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The not-quite-red line of Deutsche Welle

Deutsche Welle is actually supposed to make Germany and its liberal values ​​understandable to the world public.

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The not-quite-red line of Deutsche Welle

Deutsche Welle is actually supposed to make Germany and its liberal values ​​understandable to the world public. That's what the Deutsche Welle law says. But on February 7 of this year, the foreign broadcaster's self-image was in tatters.

An external commission of experts has just published a report that documents serious cases of anti-Semitism within the Arabic department of Deutsche Welle.

The 56-page document logs statements made by several employees on private social media channels and other media. They deny Israel's right to exist and reproduce anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. Among them are sentences like: “Hitler did not want to destroy Germany like the Jews did with Russia. The Bolshevik revolution was Jewish.”

The investigative report also criticizes the fact that Deutsche Welle, which receives almost 400 million euros in taxpayers' money every year, has entered into partnerships with broadcasters in the Middle East that broadcast anti-Semitic content in their programming.

Naser Shrouf, head of the Arabic editorial team, made a video call to his staff immediately after the report was published - and announced his resignation. "It's time to make a cut," Shrouf said, according to attendees at the internal meeting. "This editorial office needs a fresh start."

Six months later, the atmosphere in the station's Arabic editorial department is still tense. In fact, everything should be different. The Broadcasting Council called for a "red line against anti-Semitism and hatred of Israel". Seven employees were laid off. But there are increasing indications that the announced new beginning is rather sluggish.

An internal handout from May, which is available to WELT, is symbolic of this. The paper aims to define guidelines for "dealing with anti-Semitism and criticism of Israel in the work of DW Akademie". The Deutsche Welle Academy describes itself as "the center of Deutsche Welle for international media development, journalistic training and further education and knowledge transfer".

The academy operates in 60 developing and emerging countries to support the media and journalists in their development. It is financed by funds from the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development and the Federal Foreign Office - in 2021 with around 35 million euros.

The external investigative commission found that partners of the DW-Akademie in the Palestinian territories and Lebanon had "repeatedly disseminated anti-Semitic or one-sidedly tendentious content" in the past, including posts that could be understood as calls for violence against Israel.

The handout that was presented to the Broadcasting Council in June is actually intended to prevent this in the future. But the formulations are vague - and leave room for new cooperation with partners who reject the State of Israel.

Cooperation is therefore ruled out if one partner propagates the destruction of the State of Israel. On the other hand, cooperation is not excluded if "a partner does not explicitly affirm Israel's right to exist, but does not expressly deny it either". "A recognition of Israel would put many partners in danger of being discredited in their environment as 'normalizers' or even 'traitors'. Demanding this would contradict the do-no-harm principle," the paper says.

The guidelines also allow cooperation with supporters of the BDS movement, which the Bundestag classified as anti-Semitic in a 2019 resolution. BDS stands for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. Under the umbrella of the campaign, enemies of Israel have been calling for a boycott of Israeli goods, services, cultural assets and scientists for years.

Even if the Deutsche Welle Academy supports the BDS resolution of the Bundestag, as the handout states, BDS is a "multifaceted movement" that includes a "large moderate, non-anti-Semitic wing". One does not want to categorically exclude this from media developments. The authors also point out that the current Bundestag has not yet taken a position on BDS.

According to the paper, denying the Holocaust is a red line for DW-Akademie. However, this is different if the Holocaust was denied or put into perspective “due to a lack of knowledge about the Holocaust” and the partner distanced himself in a clarifying discussion. In this case, a cooperation is conceivable.

When asked, a spokesman for Deutsche Welle explained that DW's mandate also includes conducting dialogue with broadcasters and distributors all over the world. “We always consider this on a case-by-case basis and have set up a comprehensive test procedure for this. Our committees support these measures.”

The broadcaster has presented a ten-point package of measures to prevent anti-Semitism within the editorial staff. This includes training and awareness training for employees. The editor-in-chief has also set up a team of experts on the subject of anti-Semitism. It is intended to create guidelines for dealing with controversial terms and guests in the Middle East conflict.

Because the uncertainty within the editorial team is great. This is shown by the minutes of editorial conferences that are available to WELT. In these, employees asked, for example, how in future - with up to six interview guests per day - it should be ensured that experts who are connected do not make any anti-Semitic statements. An anti-Semitic attitude is particularly common among interviewees from Iran. Other employees wanted to know whether BDS supporters can still be invited. The answer of the competence team: In principle, an invitation of prominent BDS supporters is also allowed. It should be ensured that no anti-Semitic statements are made.

The future handling of topics such as "dead Palestinian children" also created a need for internal discussion.

The discussions show that nobody wants to make a mistake. The editors know they are being watched. And some seem to have the impression that Deutsche Welle's goal is to ban criticism of Israel altogether. In an internal chat, an employee asked during a "Jour Fixe" whether it was "broadcast strategy" to "silence someone when it comes to criticism of the State of Israel".

Deutsche Welle did not answer the question of whether this was the prevailing impression in the Arabic editorial team and how this could be explained.

Others on the editorial board are displeased because they feel that those most responsible were not held accountable in February. There's Naser Shrouf. Editors say Shrouf was instrumental in recruiting employees who expressed anti-Semitism on social media — and whose wrongdoing went undetected or unpunished under him.

Since his resignation as editor-in-chief, he has headed the Corporate Strategy department at Deutsche Welle – anything but a demotion.

Shrouf's hiring policy also sparked controversy for another reason. In the past, several employees have expressed their suspicion to persons they trust that the editor-in-chief is specifically promoting personal acquaintances or relatives.

There is Shrouf's cousin, for example, who was hired under him as a sales representative for the countries of Jordan, Palestine and Iraq. Or the daughter of the Palestinian ambassador, whom Shrouf first hired as an intern, then as a freelancer, and whose hiring the editor-in-chief expressly supported.

Deutsche Welle did not respond to inquiries about personal details and possible compliance checks. Spokesman Christoph Jumpelt said he would not respond to the "repeating of old allegations against individual employees".

Mohamed Ibrahim, deputy editor-in-chief, was also transferred to a prestigious post. He now works for the “Editorial Lead, Information and News” department and is part of the editor-in-chief. Despite the debate about questionable ideological tendencies, Ibrahim was told that, in addition to his work for Deutsche Welle, from 2012 he wrote for the Hezbollah-affiliated newspaper “Al-Akhbar” and the Lebanese newspaper “Ad-Diyar”, which is considered loyal to Assad never fatal within the editorial office.

It's a debate that should continue. Also because it is questionable what should happen to an employee who was dismissed in February because of several statements, who sued in court against her dismissal - and won the case before the Berlin labor court. Deutsche Welle will probably have to continue to employ the employee. A credible "red line" would hardly be tenable.

In an article before she was hired by Deutsche Welle, the employee described Israel as a "cancer" disease that should be cut out. In another column, she wrote that she would reconsider her critical judgment on ISIS and join the terrorist group if it "kicks the Israelis out of the Holy Land." She later explained that it was sarcasm.

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