What follows is the second part of the Arab48 investigation. Click here to read the first part.
5. Right to respond
We sought clarification from ex-Federal Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger on the investigative committee's adoption of the IHRA antisemitism definition, and whether she knew of Ahmad Mansour's alleged Islamophobia.
Arab48 also aimed to clarify her role, whether within Mind Prevention or collaborating with the foundation.
She did not respond to us.
We asked Ahmad Mansour about DW's initial statement upon launching the investigation, which initially omitted Mind Prevention, an organisation he chairs with his wife Beatrice.
He responded: "It was agreed in the contract that the task would be assigned to Mind Prevention and not just to me. We took on the task as a team, and at every meeting we presented ourselves as three individuals and fully explained our mission. Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger held the post of federal justice minister for eight years, and places great importance on fairness, transparency and clear rules, and we adhered to these rules and directives in all our meetings."
We asked about the criteria adopted for assessing statements as antisemitic. He answered: "We relied on the IHRA definition, which the German federal government has adopted, and this was in the contract with DW."
Arab48 asked Mansour if he acknowledged the existence of Israel's occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, as recognised by the German government and defined by international UN conventions. He answered: "I support the two-state solution and criticise the Israeli settlement policy and other political measures, especially of the current government."
We asked why terms like "occupation" and "occupiers" had been deemed antisemitic in the investigation. He answered: "I don't consider criticism of Israel or the Israeli occupation as being antisemitic."
However, in the report, entitled "External Investigation into Antisemitism Accusations", the term "occupation" appeared six times, "occupiers" five times, "occupation authorities" five times, and "occupying army" once (on pages 15, 18, 30, 32, 33, 46, 47, 51, 55). The investigation committee cited these terms to show antisemitism.
We asked why the hashtag #Save_Sheikh_Jarrah_Neighbourhood was considered antisemitic Palestinian propaganda in the report. Mansour answered: "This is inaccurate. This statement in itself is not antisemitic, and it wasn't assessed as being antisemitic. This statement was highlighted due to journalistic standards, i.e. whether DW's employees should be permitted to sympathise with a certain issue."
#Save_Sheikh_Jarrah_Neighbourhood appeared in the investigation committee report seven times in five separate instances (on pages 2, 17, 34, 45, 51).
On Page 2, where the evidence was presented, the authors of the report dedicated a paragraph to the importance of the hashtag #Save_Sheikh_Jarrah_Neighbourhood in the investigation.
On page 17, as part of an evaluation of the use of the hashtag by the Twitter account of DW's Fifth Estate talk show, the report stated: "The use of the hashtag #Save_Sheikh_Jarrah_Neighborhood falls within Palestinian self-propaganda and is inappropriate."
On page 34, within the conclusions and recommendations, the report read: "Huge mistakes were committed in reports including: (…) participating in the #Save_Sheikh_Jarrah_Neighbourhood campaign (…)."
"We asked if Ahmed Mansour would reconsider the report and apologise to the employees and organisations accused of antisemitism, if the German courts ultimately ruled in favour of the sacked staff. He did not answer."
We raised the Labour Court rulings that the dismissal of three employees had been unlawful and they should be reinstated, and their legal fees reimbursed. Mansour answered: "The report didn't demand the employees be dismissed, it only evaluated the employees' comments on social media. We were not involved in the court hearings. We were not invited, and we did not provide any assessment. We are not allowed to comment on this due to a non-disclosure agreement."
On page 9, the report concluded that assessed posts by the employees in question were antisemitic according to IHRA criteria. The evaluation also stated: "The applied suspensions seem justified to us."
We asked if Mansour would reconsider the report and apologise to the employees and organisations accused of antisemitism, if the German courts ultimately ruled in favour of the sacked staff. He did not answer.
Arab48 asked the chair of Mind Prevention whether he had questioned one employee about her family upbringing with regards to Israel, ties with Hamas, and belief in Israel's right to exist. Mansour denied asking these questions, stating: "This is not true, all the questions posed only concerned the accusations of antisemitism."
We inquired about his former and current work with Israeli institutions and the nature of this work. He denied the links, stating: "I'm an Arab Israeli, and lived in Israel until I was 28. In Israel I worked in a hospital, in road construction, a customer service centre and a telecommunications company. Since coming to Germany I haven't worked with any Israeli companies. I gave a lecture at a university there only once, about freedom in the sciences."
Arab48 established contacts with the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT) in Herzliya, asking if Mansour had worked with them. We received no response.
We asked the same question to the European Foundation for Democracy (EFD) in Brussels, and also received no response.
Arab48 asked DW whether the external investigation was the result of media pressure they had been subjected to in the aftermath of the Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) report.
DW Spokesman Christoph Jumpelt confirmed that "the media picked up the subject after an article in a German daily newspaper. As soon as the claims were known, DW commissioned an external report and communicated transparently around its method and results. Press enquiries were responded to, and a press conference was held."
Jumpelt did not comment on whether they were subjected to political pressure, but said the Bundestag (the German federal parliament) didn't play a role. He added that "DW's management decided to commission the investigation after the claims became known. It was clear to us that the claims had to be verified externally."
We asked DW if the employees being investigated had been clearly informed of the names of all the investigation committee members, and that Mind Prevention had been commissioned to carry out the inquiry.
DW's spokesperson answered: "Deutsche Welle facilitated contact for face-to-face conversations between the employees against whom the allegations were made and the external investigators."
Arab48 asked DW why only Arab staff from the Arabic department had been summoned for investigation.
Jumpelt said that "DW dealt with all the known incidents."
It is interesting to note here a comment made to Arab48 by another current employee in DW's Arabic department who wished to remain anonymous. They said that other departments like the Spanish and the Turkish divisions had expressed their solidarity with the Arabic department, and their opposition to what was happening.
"They use the same terms in their reports and coverage on the DW channels in their departments, but in languages other than Arabic, and there was no monitoring like at the Arabic department," they explained.
Arab48 asked about the new, antisemitism-related provisions inserted into partnerships and collaborative contracts with Arab organisations.
Jumpelt responded: "This has been done, but it doesn’t just affect agreements with media organisations in the Arab world – it also affects DW's partners in all targeted regions around the world. We showed them our own 'Statement of Values' to look at. DW explains the values it stands for, and what it calls for in its content, and these values include our commitment against antisemitism, and other values like equality and understanding among peoples."
We asked the German broadcaster's spokesman if DW employees were allowed to criticise the Israeli occupation.
Jumpelt said: "Certainly, criticism of the Israeli government is allowed. Part of our journalistic job is to report impartially, independently and with great care, and of course from multiple points of view. Our guidelines and impartiality rules make this clear for all employees."
He confirmed that DW cites the position of the German government regarding the Israeli occupation, and clarifies in its reporting the UN classification of the settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem as being illegal under international law. Jumpelt didn't explain, however, the instances in the report where the usage by Palestinian organisations of terms like "occupation" and "occupiers" was described as antisemitic.
We sought clarification on why DW had endorsed the kind of political commentary contained in the external investigation's report. For example, the report stated that "the role of women in protesting against the Israeli occupation at the Gaza border and in the West Bank is Palestinian propaganda and is antisemitic." The use of the hashtag #Save_Sheikh_Jarrah_Neighbourhood was also considered Palestinian propaganda and antisemitic.
Jumpelt responded: "To start with I want to point out that the report was issued by an independent, external body. You need to discuss these statements with its authors. We are not evaluating them. But the examples you mention […] aren't related to the stances taken".
The Deutsche Welle spokesman said the report was criticising the lack of context provided, which was something DW always strived to do: "This is vital for understanding content and is appreciated by our followers. The same applies to our neutrality. Therefore, using activist hashtags without explanation or context doesn’t comply with our rules."
However, Arab48 noted another occasion on which unqualified solidarity was expressed by an official DW social media account. On 3 March 2022, DW's official Twitter account posted a tweet in English stating: "Standing together in challenging times: DW employees expressed their solidarity with colleagues working in #Ukraine today. They gathered outside our headquarters in Bonn. #MediaFreedom".
It was posted with photographs of employees holding up blue and yellow signs (the Ukrainian flag colours) on which were written "Solidarity with our colleagues in Ukraine" in English and Ukrainian.
We asked about the discontinuation of partnerships with the Arab and Palestinian organisations mentioned in the investigation, who were accused of antisemitism.
Jumpelt answered: "We are in intensive discussions with partners and distributors and won't comment publicly on this." His response was the same regarding whether DW had offered an official apology to the organisations.
However, Arab48 obtained a copy of an official letter from DW to the organisations which partnered with DW Akademie, apologising for "any harm to the organisation or to team members due to the accusations of antisemitism which were mentioned in the DW investigation". The letter confirmed the absence of antisemitism in the organisations to which the letter was sent, contrary to the findings of the report.
We asked about the reasons behind the amendment of a German-language article about the Palestinian Nakba. Jumpelt said: "This text was […] corrected during the investigation. We write at the end of the article […] the reason for amending the text like we always do in these cases. We do not deny the displacement of the Palestinians, and the article you linked to in your question alludes to this fact."
In this case, the term "dispossession" was erased from the entire text and was replaced with terms like "flight" and "loss of homeland and property".
Arab48 asked the German broadcaster to explain the connection between the opening of a new office in Israel in October 2022, the issue of antisemitism and the dismissal of DW staff.
Jumpelt did not answer but we were directed to the press statement on the office's opening, in which Managing Director Peter Limbourg stated that the step was part of "addressing issues of antisemitism" and "one of the actions we want to take to improve our footing in regards to this topic [dealing with antisemitism] in the future, and to help us do things differently than we have been doing them".
The details of how this would be done were unclear, as was whether this step was in any way linked to the dismissal of DW's employees.
Arab48 sought official comment from DW on the German Labour Court decisions that the dismissal of some of the employees had been unlawful, but Jumpelt refused to comment "on ongoing legal proceedings".
Arab48 managed however to obtain a DW internal circular, where management addressed its staff regarding the decision of the Bonn Labour Court on Maram Salem's case, without mentioning her name.
It stated that "contrary to what has been circulated on some media channels […] the court has not stated clearly whether the employee made comments which were antisemitic or critical of Israel." The court just stated they weren't convinced "a reason serious enough to justify immediate dismissal without prior notice" had been given, according to the circular.
In the same document, DW stressed that "the court rejected three out of four points of the filed lawsuit. The written justification [for the ruling] is not available to any [concerned] party yet. The verdict is not binding yet."
Arab48 contacted the lawyer Ahmad Abed, who was representing Maram Salem, and who said that the Bonn Labour Court "had explicitly confirmed several times during the hearing on 6 July 2022 that Maram Salem did not make any antisemitic statements. The court ruled that her dismissal was invalid."
It is worth mentioning that DW has not appealed against the above judicial decision.
"Arab48 obtained a copy of an official letter from DW to the Arab organisations which partnered with DW Akademie, apologising for 'any harm to the organisation or to team members due to the accusations of antisemitism which were mentioned in the DW investigation'."
6. Summary of key findings
Ease of accusation
In the wake of the Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) report on alleged antisemitic social media posts, published on 30 November 2021, DW promptly suspended, then dismissed, several employees. The suspensions occurred merely three days after the SZ report release, an inadequate interval for thorough verification of the allegations and their context. Irrespective of varying post content, all accused employees faced the same treatment.
The investigation committee
DW's choice of Mind Prevention, led by Ahmad and Beatrice Mansour, to oversee the antisemitism inquiry lacked detailed explanation. The foundation's involvement wasn't initially disclosed when DW announced the launch of the investigation committee, but came to light when investigative results were announced.
When questioned about the selection of Mind Prevention and its qualifications, DW did not provide an answer, despite criticism of the committee's political bias towards Israel. The investigation committee included lawyer Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, who has promoted the false allegations that BDS supporters call for a boycott of Jews – an allegation consistent with the official Israeli stance on the movement.
"The suspension of DW Arab staff occurred merely three days after the German daily's report release, an inadequate interval for thorough verification of the allegations and their context."
Arab48 assessed the testimonies of dismissed employees and probed allegations against the most prominent member of DW's investigative committee, Ahmad Mansour. These allegations related to his political bias towards Israel and adoption of anti-Palestinian and Islamophobic views, as observed through multiple statements on Twitter.
Before joining DW's investigative committee, Ahmed Mansour faced criticism from academic and media circles worldwide for his support for sections of the European right-wing and Israel. DW overlooked this when appointing him.
His conduct during the investigation, evident in politically loaded comments within the final report and questions directed at dismissed employees according to their accounts, confirmed his biased stance. The decision to select Mansour contradicted DW's professed values of cultural diversity and free expression.
The investigation committee's report
Moshe Zuckermann's review of the investigation committee's report unveiled a stark disparity between what the investigation committee interpreted as antisemitic, based on the IHRA definition, and what Zuckermann found to be antisemitic, based on the JDA.
This incongruity underscored a flaw in the definition adopted by DW's investigation committee, as it failed to differentiate between criticism or hostility towards Zionism or Israel, and hostility towards Jews as Jews. Zuckermann's assessment verified that, while most of the investigated examples critiqued Israel, some harshly, they were not antisemitic.
Dismissal of the employees
Court decisions deemed the dismissal of three DW employees to be unlawful. The rulings highlighted DW's rushed and mistaken approach in response to media pressure following the SZ report. The dismissals appeared to be a means of scapegoating the accused employees to shield the organisation's image amid media scrutiny. DW unlawfully fired Arab employees due to political posts, with many predating their employment.
The partner institutions and the apology
The DW Akademie's letter of apology sent to a number of Palestinian partner institutions, which Arab48 obtained a copy of, suggested its disavowal of the recommendations put forward in the investigation committee's report. The letter showed the continuation of partnerships despite the investigation committee's recommendations that certain collaborations be discontinued or reviewed.
The German broadcaster did not explain to Arab48 the connection between the opening of its new office in Israel, antisemitism and the dismissal of Arab staff members, and only referred us to DW's statement about the opening of the bureau. The lack of clarity on this issue further indicates DW's adoption of a political position that is biased towards Israel in defining antisemitism.
The fear instilled in Arab employees
The different testimonies gathered by Arab48 confirmed an atmosphere of fear and anxiety among DW's Arab staff, both in dealing with Palestine-related topics and in criticising Israel. These accounts also indicated that self-censorship is applied, including through the review of past personal posts on social media.
All of this occurred after the dismissals and contradicted DW's professed values regarding freedom of expression. It also showed that there is a gulf in DW's understanding of the original political and cultural contexts of its Arab employees.
Update from the original date of publication in Arabic: Four dismissed employees initiated legal proceedings against DW. The courts ruled that they had been unfairly dismissed and were entitled to reinstatement, and to receive backwages.
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.