terrifying.”

Video footage contradicts Ofarim

After Ofarim’s claims, video footage obtained by Bild newspaper is calling into question Ofarim’s version of events, leading the case to take an abrupt turn.

Bild published two videos from surveillance cameras that showed Ofarim entering the hotel and then heading to the check-in counter. However, he is not wearing any Star of David chain the in the video. Bild also reported that while providing a statement to police, Ofarim stated that he did not remember whether he was wearing the Star of David chain at the time of the incident despite his claims on his Instagram video.

Ofarim has backtracked and now claims that one of the individuals noticed him and told him to put away the chain because he often wears one on television. According to Die Zeit, there is also allegedly sound recordings as a part of the video, but they have not been released due to privacy reasons. Investigators have apparently secured a number of different security camera angles in addition to the two released by Bild.

As Ofarim’s story fell apart, social media users have reacted harshly.

“The musician Gil Ofarim (criminal record for assault) apparently just made up the whole story about an anti-Semitic expulsion because of his Star of David. A surveillance video shows that he wasn’t wearing it at all in the hotel,” wrote one user.

In addition, the hotel hired an independent law firm to conduct an internal investigation of the case. According to Bild, the law firm compiled a 118-page report, with the hotel releasing a statement on Wednesday: “The lawyers have reconstructed what happened in the hotel lobby and, taking into account all available evidence, came to the conclusion that there are no objectifiable indications that would justify criminal or labor law measures against the accused employee.”

The employee has been fully cleared in the case, according to the hotel. The law firm commissioned for the report has now identified and interviewed several guests who were at the check-in counter in the hotel lobby at the time of the incident. In addition, the accused employee was interviewed along with other employees at the reception guest, along with a number of guests who were in the area.

Although the employee’s suspension has been dropped, the hotel says that he cannot be reinstated yet due to a number of threats he has received.

Past hoaxes haunt Germany

In a commentary piece on Germany’s Junge Freiheit, the case is being presented as a clear example of previous hate hoaxes that have plagued Germany in the past. Like many other cases later identified as false or misleading, the Ofarim anti-Semtiism claim was widely reported in world media outlets, including the Guardian and CNN.

Junge Freiheit pointed to the Sebnitz case where a mob of skinheads supposedly drowned a toddler only for it to turn into one of the biggest debacles in Germany’s modern history. There is also the case of Mittweide, where nobody actually ended up having a swastika carved on her forehead (police later proved she did it herself). In Müglen, foreigners were not hunted on the streets, and in Chemnitz, the same accusation that sparked a nationwide outcry has never been proven. And in Dresden, an Eritrean asylum seeker was not murdered by right-wing extremists from the Pegida movement, but killed by a fellow Eritrean.

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