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October 6, 2021 11:37 am
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Hundreds Demonstrate Outside Leipzig Hotel in Solidarity With German Jewish Singer Told to ‘Pack’ His Star of David

avatar by Ben Cohen

Demonstrators gather outside the Westin Hotel in Leipzig with a banner reading, “Against Any Antisemitism.” Separately, hotel employees can be seen in the background holding a banner that was sharply criticized by Jewish community leaders. Photo: Reuters/Dirk Knofe/dpa

Hundreds of protestors gathered outside the Westin Hotel in the German city of Leipzig on Tuesday night for a spontaneous rally against antisemitism.

Organizers estimated that around 600 people turned up to demonstrate solidarity with Gil Ofarim, a popular German-Jewish songwriter who alleged that he was turned away from the hotel as he tried to check in on Monday night because he was visibly wearing a Star of David pendant on a chain around his neck.

The protestors, some of whom wrapped themselves in Israeli flags, gathered behind a banner declaring, “Against Any Antisemitism!”

In the immediate aftermath of the incident, Ofarim posted a video on Instagram in which he explained that he had been waiting in a long line at the hotel because computers at the check-in counter were down.

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“I was standing in the queue wearing my necklace which is my right and which I have worn all my life,” he said, holding up his Star of David pendant.

The singer observed that guests in the same line were moved up in front of him to check-in and he didn’t understand why. After nearly an hour, he finally got to the counter and asked the reception clerk why he was left waiting while other guests were repeatedly brought forward.

The clerk answered “to straighten the queue,” Ofarim said.

“I was also standing in line,” the musician countered.

“Then out of a corner someone says ‘pack up your star’ [referencing the Star of David pendant]. Next, the reception clerk says ‘pack up your star and then you can check-in,’” Ofarim recalled.

The two hotel employees at the center of the allegations have been placed on leave while the Marriott group, which owns the global Westin hotel chain, conducts an internal investigation. One of the employees is reported to have filed a complaint with local police for defamation and receipt of threats after he gave a “very different” account of the encounter with Ofarim, according to the Leipzig police.

Both the police and the public prosecutors’ office have opened investigations into the incident. “Now we have to wait and see what the investigations reveal and what actually happened,” Olaf Hoppe, a spokesman for the Leipzig police, said.

Ofarim has not received an apology from the hotel, however. “My management only received an email that they would like to exchange ideas, talk to others,” he said on Tuesday. “But I haven’t received an evaluation of this case, nor have I received an apology, nothing at all!”

A spokesperson for the hotel told news agency dpa that the hotel was deeply concerned and was taking the case “extremely seriously.”

On Tuesday afternoon, hotel staff lined up outside the building displaying a banner composed of Israeli flags and Islamic crescents with the hotel’s name in the center — a gesture that drew an outraged response from the Jewish community.

“What is this banner, Westin?” tweeted the Central Council of German Jews. “An appropriate response looks different!”

The council’s head, Josef Schuster, remarked that the banner proved “there is little awareness at the Westin Grand in Leipzig that Jews are part of German society.” He declared himself “more than irritated” that Ofarim was still to receive an apology.

The German federal government’s top official tasked with combating antisemitism said that the incident at the Westin demonstrated the need for ordinary Germans “to pay more attention to Jewish life and show solidarity in everyday life.”

Referring to the solidarity rally outside the hotel, antisemitism commissioner Felix Klein said he was “very pleased” that many people had attended with little notice. He added: “I am appalled that a person is discriminated against and attacked in an antisemitic fashion in public in a busy hotel lobby.”

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