German broadcaster DW adopts commitment to Israel in code of conduct

Deutsche Welle's (DW) head office in Bonn (Ina Fassbender - AFP)

Middle East Monitor  /  September 9, 2022

Germany’s international broadcaster, Deutsche Welle (DW) has adopted a new code of conduct which threatens staff with dismissal if they question Israel’s right to exist. Israel is mentioned twice when referring to the company’s commitments against racism and anti-Semitism. No other country, political or national group is mentioned in the same way as the Apartheid State.

In its code of conduct DW says that it stands for “freedom, democracy and human rights” which it describes as being a “cornerstones of our journalistic and development message and profile”. Promoting itself as a progressive organization, the broadcaster adds: “We advocate the values of freedom and, wherever we are, take independent and clear positions, especially against any and all kinds of discrimination including sexism, racism and antisemitism.”

Explaining its reason for granting Israel a special and privileged protective status not shown to anyone else, DW says: “Due to Germany’s history, we have a special obligation towards Israel,” and states that “Germany’s historical responsibility for the Holocaust is also a reason for which we support the right of Israel to exist.”

The intolerance toward any criticism of Israel in DW’s code of conduct has sparked a debate about the contradiction between the broadcaster’s commitment to universal values and what it calls “its special obligation towards Israel”. With near universal consensus amongst the major human rights groups that Israel is practicing the crime of apartheid, it’s unclear how DW or Germany for that matter can maintain its commitment to democracy and human rights wile granting Israel special protection.

“Generally speaking, of course Germany has a specific responsibility to Jewish people,” Sinthujan Varatharajah, an independent researcher and essayist based in Berlin is reported saying in the +972 Magazine. “How could it not, considering the Shoah it eagerly committed? But Germany’s commitment has to be towards human rights — that is, human rights of everyone, rather than the rights of a selective group.”

In Varatharajah’s eyes, Germany “doesn’t have the right to support the human rights abuses of another state to morally rid itself of the guilt it carries for its violent past. DW’s treatment and framing of Palestinian issues shows that its journalism is anything but ‘neutral’. It’s state politics.” This, Varatharajah says, comes as no surprise. “It is a reflection of contemporary German state rhetoric and political practices, something we see happening in the Bundestag, the police, all the way to the Goethe Institut. DW is no different.”

The extent to which DW and Germany in general has failed to square the circle of preserving universal values and maintaining support of Israel was vividly highlighted by the recent dismissal case. Palestinian journalist, Farah Maraqa, won an unfair dismissal case against DW seven months after being suspended by the German media network over allegations of anti-Semitism. A German court ruled that her dismissal on charges of anti-Semitism was “legally unjustified.”

In July, DW lost another legal battle in a German Labour court over the dismissal of Palestinian journalist, Maram Salim. A Bonn Labour Court ruled that her termination of employment at Deutsche Welle was invalid, unlawful and that her Facebook posts were not anti-Semitic.

DW had not only conflated criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism as the two cases show but also the fact that in a choice between defending free speech, human rights and democracy on one side and the defence of Israel on the other, the German broadcaster prioritizes its support for the Apartheid State over its claim to champion universal values.