Man in video with swastika tattoo is not IDF chief of staff

16 November 2023
What was claimed

The Israel Defence Force’s chief of staff, Herzi Halevi, has been captured and a video shows he has a tattoo of a swastika.

Our verdict

The man with the swastika tattoo is not Herzi Halevi. There is no evidence he has been captured.

Warning: some of the posts linked to in this article may contain upsetting content.

Posts on social media have falsely claimed Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) chief of staff, Herzi Halevi, has been captured and shown to have a swastika tattoo. Others claim he has been captured and show a photo of a man in handcuffs and another of a bloodied man being led away by soldiers.

Some of the posts call him “Yair Shalam” and say he was “the commander of the attack on Al Bareej camp in Gaza” and “fell into the grip of the Palestinian resistance”.

One TikTok video with over 17,000 views makes the same claims.

The photo in all the posts of a man in army uniform, featuring the Israeli flag and a red beret under his epaulette, really is the Israeli military’s chief of staff, but other images in the posts are not. 

Several Israeli news outlets published the image of Lt Gen Halevi on 23 October. Channel 14 news reported that it showed Mr Halevi and defence minister Yoav Gallant “assessing the situation with senior officials” (as translated from Hebrew by Google). Other photos of Lt Gen Halevi show it is clearly him circled in red in the image being shared online.

However, the video and stills of a shirtless man with a swastika tattoo do not show Lt Gen Halevi. A longer version, in which a soldier hits the man several times, has been circulating online since at least February 2023 with claims it showed a Russian soldier and a Ukrainian prisoner of war. We have not been able to verify who is in the video, but Lt Gen Halevi has made many public appearances since February and does not have tattoos on his hand, as the man in the video does.

The picture of the blonde man in handcuffs featured in some of the posts is not Mr Halevi either, but Viktor Medvedchuk, a Ukrainian politician with close ties to Russian president Vladimir Putin. 

The Ukrainian security service announced they had arrested him in April 2022 and released this picture of him in a Ukrainian military uniform. He was returned to Russia that September as part of a prisoner swap and in January 2023, President Zelenskyy of Ukraine reportedly stripped him of his Ukrainian citizenship.

And the screenshot of a bloodied man being led away by soldiers is also not Lt Gen Halevi. While we’ve not been able to find the original source, it has been online since at least 2014.

There are no reports that Lt Gen Halevi has been captured. An IDF spokesperson told Full Fact the claim he had been captured was “obviously false”.

We’ve fact checked many photos and videos that claim to show the Israel Gaza conflict but were actually taken at other times or places, including Syria, Ukraine and Sudan. Mistaken identity is another common theme, with one video claiming to show a Croatian mayor slapping a Hamas supporter, but is actually a twenty-year-old viral video from Germany of a former boxer and a passerby who interrupted an interview he was doing.

It's important to consider whether a post shows what it claims before sharing it online. We have tips on how to do this in our guides on how to spot misleading images and how to fact check misleading videos

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