‘This Wasn’t Legitimate Criticism of Israel,’ Says Psychologist Who Led Antisemitism Probe at German Broadcaster’s Arabic Service
by Ben Cohen
The Israeli-Arab psychologist who jointly led an investigation into claims of antisemitism at the Arabic language service of Deutsche Welle (DW), Germany’s state-funded national broadcaster, has firmly rejected the assertion that his probe will result in the censorship of pro-Palestinian viewpoints going forward.
“The statements we have criticized are not legitimate criticism of Israel,” Ahmad Mansour told the Suddeutsche Zeitung news outlet in an extensive interview on Thursday. “It’s far too easy to assume the role of a victim now.”
The investigation, which Mansour led alongside Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, a former federal justice minister, was commissioned at the beginning of December, after exposes in the Suddeutsche Zeitung and the German-language version of Vice revealed that several employees of DW’s Arabic department had made antisemitic remarks, had affiliations with antisemitic organizations or had posted crudely anti-Jewish messages on social media. In the investigation’s immediate aftermath, five employees of DW’s Arabic service were fired, with disciplinary proceedings currently in motion against a further eight.
DW has also adopted a 10-point action plan to combat antisemitism internally. The measures include adopting a definition of antisemitism which incorporates both the denial of Israel’s right to exist and the trivialization of the Holocaust, a code of conduct that will clearly identify “red lines” for employees, and the creation of a “competence team” to ensure that core values like the right of Israel to exist as a sovereign state are respected.
Mansour said that social media chatter about the “muzzling” of pro-Palestinian voices following the investigation was a clumsy attempt to turn concerns about antisemitism into a freedom of speech issue.
“I would like to see a discussion begin now about where criticism of Israel ends and antisemitism begins; the Arab world urgently needs this debate,” Mansour said. “Of course there is legitimate criticism of Israel’s policies — and it is necessary, I say that as an Israeli. But what the SZ published, and what we found in addition, was partly classic antisemitism, partly glorification of violence.”
Continued Mansour: “If someone writes that they want to support ISIS if it were to point its weapons at Jerusalem — where, please, is criticism of Israel here?”
One of the journalists investigated by Mansour, Farah Maraqa, had written an article for an Arabic newspaper, Rai Alyoum, saying that she would support the Islamist terrorists of ISIS if the group attacked Israel. “I would announce that if the Islamic State were to fight for liberation in Palestine, I would revise my judgment about the group, its men and its financiers,” she wrote. “And if they throw the Israelis out of the Holy Land, then I will join their ranks.” In another article, Maraqa described Israel as a “cancer to be cut out.”
Following her dismissal from DW, Maraqa on Wednesday complained on Twitter that despite her dismissal, she had “not yet been informed about the reasons, nor been handed the report on which these allegations are based!”
Interviewed alongside Mansour, former justice minister Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said that while the report had concluded there was no “structural antisemitism” at DW’s Arabic service, there was an atmosphere allowing the prejudice to fester.
“When we now looked at the issue of antisemitism, we sensed the rifts within the editorial team,” she remarked. “Due to time constraints, we were only able to talk to some of the employees, but some of them refused, partly on the grounds that they were afraid because they didn’t know where their comments would end up.”
Mansour said the assertion made by some observers in Germany that the fired employees were “sacrificial pawns” was “unfair.”
“DW must be given the chance to change something now,” he said. “The Central Council of Jews in Germany has suggested taking another look at the station in three months. I think that makes more sense than passing judgment on the day the investigative report is published.”
Mansour, who has worked extensively on combating antisemitism within the Muslim community, also addressed the charge that he had “betrayed his Palestinian roots” by participating in the investigation.
“I have seen even more extreme accusations,” he responded. “I am not a Zionist, I am a Palestinian, an Israeli citizen and a German. A Jewish state has the right to exist. I do not always agree with its policies. But one has to talk about terror, antisemitism and the rejection of Israel’s right to exist.”