“C-celebrity” in the dock: why Ofarim’s trial fascinates the masses

From the paper’s point of view, it’s all about little things. Defamation and false suspicion: German district courts often hear such accusations silently and without publicity. Not even local newspapers are interested in these types of negotiations, in which the perpetrators usually get away with a fine. Just peanuts.

Things are different with Gil Ofarim. All of Germany is discussing the criminal case. In the living rooms, at the communal tables, in the offices, on the street: the Jewish musician is currently a topic everywhere. All media are reporting on the ongoing proceedings against the 41-year-old man at the Leipzig regional court. On FOCUS online alone, more than 1.5 million users follow the ticker live from room 115 every day.

But why is it like this? Where does the enormous public interest in the history of legal crime come from, which since the afternoon of October 4, 2021 has aroused emotions such as spectacular cases of murder or kidnapping? FOCUS chief online reporter Göran Schattauer, who worked intensively on the case and experienced Ofarim at trial, gives five reasons:

1) The celebrity factor

Gil Ofarim certainly does not belong in the upper ranks of “prominent Germans.” He would be more in the “celebrity C” category. The musician has a solid circle of fans, gives concerts and sells CDs. He was also a guest on TV formats such as “Let’s Dance” and “The Masked Singer.”

But until the “Star of David scandal” that he himself started, most Germans could do nothing about the man from Munich. In the tabloid press and in cultural circles there were Son of the well-known Israeli singer Abi Ofarim (1937 – 2018), he always had a place somewhere and was classified as a “VIP”, a “very important person”. In this sense, he can be described as a “star” in a broader sense.

Stories of fallen stars always captivate people. Whether it is alcohol, drugs, accidents due to personal mishaps, escapades at red lights or all types of violations of the law, the public supports celebrities. One part follows the decline with a certain satisfaction, even malice (“He deserves it”), the other part hopes that the star will emerge successfully.

If celebrities also have to answer in court – think of Boris Becker, Uli Hoeneß or Alfons Schuhbeck – readers, viewers and listeners can’t get enough. Every new detail is gratefully absorbed according to the motto: “Oh look, I wouldn’t have thought it possible…”

The same goes for Gil Ofarim.

2) The turbo of social networks

The Gil Ofarim case would hardly be conceivable without the power of social networks. If the musician had not posted the momentous video on the Internet and made it accessible to millions of people, it is most likely that the matter would never have reached such a high level.

If there really had been an anti-Semitic insult at the Westin hotel, as Ofarim claims, it could have been cleared up in the usual way, through criminal investigations and some kind of judicial decision. Even then, the public might have found out about the incident sooner or later. But everyone involved would have been spared a costly and complex criminal trial with much fanfare.

With his Instagram video, Ofarim set a ball rolling that could no longer be stopped. Shit storm, counter shit storm, pity, indignation, horror, anger, hatred, doubts about Ofarim’s performance, ridicule, hostility towards the hotel and the musician himself: a real war of words broke out on the Internet. Opinions and feelings clashed, discussions intensified and continue to this day, more than two years after the incident.

It was only when Gil Ofarim let the genie out of the bottle that the matter gained media traction. The debate on social networks moved to the news, focused on politics and suddenly became the topic of talk shows. Now everyone is watching the event of the year in Leipzig.

3) The enormous drop height

Gil Ofarim has repeatedly reported on his experiences with anti-Semitism. “I was often insulted and insulted because of my Jewish roots,” he once said in an interview. “Every time I post something on my social channels I get insults.”

In this context, it initially seemed entirely plausible that the singer would again be the subject of an unbearable verbal attack on October 4, 2021. The solidarity with him was equally great. During these hours, Gil Ofarim had the status of an aggressor, a victim worthy of protection.

From this pedestal, Ofarim fell uncontrollably, directly into the dock in a German regional court. It couldn’t be worse.

Investigations by the Leipzig prosecutor’s office raise the suspicion that a semi-prominent German Jew could have invented an anti-Semitic attack against himself out of purely private interests. That sounds at least as scandalous as Ofarim’s accusation.

The course of the process with numerous hearings of witnesses and the evaluation by a digital expert currently goes against Ofarim’s version.

Whatever the legal outcome, there are only losers. Even if Gil Ofarim is eventually acquitted because his guilt cannot be proven beyond a doubt, he will likely face difficult times.

The former “star” has to take into account that his public reputation will be greatly affected, that his economic success as an artist is in danger and that his name will be forever associated with this shameful criminal case. It can already be said: Gil Ofarim is an extremely polarizing figure.

4) The big guesses

Shortly after the incident, photographs of the hotel began circulating on the Internet. Surveillance camera footage showed Ofarim after his arrival at the Westin. A kind of search game immediately began for many: Where is the necklace with the Star of David that the musician claimed to be wearing? The chain about which a hotel employee is reported to have said, “Pack your star!”

No chain could be seen with the naked eye. The theory that later circulated that Ofarim might not have worn the necklace over his shirt, but rather under him, further fueled the discussions. Whether with family, colleagues or friends, there was and continues to be speculation everywhere about what it could really have been like.

Ofarim’s own descriptions, the hotel video, and tentative statements made by those involved provided material for speculation and interpretation. Everyone can have an opinion, everyone has an opinion. Since the most important evidence in the criminal case was made public from the beginning, anyone could work as an amateur detective.

And in almost every conversation about the Ofarim case the question arises: Does a German regional court really have to deal with it? Aren’t the enormous costs of such a procedure (numerous lawyers, experts, many witnesses, some of whom travel from abroad) wildly disproportionate to the crime that is supposed to be solved here? So there is a lot to discuss.

5) The role of victim-aggressor

In the first phase of the criminal process, Gil Ofarim assumed a very clear role: that of victim. Generally, a victim is considered to be any person who has been physically or psychologically harmed, directly or indirectly, by a crime or other act. Anyone who uncritically followed Ofarim’s descriptions in his Instagram video had to assume that something bad, something deeply despicable, had just happened to the singer.

Gil Ofarim gave the impression of having been the victim of an anti-Semitic attack and the vast majority believed him. The highest political representatives and sectors of the so-called “civil society” quickly sided with the musician, without questioning his presentation or listening to the other party, the hotel employees. In doing so, they deliberately solidified Ofarim’s victim status.

In any case, Ofarim was always just a suspicious victim. Just as he is now an alleged perpetrator. Because neither one nor the other version has yet been proven.

The fact is that the Leipzig prosecutor’s office is convinced that the “victim” label that Ofarim gave himself was a farce, a lie. From prosecutors’ perspective, Ofarim committed a crime. It is said that he hurt another person.

The other person in this case would be the director of the Westin hotel in Leipzig. Is he the real victim? And Ofarim, the Jewish musician, the perpetrator?

The very idea that it could have been like that upsets many people. Philipp Peyman Engel of the “Jüdische Allgemeine” spoke on the “Stern TV” program in October 2021 of a “catastrophe for the fight against anti-Semitism.” He feared that in the event of “new anti-Semitic incidents, the following would always resonate: maybe the truth was manipulated or maybe someone made something up.”

In this sense, the Gil Ofarim case is highly political, especially at a time when anti-Semitism and hatred of Israel are increasingly evident. So it is not surprising that all eyes are on this 41-year-old man, who would like to be a victim, but perhaps is not.

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