BERLIN (JTA) — He was celebrated on the left as a prominent Jewish critic of Israel. But the German journalist and teacher Fabian Wolff has revealed that he is not Jewish after all, sparking criticism of the way he framed his political positions.
In a personal essay published on Sunday in Zeit Online, Wolff said that he had not known the truth himself until recently. He had written columns for the Juedische Allgemeine, Germany’s leading Jewish newspaper, for years.
Wolff, 33, explained in the essay titled “My Life as a Son” that his mother had once hinted that her maternal great-grandmother had been an Orthodox Jew. Based on this story, Wolff had embraced a Jewish identity and even underwent a circumcision, he wrote. But his mother, who died in 2017, had been mistaken.
“I will not speak from the position of a Jew in Germany, because I cannot and I am not,” he wrote.
Wolff has been known for his support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel and his rejection of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism, which includes some forms of Israel criticism. He had, critics say, used his supposed Jewish identity as a shield against backlash from Jewish community organizations.
A few years ago, after Wolff signed an open letter in support of a German-Palestinian journalist, he learned that someone had warned other signatories and members of the Jewish community that he was not Jewish, “based on private information,“ Wolff wrote. He said he took a step back from expressing his Jewish identity publicly and stopped taking writing assignments “if I had the feeling I was being asked first and foremost as a Jew.“
A long search through many archives led him to the conclusion that there was no truth to his mother’s story about having Jewish roots.
“In journalistic circles, the question was not when Fabian Wolff’s costume Judaism would be exposed, but only who would make it public first,” wrote journalist Philipp Peyman Engel of the Juedische Allgemeine. “Because in September 2021, some journalists in Berlin received detailed research into the extent to which Wolff’s Jewish biography was made up from start to finish.”
The episode spurred debate online about Wolff’s political stances. The fact that Wolff is not Jewish “does not change anything about his justified and important criticism of Germany and Israel,” wrote one Facebook friend. Another answered: But “the man lied, faked a family history and made a career with it.”
In 2019, a German historian and blogger named Marie Sophie Hingst died by suicide after it was revealed that she had falsely claimed to be descended from Holocaust survivors.