German State Broadcaster Requires Employees to Accept 'The Right of Israel to Exist'

The updated guidelines come after labor courts ordered the German media company to reinstate three of the seven journalists it had fired over claims of anti-Semitism in February

Jonathan Shamir
Jonathan Shamir
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People carry an Israeli and German flag at a rally against antisemitism in Berlin last May.
People carry an Israeli and German flag at a rally against antisemitism in Berlin last May.Credit: CHRISTIAN MANG/ REUTERS
Jonathan Shamir
Jonathan Shamir

Deutsche Welle (DW) codified supporting "the right of Israel to exist" in its updated code of conduct on September 1, as the German public broadcaster faces a backlash over the dismissal of several employees for alleged antisemitism.

The document calls for the company to "tak[e] action" against people who violate the updated guidelines, which "reject all forms of discrimination including sexism, racism and antisemitism. Germany’s historical responsibility for the Holocaust is also a reason for which we support the right of Israel to exist."

While the previous code of conduct made no mention of Israel, the new edition also notes that "due to Germany’s history, we have a special obligation towards Israel."

DW confirmed to Haaretz that “management decided to update the Code of Conduct during the external investigation of antisemitic comments made by employees.”

The updated guidelines, first reported by +972, come after labor courts ordered the German media company to reinstate three of the seven journalists it had fired over claims of anti-Semitism in February.

In the latest case, a German court ruled last week that DW's dismissal of Palestinian-Jordanian journalist Farah Maraqa was "unlawful." Her lawyer, Dr. Hauke Rinsdorf, told Haaretz that the court ruled that DW was “obliged to reinstate her, so Farah is now entitled to return to her work. It's not just a relief for Farah in the difficult situation…but also proof for the strength of the rule of law.”

“Regarding the reputation damage, we have the court's decision now which speaks for itself. One may see this as an important step to restore Farah's professional reputation as a journalist,” his statement added.

Among the social media posts in question, Maraqa had written that Israel was “cancer that should be cut out” and joked about “join[ing] ISIS if it was to fight for the liberation of Palestine.” Maraqa says that both comments were taken out of context.

DW declined to comment on current legal cases.

The seven dismissals were based on a two-month, independent commission, which concluded that there was “not a structural antisemitism issue in DW, but that measures in training and recruitment must be taken to avoid further individual cases.”

The president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Dr. Josef Schuster, welcomed the inquest, stating that “Things must not continue as they have been. The broadcaster should now quickly implement these. Within three months, DW should present a first report that provides information on the measures taken. There must be no fee-financed Israel-hatred and antisemitism in the media.”

The commission, however, came under heavy criticism. After reviewing its findings, Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor concluded that the "framework, analysis and recommendations contained multiple evidence of bias against Palestinians," noting its reliance on the contested International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of antisemitism.

Their EU Affairs researcher, Michela Pugliese, said that “we fear that the inferences that will be drawn from such statement that DW has ‘a special obligation towards Israel’ would lead to creating a strong pro-Israeli bias in the editorial line and coverage, and it will create an atmosphere of fear and discomfort to even bring up anything related to the human rights violations carried by Israel.”

In 2017, the German government adopted the IHRA definition, making it one of 37 countries to endorse the non-legally binding document. Despite its widespread use, there has been increasing criticism of the definition over its stifling of criticism of Israel. Progressive Israel Network rejected its codification into law, while other groups such as Americans for Peace Now, IfNotNow and Jewish Voice for Peace rejected the definition altogether.

In December, DW suspended its partnership with Jordanian broadcaster Roya TV "following the emergence of anti-Israel and antisemitic comments and caricatures spread by the broadcaster on social media.”

DW joins other German newspapers Bild, Die Welt, and Fakt – which are owned by publishing house Axel Springer – in requiring staff to “support the Jewish people and the right of existence of the State of Israel” in their code of conduct.

In response to a question about what constitutes accepting “the right of Israel to exist,” DW said: “The right of any state to exist is not debatable for a news organization. Should there be public discussion about political developments, we reflect this in our coverage in a neutral way. No news organization should become party in such discussions. Personal views of journalists in this context need to be clearly labelled as opinion pieces.”

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