Palestinian news website Arab48 delved into the case of seven Arab journalists fired from the Arabic department of Deutsche Welle (DW), the German state-owned international broadcaster, after antisemitism allegations. Their dismissals followed a controversial investigation led by an external committee appointed by DW.
"I was fired from my job, without knowing why. I applied for other jobs, and the response was: 'Your principles aren't aligned with our principles'. My life has been turned upside down because of Deutsche Welle's investigation into me based on political posts, in which I expressed views critical of Germany and the way it deals with the Palestinian issue. I didn't expect this to happen in a democratic country, and I never expected to be accused of antisemitism."
This is Maram Salem, a Palestinian journalist living in Germany, who spoke to Haifa-based Arab48 about what she has gone through since being dismissed from her job at DW in February 2022.
Maram was not alone. Initially, DW fired five more staff members from their Arabic department, including Farah Maraqa, Murhaf Mahmoud, Basil al-Aridi, and terminated the contract of freelancer Dawood Ibrahim. Two weeks later, Zahi Alawi and Yasser Abumuailek were also fired.
Several of these employees turned to Germany's labour courts to challenge the lawfulness of their dismissals, which has so far led to favourable rulings for three of them.
Arab48 established that the antisemitism allegations were mostly unfounded - involving criticism of Israel rather than antisemitism; that the external investigation committee displayed a clear pro-Israeli bias, and that Ahmad Mansour, a key member of the committee, has connections to a range of Israeli and pro-Israeli institutions.
1. The beginning
On 30 November 2021, Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ), one of Germany's largest daily newspapers, published an article alleging that certain employees in DW's Arabic department had previously shared "antisemitic" remarks on social media and other media outlets.
Responding swiftly, on 1 December, DW announced it would open an investigation into the allegations, with Managing Director Peter Limbourg affirming the organisation's staunch stance against antisemitism and emphasising their recognition of Israel's right to exist.
Two days later, DW suspended the employees mentioned in the SZ report and launched an independent external inquiry, appointing ex-Federal Minister of Justice Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger and psychologist Ahmad Mansour for this purpose. Limbourg lauded the "two well-known personalities - whose professional careers [make them] particularly suited to the task."
During the same week, DW announced it was halting collaboration with Jordanian channel Roya due to antisemitic posts. Guido Baumhauer, DW Managing Director of Distribution, Marketing and Technology pledged that it would "internally review the process by which we choose partners more carefully, especially with regards to considerations of antisemitism and racism".
Two months later, on 7 February 2022, DW concluded the external investigation, which acknowledged sporadic instances of antisemitism but dismissed the notion of "systematic antisemitism at DW".
Stringent measures were adopted by DW's administration, including the termination of the aforementioned employees. A ten-point action plan advocated for the broadcaster's adoption of an antisemitism definition which would be binding on staff and would include "acknowledgment of Israel's right to exist" and a "refusal to deny or minimise the Holocaust".
Deutsche Welle agreed to draft an updated Code of Conduct in which "red lines" were identified. A version of this Code would be developed especially for DW's partner organisations in the Middle East.
Another measure included in the ten-point action plan was the opening of a DW office in West Jerusalem in Israel.
The DW investigation extended to assessing partnerships with Arab and Palestinian organisations based on their coverage of the Palestinian issue. Recommendations for termination or the review of partnerships were made based on accusations of antisemitism, or the terminology used by these outlets when criticising Israel's occupation.
These organisations were: The Jordanian channel Roya, the Lebanese Al Jadeed TV station, the Palestinian news agency Ma'an, the Hamleh-Arab Centre for Social Development, the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation, PYALARA (the Palestinian Youth Association for Leadership And Rights Activation), TAM (the Palestinian Women Media and Development organisation), Palestinian Radio Nisaa FM, and Campji – a Palestinian refugee-led organisation based in Lebanon.
The Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor criticised the decision to fire the Arab employees, warning that such measures would only open the door to "an anti-Arab purge in German media". The human rights watchdog also said that the external investigation's framework, analysis and recommendations revealed many instances of bias towards Israel and against the Palestinians.
The Journalists Support Committee echoed this sentiment, condemning the violation of freedom of opinion and expression, and urging fair compensation for affected journalists.
"Ahmad Mansour, a key member of the external investigative committee appointed by DW, has connections to a range of Israeli and pro-Israeli institutions."
2. The Employees
Palestinian journalist Maram Salem was one of the prominent faces among the dismissed employees. Recently, Salem received a decision from the Labour Court in Bonn, which stated that her dismissal from DW had been unlawful, and the broadcaster had to reinstate her.
Maram Salem had been awarded an outstanding employee prize by DW not long before. Unlike her colleagues, she didn't even know which posts she was being accused of antisemitism for.
"During the interrogation with me by the external investigation committee […], I wasn't asked about any of my social media posts, and I didn't know the reason they were investigating me. As for the posts presented against me to the court by DW, no one revealed them to us in the beginning - but the court forced them to, and these posts were political criticisms of Germany."
She recalled particular questions asked by one of the committee members: "Ahmad Mansour asked me about the way in which my parents raised me, and if I had links to Hamas, and asked me also about my view on the boycott movement against Israel, and asked me if I would feel sad if an Israeli child died. He also asked me if I recognised Israel… I informed him that I support the one-state solution."
Salem, who worked in the video department, pointed out that during the investigation she wasn't aware that the woman who was writing the record of the meeting in German was Beatrice Mansour - Ahmad Mansour's wife. Since the interrogation was in Arabic - the translation put down was based on what Ahmed Mansour was dictating to her.
"It is well-known that Ahmad Mansour is an Islamophobe," said Salem, "I don't know how he was picked by DW. Later, I learnt from colleagues that there had been an internal uproar over Mansour's selection for this task, and a lot of discussions over his credentials. There was then an attempt [by DW] to disavow that decision."
Salem believes that DW found itself in a tight corner in the wake of the SZ article and wanted a scapegoat to offer to the public and German media.
"I never expected this to happen to me in Germany, I had believed we were in a democratic country, not that I would be put on trial because of freedom of expression and lose my job, and that my organisation would throw me under the bus with false antisemitism allegations, which the German media would not ask me my opinion on, nor come to me for any comment," Salem told Arab48.
"'No one told me what posts I was being accused for,' said Maram Salem, one of the dismissed journalists."
"The media in Germany cannot understand our origin and the conflict in the Middle East"
Palestinian-Jordanian Farah Maraqa is another dismissed DW journalist. On 5 September 2022, she obtained a court decision that her dismissal from DW had been "legally unjustified", which DW appealed – it lost the appeal on 28 June 2023 when the Berlin Labour Court ruled once again in Maraqa's favour, although legal proceedings are still ongoing.
Maraqa was the only employee to refuse to participate in the investigation committee sessions set up by DW, and instead launched a blog on which she published nine articles in English about her experiences with the antisemitism allegations against her.
On her blog, Maraqa revealed that no one from DW had questioned or attempted to verify the accusations made against her; these were related to a number of sarcastic articles she had written for a column in the Pan Arab newspaper Rai al-Youm before starting her job at DW. They were taken out of context and framed as being antisemitic, according to Maraqa.
The dismissed DW employee pointed out that German media had not contacted her for a right to respond, and that she had been depicted as a "Jew-hater". She told Arab48 that "Germany is a country with a history with Jews, and the holocaust was one of the ugliest crimes committed in the last century; here, I have no doubt, and I understand the sensitivity of the topic. On the other hand, I never thought that the media here could not understand our upbringing and the conflict(s) of the Middle East."
Another dismissed employee who wished to remain anonymous told Arab48 that, since they were fired by DW and their name had been plastered all over German media, they had struggled to find another job.
"Some prefer to avoid covering Israel and Palestine"
Arab48 spoke to a current staff member at DW who preferred to remain anonymous (here we call him Amjad).
Amjad said the atmosphere in the Arabic department when various colleagues were being summoned for investigation was one of anxiety, and everyone was worried about being next, and was trawling through their past Palestine-related social media posts.
"This impacted work at the channel. There was a strong wariness around covering Israel and Palestine, and some preferred not to cover it or write articles on it. The view of the recommendations and results of the investigation was very negative, especially regarding the falsification of and attempt to rewrite the history of the Nakba, and likewise concerning the sacking of colleagues, which was an arbitrary decision."
Amjad touched on the new Code of Conduct at DW, and said it doesn't make a clear distinction between criticism of Israel and antisemitism.
"It doesn't draw clear boundaries around Israel, therefore, as journalists working in the Arabic department, we have a real problem when using terms like "the occupation", or "occupying army" or "occupied territories", as there are no clear lines when it comes to this matter."
Amjad concluded saying: "We are obliged to accept the Code of Conduct, and if we don't, we will be given a warning, and then, penalties will be applied which could go as far as dismissal. What happened was a big shock, which has damaged the channel's reputation in Germany and the world, and has stifled freedoms, especially press freedoms."
3. Evaluation of the Investigative Committee's Report
Arab48 sought assistance from expert Moshe Zuckermann, a German-Israeli Jewish sociologist and professor, to evaluate the credibility of the investigation committee and the report it published on 7 February 2022 regarding the antisemitism accusations against DW staff.
Zuckermann is a History and Philosophy professor at the University of Tel Aviv and has written on antisemitism. He is a signatory to the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism (JDA), which was published in 2021 by Jewish scholars specialising in Holocaust history, Jewish studies, and Middle Eastern studies. The JDA provides guidelines and criteria for recognising, addressing, and promoting awareness of antisemitism.
The JDA was formulated in response to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition, which proponents of the JDA believe is hampering the fight against antisemitism by conflating criticism of Israel with antisemitism.
The investigation committee appointed by DW used the IHRA working definition for identifying instances of antisemitism. Zuckermann reviewed the investigation published by DW, but this time in accordance with the JDA.
Among the 11 statements and social media posts made by the dismissed employees that the investigation committee deemed as antisemitic, Zuckermann evaluated only two of them as "actually antisemitic" according to the standards set by the JDA. As for the other nine, Zuckermann saw these as expressions of criticism towards Israel or as mere instances of "gossip circulating on social media".
There were five articles published on DW's German-language website also highlighted for criticism in the report, which alluded to possible antisemitism. These covered the Gaza March of Return protests in 2018, and the role of women in them; the Nakba and the Palestinian resistance, and the establishment of the Israeli state.
In one case an entire paragraph about the forcible displacement of Palestinians in 1948 was deleted and replaced with a vague sentence referring only to the loss of their homeland. The report also criticised tweets made by DW's Fifth Estate programme with the hashtag "#Save_Sheikh_Jarrah_Neighbourhood" - which was later deleted. Sheikh Jarrah is located in occupied East Jerusalem. Its Palestinian residents are frequently subjected to evictions and settler attacks.
Zuckermann concluded that none of these instances were antisemitic, but in fact were a matter of historical and current reality. Here specifically, he believed that the investigation committee was spreading Israeli propaganda – known as "Hasbara" in Hebrew - in an attempt to erase the Palestinian narrative.
Regarding statements or posts made by several guests invited into DW programmes or who appeared live on air, which the report highlighted, Zuckermann identified no instances of antisemitism based on the JDA criteria. Instead, he observed that these episodes involved criticism of Israeli policies.
Several of DW's Middle Eastern media partners were accused of antisemitism for their use of terms like "occupation", "the resistance", "martyrs", and "the Israeli aggression" in their programmes and articles, and in the case of Roya due to their publishing of anti-Israel cartoons.
Zuckermann's evaluation was that the media outlets' reportage was not antisemitic, and that the committee was suffering a disconnect from reality because it was denying the fact of Israel's occupation – and so viewed terms like "occupation" and "occupiers" to be antisemitic. He highlighted that it would be natural to assume that DW's partners in the Arab world would be inclined to criticise Israel, and perhaps Zionism too, but this is not antisemitism.
The DW investigation also levelled antisemitism accusations against five partner organisations of Deutsche Welle Akademie (DWA) (DW's centre for international media development and journalism training). The most prominent among them are Hamleh and PYALARA.
The investigation committee scrutinised numerous social media posts by these organisations, and charged them with antisemitism due to the use of hashtags like "#Save_Sheikh_Jarrah_Neighbourhood" and "#Jerusalem_is_ours", in addition to terms like "the occupation", "the Zionist entity" and "martyr". They were also accused of distributing guidance material on avoiding Facebook platform features unfriendly to Palestinian content.
In response, the committee's report recommended terminating collaboration with all these organisations, as it viewed their content as harmful and one-sided promotion of the Palestinian narrative - a stance deemed unacceptable by the committee.
However, Zuckermann didn't find one instance of antisemitism in the posts of the five organisations: "They were critical of Israel and Zionism, and some of them used antagonistic language, but that doesn't mean they were anti-Jews".
In Zuckermann's view, the investigation committee was biased, employed double standards, and overlooked the presence of hate discourse in Israeli society - exclusively condemning the Palestinian side without acknowledging the context of the occupation.
The German-Israeli historian believes that in Germany, accusations related to antisemitism are swiftly made across various contexts and this is becoming increasingly widespread, but he argues that the equation of Judaism, Zionism and Israel illustrates how the issue is intertwined with German sensitivities rather than this being a genuine fight against antisemitism.
Zuckermann contended that the investigation committee was "unable to distinguish between antisemitism, anti-Zionism and criticism of Israel, and this is outrageous, because not all Jews are Zionist, not all Zionists are Israelis, and not all Israelis are Jews - whoever does not understand this basic structure cannot have an opinion at all regarding antisemitism."
"A current employee touched on the new Code of Conduct at DW, and said it doesn't make a clear distinction between criticism of Israel and antisemitism."
4. The Investigation Committee
In its initial December 2021 statement, DW announced it would entrust the investigation into allegations of antisemitism to an external committee, composed of Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger and Ahmed Mansour.
However, the investigation's results, released in early February 2022, revealed that it had been assigned to Mind Prevention, an organisation run by Ahmed Mansour and his wife, Beatrice Mansour.
Ahmed Mansour confirmed this arrangement to Arab48, explaining that the contract with DW assigned the task to Mind Prevention rather than him alone, and that they worked as a team with Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger on the investigation.
Ex-federal justice minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger is a lawyer, politician, member of the Bavarian constitutional court, and works as State Commissioner for the Fight against Antisemitism in North Rhine-Westphalia state.
On 27 January 2020, on the Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Nazism in Germany, Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger claimed on Twitter that "the BDS movement calls for a boycott of Jewish shops" – even though the BDS movement does not call for this, but rather calls for boycott, divestment and sanctions against companies, both Israeli and non-Israeli, which are complicit in Israel's violations of Palestinian rights.
In April 2020, Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger supported calls to disinvite Cameroonian philosopher and historian Achille Mbembe from the Ruhrtriennale Festival, due to his "support for the antisemitic boycott (BDS) movement, and his comparison of Israel to the apartheid regime in South Africa".
In May 2021, she called on demonstrators commemorating the Palestinian Nakba to distance themselves from all forms of antisemitism, including "questioning Israel's right to exist and demonising it".
Arab48 was unable to identify the necessary professional expertise which would qualify Mind Prevention to undertake a complex and sensitive investigation like the one commissioned by DW.
According to Mind Prevention's website, it offers guidance in the fields of psychotherapy, education and administration, and provides practical support to address issues linked to extremism, Islamism and antisemitism, and promotes measures for successful multicultural integration.
Mind Prevention is also involved in workshops aimed at preventing Islamism and extremism. These initiatives target young prisoners from Muslim backgrounds, students with immigration or asylum experience and their teachers.
The organisation also offers training to psychotherapists and specialists in integration and multiculturalism. The foundation also ran a single workshop in collaboration with a vocational school in Bavaria focused on "promoting democracy and preventing antisemitism and extremism".
"Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, one of the members of the investigative committee appointed by DW, claimed once on Twitter that 'the BDS movement calls for a boycott of Jewish shops.'"
Mansour defines himself as a Muslim Arab Israeli. He has gained a large following in Germany and is frequently hosted on talk shows and media channels. He writes articles, and has been variously introduced as an expert in "Islam", "integration", "Islamism", "extremism", "terrorism", "antisemitism", or as a psychologist.
Mansour has authored books, including: "Generation Allah: Why we need to rethink out approach to fighting religious extremism" and "Operation Allah – How political Islam wants to infiltrate our democracy".
Mansour comes from a Palestinian family from the city of Tira in central Israel, in an area known as the Triangle. He claims a once close affiliation to the Muslim Brotherhood, and says he nearly became an Islamic extremist in his youth, when a local Imam tried to recruit him. He later studied psychology in Tel Aviv, and in 2004 moved to Germany to continue his university studies.
We asked how his credentials qualified him for the investigation. Mansour said he "works with young people in the areas of racism, integration, extremism, and antisemitism". He mentioned his writings, and said he "worked on research projects and gave university lectures in these fields".
"Among the 11 statements and social media posts made by the dismissed employees that the investigation committee deemed as antisemitic, historian Moshe Zuckermann evaluated only two of them as 'actually antisemitic' according to the standards set by the Jerusalem Declaration on Antisemitism."
Criticism of Ahmad Mansour
While researching Mansour, Arab48 found a lot of criticism regarding his work and media performances.
Ferda Ataman, who was elected as Independent Federal Anti-Discrimination Commissioner in 2022 (Mansour strongly opposed her candidacy) characterised him and other individuals on Twitter in 2020 as "star witnesses when it comes to criticising Islam […] Muslims that rant about Muslims to non-Muslims and are celebrated as being 'courageous'."
Journalist and professor of Islamic sciences Katayoun Amirpour criticised Mansour in a 2015 article entitled "Islam Equals Violence: The Deadly Harmony Between Warriors and Critics", in which she discussed the dangers of equating Islam with Islamic extremism. Mansour had claimed that the ideas of the Islamic State (IS) were based on mainstream Islam, as practiced by many Muslims in Germany.
The Bridge Initiative of Georgetown University in Washington is a research project on Islamophobia. In 2020 it released an extensive fact sheet on Mansour, documenting many instances where he had made Islamophobic comments in media interviews and articles. Quotes taken from Mansour appear to promote an anti-Muslim climate in Germany.
According to The Bridge Initiative, Mansour coined the term "Generation Allah" to describe a "general psychocultural problem for all Muslims". And he claimed that "the threat Germany faces comes not from a few hundred fanatic Islamists, but from an entire generation of young Muslims - Generation Allah - who are all under threat of Islamic radicalization."
We raised these criticisms with DW. Its spokesperson, Christoph Jumpelt, stressed that "religious beliefs and criticism of Islam weren't part of the investigation."
Asked about Mansour's qualifications when it came to overseeing the investigation itself, Jumbelt referred us to DW's press release, where Mansour was presented as an expert in political Islam who works in the field of integration, especially with the police and correctional facilities. Notably, while the statement indicated that he combats antisemitism, it didn't state that he is an expert in it.
Regarding the Bridge Initiative, Mansour responded: "If you search further, you'll find that the people in charge of this site are suspected of being part of the network of political Islam and are being investigated in Austria. However […] you are ignoring thousands of articles and are only looking into those which depict me as a hater of Islam."
The head of Mind Prevention told Arab48: "I am a Muslim, and I criticise all kinds of Islamic extremism, and not the religion per se, and this is something that most Muslim countries and most Muslims around the world agree with. I am a political person, and I speak about many subjects. There are those who share my views, and those who differ – this is democracy."
Regarding Mansour's claim about the Bridge Initiative, the team leading the initiative consists of six academics.
The only one living in Austria is political scientist Farid Hafez, who was investigated for two years on false charges related to belonging to a terrorist group, as part of what was dubbed Operation Luxor. This was a campaign carried out in 2020 by Austria's current Chancellor Karl Nehammer, when he was Interior Minister.
Operation Luxor consisted of police raids and arrests targeting scores of prominent Muslim figures and institutions on spurious charges of "Islamic terrorism". No one was charged following this operation, which was widely considered a failure.
"German-Israeli historian Moshe Zuckermann told Arab48 that 'not all Jews are Zionist, not all Zionists are Israelis, and not all Israelis are Jews - whoever does not understand this basic structure cannot have an opinion at all regarding antisemitism.'"
Relations with pro-Israel organisations
Mansour also appears to have numerous links to Israeli or pro-Israel organisations. According to several sources, Mansour worked as a senior policy advisor and programme director for the European Foundation for Democracy in Brussels (EFD). Until 8 March 2022 this was listed on the official page of the institution, but has since been deleted.
The Bridge Initiative describes the EFD as "a European think tank whose content focuses on defaming Muslim civil society organizations and attempting to exclude such organizations from the European political field."
Among the EFD's funders are the Hochberg Family Foundation, the Bodman Foundation and the Marcus Foundation, in addition to billionaire Paul Singer. All of them fund numerous pro-Israeli organisations, including the Islamophobic Middle East Forum, which works to encourage acceptance of Israel among Palestinians and Arabs, as well as MEMRI TV and Aish HaTorah.
We wrote to the EFD in Brussels to inquire about Mansour's prior role in the organisation and why he was deleted from the website, but did not receive a response.
Mansour was also included on the website, listed in the staff team of the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT), a right-wing think tank based at Reichman University in Israel, without any explanation as to his role. The ICT is known for its close ties to the Israeli military and security establishments, with former Mossad director Shabtai Shavit chairman of the Board of Directors since 2001.
The same photograph and text used for Mansour's staff profile on the EFD website were used for ICT, but this page was also deleted in March 2022. We wrote to the ICT to inquire about the reasons for this, but did not receive a response.
Mansour has also been a major face of fundraising campaigns for the Keren Hayesod Foundation, which is the largest Zionist fundraising foundation in the world.
Founded in 1920, Keren Hayesod played a fundamental role in financing Zionist immigration to historic Palestine, and "supported the building of the first Zionist settlements, bringing in 3 million immigrants". Likewise they supported Israeli settlements in occupied East Jerusalem according to a Haaretz investigation published in 2016.
Mansour has received prizes from organisations which hold anti-Palestinian positions and support Israeli propaganda. For example, the American Jewish Committee (AJC) (Berlin Chapter) awarded Mansour the Ramer Award for Courage in the Defense of Democracy in 2013. The AJC is an international pro-Israel organisation which opposed Palestine's accession to UNESCO in 2011 and considers the BDS Movement antisemitic.
The Hanover branch of the German-Israeli Society, an association known for its anti-Palestinian and strong pro-Israel stance, awarded Mansour the Theodor Lessing Prize in 2019. Among the most notable positions of the society is its denial of the 1948 Nakba.
Click here to read the second part of this investigation.
This is an edited and abridged translation by Rose Chacko. Click here to read the original Arabic-language investigation published by Arab48 on 19 March 2023.
Disclaimer: All related questions should be addressed to Arab48 (email@example.com) as The New Arab Investigative Unit was not involved in the development of this project.