German Jews and experts in the field of antisemitism in the press slammed a journalist for promoting classical antisemitic tropes in her commentary that attacked the Central Council of Jews for their criticism of a reportedly one-sided television documentary about the Hamas-controlled Gaza strip.
The Jerusalem Post reached out in September to the Berlin Jewish community, media experts, and observers of rising antisemitism in Germany about the progressive newspaper taz’s media columnist Marlene Halser’s commentary.
“Ms. Halser conveys antisemitic conspiracy theories, according to which Jews control the media (if not the entire world),” said Sigmount Königsberg, the Berlin Jewish community’s commissioner on antisemitism.
Sacha Stawski, the editor-in-chief of media watchdog Honestly Concerned in Frankfurt, said Halser’s commentary is filled with bias and reveals “antisemitic conspiracy theories.” Stawski, a German Jew, has tracked antisemitism in the German-language press for over a decade.
Halser’s August commentary, titled “Program Director Schuster,” notes that “already for a second time within months the Central Council of Jews in Germany issued criticism of the program decision of the TV station Arte.” Halser concluded her column: “the question is, to what extent does the political representative of a religious community attempt to interfere in the program presentation of an independent station.”
Josef Schuster, who is the president of the Central Council for Jews in Germany, blasted Arte in August for airing “Gaza: Is that a life?” for the documentary film’s failure to present “essential information” about an “understanding of the Middle East conflict and the actual situation in the Gaza Strip.”
Israeli-born Schuster said the documentary solely calls Israel ”an aggressor” and holds the Jewish state “alone responsible for the political, societal and economic situation in the Gaza Strip.”
Michael Spaney, the executive director of German think tank Mideast Freedom Forum Berlin, said that “a recent article hinted that the Central Council of Jews has no right to criticize biased programs on a German state sponsored TV channel. Apparently in the author’s view, a representative of a Jewish organization has no right to speak out against hatred of Israel and should rather shut up. People defending this statement have no clue about antisemitism.”
Michaela Engelemier, a MP from the Social Democratic Party in the Bundestag, said “it is a sign of democracy, with a strong civil society, that criticism can be issued from society. That belongs to the competence of every interest group, whether a trade union or the Central Council of Jews, and that is also good.”
Halser told the Post that “I have nowhere contended that the central council is ‘powerful’ or in any form ‘more powerful’ than other societal actors, or pursue in any form a ‘hidden agenda.’”
She flatly denied that she spreads “conspiracy theories.” Halser added that she “criticizes, of course, not only the attempts to exercise influence by the central council, but exercises of influences of any kind from religious communities and interest associations, NGOs and experts…”
She noted that she agrees with the criticism of the Gaza documentary as “one-sided.”
When asked in a follow-up query if she has criticized other religious communities and NGOs in Germany for media interference, Halser declined to respond.
Daniel Killy, the spokesman for the city of Hamburg’s Jewish community, said: “Marlene Halser agrees on the fact that the Arte documentary was lacking a lot but then also attacks Mr. Schuster for interfering. Well, the Muslim representatives of Germany are interfering every second minute and it’s their democratic right, so why is Halser bothering?”
Post queries to taz editor-in-chief Georg Löwisch, as well as deputy editors Barbara Junge and Katrin Gottschalk, were not returned.
Michael Wuliger, a contributor to the weekly German-Jewish newspaper Jüdische Allgemeine, satirized Halser’s alleged Jew-hatred in a column titled “New from the power of the Jews” in August. The sub-header of his article, however, said taz “demonized the Central Council’s criticism of Arte.”
German-Israeli Smadar Perry, vice president of the organization Israel+Shalom, said Halser’s commentary promotes “Israel-related hatred” that has antisemitic connotations.
Grigori Pantijelew, the deputy representative of the Bremen Jewish community in northern Germany, said that “in my work with the media, my premise is that the poll results of the federal government’s antisemitism commission are accurate. That means, 40% of the citizens of this country are antisemitic. It flies in the face of logic when the results do not apply [to] journalists. Journalists are, after all, also people.”
The Jewish community in Germany is relatively small, with 98,600 registered members as of 2016. Germany’s population is just over 82 million people.