German public broadcaster fires journalists over antisemitism

German public broadcaster dismisses journalists following report into antisemitism scandal involving Arab media partners.

By Ben Cohen, The Algemeiner

An independent investigation into antisemitism at Deutsche Welle (DW), Germany’s state-funded national broadcaster, has resulted in the termination of five employees along with further probes of another eight members of staff.

The investigation was commissioned at the beginning of December, after exposes in the Suddeutsche Zeitung news outlet 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 immediate aftermath of the scandal, DW suspended five of its journalists and was forced to break partnership agreements with broadcasters in the Arab world, among them Roya TV in Jordan and Al Jadeed TV in Lebanon.

The investigation team — composed of Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, a former federal justice minister, and Beatrice Mansour and Ahmad Mansour, psychologists who have worked extensively on antisemitism in the Muslim community — stated that while there was no “structural antisemitism” in DW’s Arabic department, several omissions and errors had been noted in recruiting, in journalistic research and in the selection of guests for programs.

For example, one Turkish contributor to the channel, Hamza Tekin, continued to be invited on air even after he refused to take part in a live discussion with an Israeli journalist, Shlomo Ganor. The report also recommended that DW end ties with the Palestinian Ma’an news agency and the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation (PBC).

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The suspension of five employees for antisemitic comments on social media had been “justified,” the investigators said. Among the posts they examined was one from Bassel Aridi, who was appointed as DW’s bureau chief in Beirut in 2019.

“Anyone who has anything to do with the Israelis is a collaborator and every recruit in the ranks of their army is a traitor and must be executed,” Aridi tweeted on June 1, 2014, in a post that was later deleted.

On Monday, DW’s senior management announced the publication of a 10-point action plan to combat antisemitism internally.

The measures include adopting a definition of antisemitism that 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.

Not ‘an operational accident, but a systemic failure’

Peter Limbourg, DW’s director, told journalists on Monday that the five staff members who were suspended were now being formally terminated. Another eight employees were having the allegations against them “investigated thoroughly” in order to “avert further damage to DW.”

Limbourg said that he and his colleagues at DW were “sincerely sorry” for the scandal.

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“The mere suspicion that there is antisemitism in a German taxpayer-financed institution must be unbearable for Jews in this country and worldwide,” Limbourg said. “We have to make our position much clearer in the future. Freedom of expression is never a justification for antisemitism, hatred of Israel and denial of the Holocaust.”

However, the report was criticized by one prominent human rights activist for pulling its punches on the degree of antisemitism at DW.

Calling the five terminated employees “sacrificial pawns,” Volker Beck — a former member of parliament for the Green Party who now co-chairs Germany’s Tikvah Institute for combating antisemitism — said that DW had failed to recognize that what occurred was not “an operational accident, but a systemic failure.”

Meanwhile, one of the terminated journalists complained on Twitter that DW had failed to provide her with a justification for her firing.

“I just have been notified without further explanations that I will receive a notice of termination from Deutsche Welle with immediate effect,” Farah Maraqa tweeted. “I have not yet been informed about the reasons, nor been handed out the report on which these allegations shall be based!”

One of Maraqa’s social media posts examined by the investigating team had described Israel as a “cancer that needs to be cut out.”