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January 24, 2023 10:46 am
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Alleging Antisemitic Bullying, Israeli Musician Resigns from Post With German Orchestra

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avatar by Ben Cohen

Israeli musician Ilia Jossifov giving a TV interview. Photo: Screenshot

In the latest scandal involving antisemitism to rock the German art world, a prominent Bulgarian-Israeli musician has resigned from his post as the orchestra director of the Hessian State Theater in the city of Wiesbaden, citing antisemitic bullying as the reason.

In his resignation letter issued on Sunday, Ilia Jossifov — a Bulgarian-born classical musician whose credits include performances with the Israeli Opera and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra — stated that he had been subjected to “systematic antisemitic belittling and months of harassment” by his colleague Holger von Berg, the theater’s managing director.

At issue was a poster that hung in von Berg’s office for several months showing a Nazi swastika alongside the likeness of Richard Wagner, the viscerally antisemitic nineteenth century German composer. The poster was commissioned for a 2017 lecture series examining the impact of Nazi antisemitism on German music following World War II.

Jossifov claimed that von Berg refused repeated appeals to remove the poster and that he had made antisemitic comments as well. “I and my family would never have thought that something like this would still be possible in Germany more than 70 years after the Holocaust,” he wrote in his resignation letter.

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Jossifov raised his concerns in a letter to Angela Dorn, the state minister for the arts and education. Accusing the minister of having failed to protect him, Jossifov and his agent Marcus Felsner also claimed they had not been given access to a private, unpublished report from an outside consultant that caused Dorn to opine that there was no evidence of antisemitic behavior on von Berg’s part, the news outlet Welt reported on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, von Berg’s lawyers have vigorously contested Jossifov’s charges. “Our client firmly rejects any allegations of antisemitism or support for National Socialism,” his representatives declared in August. At the same time, they emphasized that von Berg “would like to sincerely apologize to anyone who felt hurt by the posters,” acknowledging as well that the meaning of the poster was not entirely clear.

The “swastika scandal” — as the incident has been dubbed in the German press —  comes a few months after a slew of controversies at the Documenta festival of contemporary art, where several antisemitic works were displayed.

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