Did German State-Owned Broadcaster Ignore Antisemitism Among Palestinian Journalists?
German state-owned broadcaster Deutsche Welle (DW) is one of the largest media outlets in the world. Its journalistic output is published in 32 languages, and the company claims that its content was consumed by a record-breaking 289 million people a week in 2021.
On February 7, DW was thrust into the headlines when it announced it had sacked five journalists, who were all of either Palestinian or Lebanese descent, following an external investigation
A further two staff members — both of them German-Palestinian — were later dismissed as a result of the same probe.
The independent probe, which was led by German Justice Minister Sabine Leuthauser Schanberger and Arab-Israeli psychologist Ahmad Mansour, centered around a number of social media posts made by the former employees.
One such post, a Facebook comment in July 2014 by then DW Arab service journalist Zahi Alawi, read: “What the terrorist state of Israel is doing to the Palestinians is a repeated Holocaust.”
Alawi’s ex-colleague, senior content television producer Farah Maraqa, reportedly told her social media followers she would consider “join[ing] ISIS if it was to fight for the liberation of Palestine,” and likened Israel to a “cancer.” She also claimed that “Jews have always put poison in history,” and expressed a desire to “personally kiss the feet” of Hezbollah terrorists who had murdered three Israeli soldiers.
Incomprehensibly, Maraqa has since suggested that her words were taken out of context, in a lengthy defense published as part of a nine-part essay series entitled, “Chronicles of a new ‘Anti-Semitism Scandal.’”
Maram Salam, who grew up in the West Bank and was among the first raft of sackings by DW, also criticized her former employer, saying she is simply “someone who believes in freedom of speech,” while adding that she struggles to differentiate between things that are antisemitic and those that are not.
“You don’t know where the line stops at antisemitism — it was extremely hazy,” Salam said. “During the escalation of events in Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip last May, I was told that I couldn’t write ‘Israel kills children,’ as that was antisemitic. Writing about Israeli rights violations, you also get accused of antisemitism,” she charged.
The investigation into the broadcaster’s Arab service was first publicized by DW in late November, following an exposé by German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, while a second press release published online on December 3 revealed that the journalists had been suspended.
Announcing the outcome of the inquiry this month, DW said no evidence of “structural antisemitism” within its newsrooms had been found, but did recommend that “measures in training and recruitment” should be undertaken to avoid similar incidents in the future.
The statement continued:
The experts determined, however, that the comments by five DW employees clearly amounted to antisemitism, Holocaust denial or Holocaust relativism, as well as statements that denied Israel’s right to exist. The previous suspension of these five employees was ‘justified.’ […]
Cases of potential concern — involving an additional eight DW employees — were also flagged by the expert team.
The experts said that while the editorial work done by DW’s Arabic department was found to not be antisemitic, the individual cases uncovered could damage DW’s reputation.
DW’s Director General Peter Limbourg also praised Sabine Leuthauser and Ahmad Mansour for “bringing a prompt resolution to what has been a difficult time for DW,” and issued an apology:
The management and I are truly sorry. The mere suspicion of antisemitism in a German, tax-funded institution must be intolerable for Jewish people in this country and around the world.
Yet, a key point that has yet to be addressed by the broadcaster is how long it was aware of allegations of antisemitism by some of its employees.
According to the German-language SZ article published last year, DW was notified of at least one instance of Jew-hatred by an employee four years ago, but did not take any action against him.
Referring to the incident involving an editor named only as Morhaf M. — this, owing to Germany’s strict privacy laws — and apparently referring to fired journalist Morhaf Mahmoud, the publication claims that in a Facebook post from July 2017, he boasted about how he cut off a conversation he was having with a woman in a cafe after he discovered she was Jewish. He reportedly told the woman, “we have a lot against you” and described her as “sneaky” for not immediately revealing her religious identity to him.
In another comment posted just three weeks later, Morhaf M. allegedly paid tribute to a German Holocaust denier who had died and described the genocide of six million Jews by the Nazis as an “artificial product.”
It is alleged that the cafe post was drawn to DW’s attention at some point in 2017, and an employee appraisal was held, although Morhaf M. alleges the first time he was spoken to about this subject by his employers was in 2020.
SZ further reports that even after Morhaf M.’s meeting with DW bosses, he continued making bigoted and inflammatory statements about Jews online, including invoking Nazi tropes by claiming Jews “control the brains of the people through art, media and music.”
Another disturbing case was that of a Deutsche Welle instructor in the broadcaster’s training academy in Beirut, who was tasked with teaching would-be young journalists. According to SZ, the tutor named as Da’oud I., who is said to have gone through a “multi-stage assessment and then a training course lasting several months” before joining the academy, tweeted “The Holocaust is a lie” followed by the hashtag “FreedomOfSpeech.”
When quizzed about this, DW spokesman Christoph Jumpelt is said to have claimed the academy is entirely independent of DW’s editorial team.
Yet, DW later backtracked and admitted that Da’oud I. is actually the brother of a deputy department head at DW Arabia, who, incidentally, while in the employment of DW in Berlin, moonlighted as a writer for a newspaper that is aligned with the terrorist group Hezbollah. SZ reports that DW was aware of his part-time job.
DW has fired a handful of journalists who spread vicious antisemitism and hatred of Israel — which was undoubtedly the right thing to do. However, the broadcaster has outstanding questions to answer, namely, whether it ignored or swept under the rug similar allegations over the years.