King David Hotel Manager Explains After Jewish Ensemble Asked to Remove Kippot So As Not to Offend Arab Audience
The general manager of Jerusalem’s King David Hotel ripped into the Hebrew press on Sunday for what he said was its distorted coverage of an “unfortunate” incident that occurred this weekend at the illustrious Israeli establishment.
“It saddens me to no end that everybody in this country, which I have devoted my life to serving, is out for blood,” Haim Shkedi told The Algemeiner.
This was in response to a query about an Army Radio report earlier in the day accusing Shkedi of banning all outward signs of Jewish observance among members of an ensemble that had been hired to perform at an event held for the Arab staff of the hotel.
According to Army Radio, knowing the audience would be predominantly Arab, Ensemble Inbalim prepared pieces by Arab composers, such as Umm Kulthum and Farid al-Atrash, whose music they thought the crowd would appreciate.
Half an hour before they went on stage, however, their manager, Noam Cohen, allegedly received a request from the hotel’s event organizer that the two members of the ensemble wearing skullcaps should remove them, so as not to “offend the sensibilities” of the audience. Cohen reportedly said he would not ask the players to remove their kippot, but came up with a compromise: the whole band, those with kippot and those without, would wear caps.
This did not suffice, according to the report, as halfway through the concert, Cohen received another directive from the hotel – that the tzitziot (traditional fringe worn by Orthodox Jewish men) of one of the players should be hidden inside his pants. At the end of the performance, Cohen confronted King David Hotel General Manager Haim Shkedi and recorded their conversation.
“I’m not ashamed of what I said, because it’s the truth,” Shkedi is heard defending himself on the recording. “At an event for Arabs, this is what you do? You do it on purpose [to shove it in their faces]?”
Cohen replied that the ensemble was not trying to offend anyone; that it plays for all kinds of audiences; and that if the situation had been reversed, he can’t imagine any Arab performers being told to remove signs of their religion.
Shkedi told The Algemeiner that the person who recorded the conversation failed to provide the whole story.
“Since we always hold toasts for our staff in honor of Jewish holidays, we thought it would be only fitting to do the same for our Muslim employees ahead of Ramadan,” Shkedi explained. “I am never directly involved in the technicalities of such events, but I gave a few instructions to the organizers. I told them the menu should consist of traditional Arab food, that there should be no alcohol and that there should be an Arab band performing.”
According to Shkedi, he had had no idea that a Jewish ensemble was hired instead, until he came down from his office and saw them.
“They were wonderful,” he said. “But then I was told by one of our organizers that she was hearing complaints from members of the audience about the kippot. When the ensemble’s manager came up with the compromise that they would wear caps, I thought that was a great idea. I also thought it was the end of the story. So I returned to my office upstairs. Later, the ensemble manager came to me, hurling all kinds of accusations. I tried to explain to him that we wanted to make the workers feel comfortable and appreciated, which is why I wanted an Arabic band to begin with.”
Shkedi told The Algemeiner that he then went to the ensemble and personally apologized to them. “None of this was their fault,” he said. “It was our mistake for hiring them, even though they played beautifully. I wish the ensemble manager had bothered to get that part on tape. It hurts me to the core, on behalf of my children and grandchildren, that everyone is out to make others look bad. The idea that I or the King David Hotel would discriminate against Jews is utterly preposterous.”
The King David is Israel’s most renowned hotel, where heads of state and other dignitaries from all over the world have stayed. It was opened in 1931, well before the establishment of the state. Its food is strictly kosher, as it hosts many Orthodox guests.