Geneva - We are seriously concerned by Deutsche Welle’s (DW) decision last Monday to scapegoat and fire five journalists of Arab origins following a two-month biased investigation into allegations of anti-semitism, Euro-Med Human right Monitor said in a statement today. We warn that such measures will only open the door wide to escalating what is tantamount to an anti-Arab purge in German media.
After what appears to be a racially motivated smear campaign against Arab journalists in German media last year, led by right wing media and individuals with links to the far-right, DW commissioned an independent external investigation in December into allegations against some DW Arabic Service employees, as well as freelancers abroad.
The investigation was co-authored by former Justice Minister, Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, a German politician of the center-right Free Democratic Party, and Ahmad Mansour, an Israeli-born psychologist with strong pro-Israel views, known for being one of Germany’s most prominent critics of Islam.
The investigation was concluded and presented last Monday and found no evidence of structural anti-semitism at DW. However, the report accused individual DW employees, partners and guests of making comments on their private social media accounts that allegedly amount to anti-semitism, Holocaust denial or Holocaust relativism. It subsequently called for clearer guidelines for staff and broadcasting partners, as well as stricter measures in training and recruitment.
After carefully reviewing the report, Euro-Med Monitor found several problems that challenge its findings, and concluded that the report’s framework, analysis, and recommendations contain multiple evidence of bias in favor of Israel and against the Palestinians.
The report relies on a flawed framework by taking the contested and controversial expanded IHRA definition as its starting point in the evaluation and assessment process. In recent years, the IHRA definition has fallen under criticism of being weaponized to quash pro-Palestinian speech and equate legitimate criticism of Israeli actions and policies with anti-semitism.
This problem can be manifestly seen in the report on DW. For example, the authors cite an article published in German on DW’s website on the “Palestinian Nakba” of 1948 as an instance of anti-semitism because the article says that the Nakba began on the eve of Israel’s founding. Using the IHRA definition, the report argues that merely pointing out how Israel’s founding caused the Palestinian Nakba is anti-Semitic, because it calls into question Israel’s right to exist. The report further criticizes the DW article for blaming Israeli settlements for the failure of the two-state solution and for referring to Palestinian factions as a “political struggle.” Instead, the report implies that DW should have blamed Arab countries for the displacement of Palestinians and should have blamed “terror by Fatah and Hamas” for the failure of the peace process in order to “live up to the standards of qualitative reporting.”
The report recommends that DW uses the expanded IHRA definition in its guidelines for employees and in “the formulation of tasks for the Arabic-speaking region.” It further recommends that adopting the IHRA definition should be “signed by all employees and partners of Deutsche Welle and thus recognized as legally binding.” This crucially ignores serious concerns raised by notable experts and academics that the IHRA definition is being weaponized to suppress freedom of speech, muzzle Palestinian and pro-Palestinian voices and falsely equate legitimate criticism of Israel with anti-semitism.
The investigation’s report further entails numerous Israeli talking points and makes the case for creating an even stronger pro-Israel bias in German media, as well as limiting the space for Palestinian and pro-Palestinian voices.
For example, the report criticizes DW for publishing multiple articles on the “Great March of Return” – the overwhelmingly non-violent Gazan protests against Israel’s blockade – for referring to them as “protests at the Gaza Strip-Israel border.” Here, the authors of the report present some thoroughly debunked Israeli talking points as basic facts, and falsely claim that the protests were “riots” that were “led by the terrorist organization that has authoritarian rule over the Gaza Strip.”
The report further criticizes DW’s Arabic branch as well as some of its partners for merely using the hashtag “Save Sheikh Jarrah” as “inappropriate” and “subjective Palestinian propaganda,” but considers it a “serious mistake” rather than an incident of anti-semitism.
Highlighting the grave injustice against the Palestinians of Sheikh Jarrah is then considered amongst other instances as presenting “a very one-sided” narrative in a “tendentious manner,” although the German government has itself expressed serious concern over Sheikh Jarrah and warned against Israeli evictions and demolitions.
“While the report criticizes DW as well as some of its employees and partners for alleged instances of one-sidedness, the report’s core recommendations and analysis basically aim to push DW towards embracing a one-sided pro-Israel narrative instead,” Ramy Abdu, chairman of Euro-Med Monitor said, “The authors want DW to embrace a narrative that sees Palestinain demands for freedom as riots led by terrorist groups; the plight of the Sheikh Jarrah as Palestinian propaganda, and the mere mention of Palestinian Nakba as anti-semitic questioning of Israel’s right to exist.”
Using the IHRA definition, the report drew conclusions that some DW employees, freelancers and guests hold anti-semitic views that necessitate their dismissal. This prompted DW to fire five employees even before the report was released and before those employees have had any chance to read or contest the report’s findings.
Amongst the employees dismissed by DW is Farah Maraqa, a journalist of Palestinian-Jordanian origins who has been subjectd to a smear campaign prior to the investigation. The accusations of antis-semitism against Maraqa that were published in the German newspaper Spiegel included claims that she called Israel a “cancer” and said she would “join ISIS” in a 2014 article.
Last December, Euro-Med Monitor debunked these accusations against Maraqa and provided an argument that her words have been purposefully misinterpreted and taken out of context.
The report on DW released last Monday excluded these accusations from its analysis, although they have been a strong part of the reason why this independent investigation was launched in the first place.
This indicates that it would have been possible to challenge most of the accusations in the report against other DW employees and partners, if they were given a fair chance to provide a thorough and detailed response, or if the composition of the independent investigation included experts on the Palestinian issue.
Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor cautions German media groups like DW against unfairly dismissing Arab journalists without giving them a fair chance to contest and challenge the report’s findings. We similarly warn DW against limiting pro-Palestinian speech and penalizing employees or partners for holding legitimate pro-Palestinian views and sympathies.