Meet Ahmad Mansour, the Palestinian doing Israel’s dirty work in Germany

Ahmad Mansour has played a key role in state broadcaster Deutsche Welle’s purge of Arab journalist (Sina Schuldt - DPA)

Ali Abunimah

The Electronic Intifada  /  February 9, 2022

German state broadcaster Deutsche Welle on Monday fired five Arab journalists following a smear campaign by pro-Israel media and a supposedly independent investigation, the co-chair of which describes Arabs as murderous “savages.”

The investigation, launched in December, was prompted by claims of “anti-Semitic and anti-Israel” remarks by network employees.

In a report published on Monday, the investigators said they found no “structural” anti-Semitism at Deutsche Welle.

But they concluded that the five journalists deserved to be fired for statements that “amounted to anti-Semitism, Holocaust denial or Holocaust relativism, as well as statements that denied Israel’s right to exist.”

In the wake of the report, Deutsche Welle accepted the resignation of the head of its Arabic division.

One of the dismissed journalists, Farah Maraqa, a Palestinian-Jordanian, tweeted on Monday that “I just have been notified without further explanations that I will receive a notice of termination from Deutsche Welle with immediate effect.”

“I have not yet been informed about the reasons, nor been handed … the report on which these allegations shall be based,” she added.

Maraqa worked at DW Arabic in Berlin as a producer for its main evening news program. She also appeared on air, reporting on Middle East and geopolitical issues.

The investigation was carried out by Ahmad Mansour, a psychologist whose anti-Muslim, anti-Arab and pro-Israel views have made him a darling of German media and state-funded institutions, and Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, a former German justice minister from the right-wing Free Democratic Party.

While in office nine years ago, Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger remained notably silent when asked about Israel’s human rights abuses against Palestinians and asylum seekers from African states during a visit to Jerusalem.

Mansour, as is detailed below, has close ties to extreme right-wing, pro-Israel think tanks.

Their 56-page report uses the so-called IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, a controversial document promoted by Israel and its lobby.

The “definition” conflates criticism of Israel with anti-Jewish bigotry and has become a primary tool for smearing and censoring supporters of Palestinian rights.

One illustration of the anti-Palestinian bias in the report is how it calls the social media hashtag #rettetSheikhJarrah – Save Sheikh Jarrah – an example of “subjective Palestinian propaganda.”

But even the staunchly pro-Israel German government has called on Israel to “permanently halt eviction and demolition procedures of Palestinian structures” in that occupied East Jerusalem neighborhood.

Presumably, by the standards of Mansour, Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger and Deutsche Welle, this makes the German government itself a purveyor of “Palestinian propaganda.”

The report claims that, in principle, criticism of Israel is permitted, but erects so many obstacles that almost any statement can be construed as “anti-Semitism.”

“If Israel alone is singled out by the UN for human rights violations, while the behavior of known violators such as China, Iran or Syria tends to be ignored, double standards are applied, then that is anti-Semitism,” the report asserts, for instance.

But this assertion solves a problem that doesn’t exist.

Israel has never been “singled out” for anything but total impunity. Dozens of other countries, by contrast – including Iran and Syria – have for decades faced onerous UN, US or European Union sanctions for various alleged misdeeds.

Israel has never been sanctioned by the UN, US or EU for its violations of Palestinian rights and international law.

Far from being “independent,” the report regurgitates Israeli government talking points long used as pretexts to intimidate anyone questioning the actions of a regime deemed by leading human rights organizations to be a perpetrator of apartheid, one of the most serious crimes against humanity.

Smears and twisted words

“This case is illustrative of the anti-Palestinian racism in Germany and the extremely problematic attacks on freedom of expression,” the European Legal Support Center, a group that defends free speech for supporters of Palestinian rights, said on Monday.

It warned the firing of the journalists would “create a severe chilling effect on Palestinian rights advocacy.”

The Electronic Intifada understands that the journalists dismissed by Deutsche Welle are examining their legal options.

In addition to Maraqa, Deutsche Welle terminated Bassel Aridi, the head of Deutsche Welle’s Beirut bureau; Daoud Ibrahim, a freelance trainer for the network in Lebanon; Maram Salem, a Palestinian working in Germany, and Murhaf Mahmoud, a Syrian translator and journalist also working in Germany.

Aridi was reportedly fired for a since-deleted 2014 tweet saying collaborators with Israel – a state which has repeatedly invaded Lebanon killing tens of thousands of people, and remains at war with it – are traitors who deserve the death penalty.

Ibrahim was fired for a 10-year-old tweet stating “the Holocaust is a lie #FreedomOfSpeech.”

Ibrahim explained on Monday, according to Lebanese newspaper L’Orient Today, that “he contextualized his tweet on Twitter at the time and has since explained to reporters and DW colleagues that he was merely trying to call out ‘the well-known double standard when it comes to freedom of speech.’”

“He insisted that he did not actually agree with the tweeted statement,” the newspaper added.

Ibrahim may have intended to challenge the glaring double standard across Europe where poisonous anti-Muslim vitriol – such as cartoons denigrating Muslims and the Prophet Muhammad – is celebrated as “free speech,” while Holocaust denial is in some countries criminalized.

All five journalists were suspended back in December, after a smear campaign against them in German media.

Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor, a group based in Geneva, expressed concern at the time about “the recent alarming increase in the targeting, singling out and smearing of Arab and Palestinian journalists in German media.”

“This entails smear campaigns that either rely on guilt by association; selectively spotlighting years-old writings of targeted journalists that are unrepresentative of their views today; or deliberately misinterpreting or taking words out of their critical context to conjure up accusations of anti-Semitism,” the group added.

In a series of blog posts following her suspension, Maraqa described what happened in her own case.

“It was a normal workday at Deutsche Welle when I got an email from a journalist [at the newspaper] Süddeutsche Zeitung asking me if I wanted to comment on three sentences he picked up from old articles that look criticizing to Israel,” Maraqa recalled.

“The sentences were from an ironic column I wrote that dated back to 2014 and 2015,” she added.

Euro-Med says it “examined the referenced articles and found that Maraqa’s words may have been taken out of context and misinterpreted.”

The human rights group also highlighted another case in which Nemi El-Hassan, a journalist of Palestinian ancestry, had her science show canceled by another German broadcaster, Westdeutscher Rundfunk.

El-Hassan’s supposed transgression was “liking” Instagram posts on the account of Jewish Voice for Peace, a well-known US-based group that campaigns for Palestinian rights and opposes Zionism, Israel’s state ideology.

On Wednesday, EuroMed denounced the “independent” Deutsche Welle report written by Mansour and Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, calling it “biased, flawed and dangerous.”

The group said it reviewed the report and concluded that its “framework, analysis and recommendations contain multiple evidence of bias in favor of Israel and against the Palestinians.”

EuroMed warned of a further escalation of “what is tantamount to an anti-Arab purge in German media.”

Eliminating criticism of Israel

The purge of Arab journalists at Deutsche Welle is only the latest episode in a campaign to ensure that there is no room for criticism of Israel in German media.

In May, as Israel was annihilating entire Palestinian families by bombing Gaza, Deutsche Welle publicly denounced this writer as an anti-Semite. This followed a live interview in which I criticized German complicity in Israel’s crimes.

German elites have long viewed giving unconditional support for Israel as a cheap and easy way to “atone” for the German government’s murder of millions of Jews during the Holocaust.

“I think it is time for the people of Germany and German elites to stop making Palestinian children in the Gaza Strip pay for the crimes of the German people against European Jews,” I said in the interview.

Following my interview, Deutsche Welle issued an internal memorandum sharply limiting what its journalists or guests are allowed to say about Israel, including prohibiting the use of the words “apartheid” or “colonialism.”

Then in December, around the time it suspended the five journalists, Deutsche Welle ended a cooperation agreement with Jordanian TV station Roya, allegedly because the broadcaster spread “anti-Israel and anti-Semitic” material on social media.

On Monday, Deutsche Welle published a 10-point plan that will ensure that the German government broadcaster becomes even more pro-Israel and anti-Palestinian.

Among the measures is adopting a “mandatory” definition of anti-Semitism that “includes the recognition of Israel’s right to exist and the rejection of denial and trivialization of the Holocaust.”

It also includes adding more staff to Deutsche Welle’s Jerusalem bureau. Presumably those additional staff will not be Palestinians.

Arab “savages”

Undoubtedly, the role of Ahmad Mansour as an “independent” investigator has lent the witch hunt against Arab journalists in Germany an air of credibility – at least in the eyes of the German establishment.

A Palestinian with Israeli citizenship who turned against his own people, Mansour has adopted the role of native informant, legitimizing the racist and anti-Muslim views of Western elites.

Like other such figures prominent in North America and Europe since the 11 September 2001 attacks, he claims to once have been a devout Muslim before seeing the light.

The Bridge Initiative, a Georgetown University project documenting Islamophobia, describes Mansour as a “validator.”

According to Fear Inc., the Center for American Progress’s landmark study of the Islamophobia network, a validator is an individual who “claim[s] inside knowledge about the realities of radical Islam” and bolsters “the extreme views of the Islamophobia misinformation experts, right-wing media enablers and anti-Muslim politicians.”

Among his links with the anti-Muslim and pro-Israel far-right, Mansour was a program director and senior policy advisor at the European Foundation for Democracy.

This Brussels-based think tank “focuses on defaming Muslim civil society organizations and attempting to exclude them from the European political field,” according to the Bridge Initiative.

The European Foundation for Democracy is closely associated with and has received substantial funding from the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

FDD is a prominent Washington-based think tank that has worked secretly with the Israeli government to monitor, smear and sabotage supporters of Palestinian rights.

The European Foundation for Democracy deleted the page for Mansour from its website at some time since 21 April 2021, the last date for which an archived copy of it is available.

generally positive profile of Mansour in Israel’s Haaretz newspaper in 2019 describes him as “one of Germany’s most prominent critics of Islam.”

It is unimaginable that someone would be casually described in the 21st century as, say, “one of Germany’s most prominent critics of Judaism” without it being couched in the harshest condemnation.

But as Haaretz notes, Mansour, who moved to Germany in 2004, “is a sought-after interviewee on German news programs and talk shows, as well as in the press – conservative, liberal and left-wing alike – and he regularly publishes opinion pieces in local papers.”

His 2015 book Generation Allah, validating German fears about the “radicalization” of Muslim youth in the country, has been a bestseller.

As Haaretz put it, “the point Mansour makes, in his writing and in our conversation, is that what he calls the Muslim mainstream in Europe – which rejects radicals and certainly terrorism – is actually significantly responsible for radicalization among Muslim youth: The mainstream don’t understand what leads to murder and extremism, or that they themselves are laying down the foundations on which extremism is based.”

In other words, all Muslims in Europe are suspect, even if they do not espouse “radicalism” and “terror.”

His views of Arabs are no less vile. “Some Arabs are savages and some aren’t,” he generously allows.

“Let’s define ‘savage,’” he elaborates. “I think mainstream Arabs have huge problems with democracy and everything connected to human rights.”

“There are problems of violence that are related to culture,” he adds. “I don’t think most Arabs want to murder, but I think we do have a problem. Forget the Jews. Look how many Arabs murdered Arabs in recent years. It’s a lot.”

This is the kind of essentialist racism long deployed in Europe and North America against Indigenous peoples and marginalized communities, including Germany’s Jews, to justify colonial violence overseas and repression and discrimination at home.

It also echoes racist tropes about “Black-on-Black” violence that have been used to deflect attention from the violence of South Africa’s former apartheid regime or American state forces.

Such claims are often rooted in racist views that Black people – similar to Mansour’s view of Arabs – are innately more prone to violence than other populations.

Showered with honors

Needless to say, Mansour did not lose his job or his status for generalizing that Arabs are “savages” who are culturally prone to committing murder. Indeed, these racist views are precisely why he holds such high status in Germany.

He has been showered with honors, including a “human rights” prize from the state of North Rhine-Westphalia and an award from the German-Israeli society of Hanover.

Currently Mansour works for the ZDK Society Democratic Culture, an organization funded by the German government and the European Union.

Founded in 2003, it claims its purpose is to challenge “anti-freedom and radical ideological movements, such as right-wing radicalism and Islamism, as well as left-wing radicalism, which is anti-freedom.”

What this amounts to is fearmongering about Muslims and immigrants in general, while claiming to fight all kinds of “extremism.” But in reality, it is soft on right-wing, neo-Nazi extremism – a growing threat across Europe.

Mansour has used his platform to promote the claim that young Muslims from a migrant background are responsible for an upsurge in anti-Semitism in Germany and to demand harsher repression.

Such false claims are regularly advanced by supporters of Israel, who attempt to associate all support for Palestinian rights – which is particularly strong in Germany’s communities of Turkish and Arab ancestry – with anti-Jewish bigotry and religious extremism.

In fact, according to statistics from Germany’s federal police, the vast majority of documented anti-Semitic incidents and hate crimes in the country in 2020 had a right-wing political motivation – nothing to do with the Palestine solidarity movement or Muslims.

For Mansour, the remedy for allegedly rampant “anti-Semitism” among Muslims in Germany is that they must be taught unambiguous support for Israel.

“We need mosques that will say during Friday prayer that in this country, people must not question Israel’s right to exist,” he has said. Mansour is also chair of the Muslim Forum of Germany, a group created with funding from the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, a staunchly pro-Israel organization linked to the right-wing Christian Democratic Party.

In that role, Mansour provides cover for mainstream, respectable Islamophobia. He is cited approvingly, for example, in a Deutsche Welle article by Susanne Schröter, a “researcher on Islam.”

For her, the dangers Muslims supposedly pose to Germany include that: “Nearly every mosque has soccer teams that play against other sides from other mosques. Islamic daycares, cultural centers are being founded; Islamic aid groups, social work and youth work have arisen.”

The pretext for her concern at all this pro-social activity is that it supposedly leads to “segregation.”

“It would be nice to hope that these young people could gain access to the knowledge that liberal, enlightened and humanist Muslims have developed,” Schröter muses.

Among those “enlightened” Muslims are of course Mansour and the Christian Democratic Party-backed Muslim Forum of Germany.

Schröter does not seem to acknowledge that migrant communities, particularly Muslims, might seek comfort and safety among their own community from the pervasive racism and exclusion they have faced for decades and still face in mainstream German society.

A good faith effort to “integrate” these communities – whatever that means – would first and foremost involve a frontal assault on the enduring and prevalent German racism that within living memory led to genocide, and today manifests in unquestioning official support for Israel’s apartheid regime.

A who’s who of Israeli military and intelligence

It is not only German media and politicians who are enthusiastic consumers of Mansour’s tailor-made bigotry.

Mansour is also identified as a staff member at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, a right-wing think tank housed at IDC Herzliya, an Israeli university with close ties to the state’s intelligence and propaganda apparatus.

The think tank’s board and staff are a who’s who of Israeli military and intelligence figures, including Shabtai Shavit, a former head of Israel’s international spying and murder agency Mossad.

That Mansour was chosen to sit in judgment of the journalists at Deutsche Welle indicates that the only Arabs or Muslims who will be allowed to thrive within German institutions are those who view the countries and communities they or their parents came from as enemies.

The five journalists must seek and receive redress for being dismissed and scapegoated by Deutsche Welle. Yet their firing is also a moment of clarity.

Their presence, along with that of other Arabs and Muslims, has allowed Germany’s institutionally anti-Muslim, anti-Palestinian and anti-Arab state media to falsely present itself as “diverse.”

It should now be seen for what it is: the racist mouthpiece of a racist state where the only “good” Arab or Muslim is one who hates Arabs and Muslims and loves their oppressors, especially Israel.

Ali Abunimah is executive director of The Electronic Intifada