BERLIN – The Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) newspaper falsely claimed that tens of thousands of Israelis fled to Germany because of the policies of the Netanyahu administration, the German Press Council confirmed.
The council’s 5-to-1 vote to uphold its initial ruling against the largest broadsheet newspaper in Germany is the latest act in a long-running media dispute playing out with high-powered lawyers and press experts.
The case began in 2014, and the decision was published in the first week of January. It was obtained by The Jerusalem Post late last week.
Honestly Concerned, a Frankfurt-based pro-Israel media watchdog, had filed a complaint alleging that Thorsten Schmitz, an SZ journalist, falsely stated in his article that “tens of thousands of Israelis fled” their country and sought refuge in Germany.
Honestly Concerned prevailed in the initial complaint. The SZ won a reversal last year. Now, Honestly Concerned appears to have sealed a final victory.
The Press Council in its new decision wrote that Schmitz “violated the journalistic accuracy requirement” of the German press code “by not proving the number and noting that the figure is a disputed estimate.”
According to the decision, “it is must be clear to the reader how valid the statistical information is. For the reader, such a presentation was lacking in the article.”
The attorney for Honestly Concerned, Dr. Katy Ritzmann from the prestigious law firm FPS, argued before the council that Schmitz’s statistical information was “unsubstantiated, speculative, without a factual foundation and contradicted the journalistic requirement for accuracy.”
Media estimates of the number of Israelis living in Germany vary. The Federal Office for Migration and Refugees reported a total of 11,655 Israelis living in Germany in 2013. In 2012, 11,244 Israeli citizens lived in the Federal Republic.
Ritzmann said that Schmitz’s contention that Israelis are fleeing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government cannot be defended as a personal opinion, because the claim concerns numbers of emigrés who either exist or do not exist. She further argued that Israelis who relocated to Germany were impelled by multiple factors, and their motivations cannot be limited to Israeli politics.
The SZ provided the Press Council with a statement from Schmitz ahead of the decision. In it, he reiterated that “tens of thousands of Israelis” fled from the conditions in their country, for which Israel’s prime minister is responsible. Schmitz contends that many of the Israelis used their European passports and were not counted in the statistics.
The SZ argued that Honestly Concerned employs an incorrect definition of the world “flee.” The paper said the word “flee” can be understood to mean avoid an unpleasant or unmanageable living situation. According to the SZ interpretation, the departure from a location does not necessary mean it was dangerous there.
The newspaper offered evidence trying to show Israelis are leaving home because of high consumer prices, citing the chocolate “Pudding Debate,” where Israelis protested against the fact that chocolate pudding was much cheaper in Germany than in Israel. A former IDF officer, Naor Narkis, started an online protest about the high cost of the Milky pudding in Israel, and called on Israelis to “make aliya” to Berlin.
Ritzmann countered that Narkis had returned to Israel and the pudding debate took place during the 2015 Knesset session.
Schmitz did not return Post telephone calls and emails. Peter Lindner, who oversees SZ online, where Schmitz’s article appeared, also did not respond to Post email and telephone queries.
Dr. Elvira U. Grözinger, a member of the German chapter of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, told the Post, “Thorsten Schmitz is a biased, anti-Israeli journalist. After complaining about him to the SZ (no response) I unsubscribed from the paper. I gave his reports from Israel as a reason for that, and I am sure that we were not the only readers who did that because of him.”
The SZ has a history of publishing allegedly anti-Semitic cartoons and articles, as well as a racist cartoon about migrants in Germany.
The SZ published in 2012 the late Nobel Prize winner in literature Günter Grass’s anti-Israel poem: “What Must Be Said.” The poem was widely criticized in Germany as anti-Semitic because it depicted Israel as the greatest danger for world peace. In 2013, the paper published a caricature of Israel as a demonic monster, and in 2014 it depicted Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg as a hook-nosed Octopus gobbling up the world – a reference to Nazi portrayals of Jews.
The SZ editor responsible for the placement of the monster cartoon, Franziska Augstein, attempted to convince an American-Jewish organization not to file a Press Council complaint against the newspaper. The organization filed the complaint alleging anti-Semitism and the SZ was compelled to apologize for the alleged Jew-hatred in its pages. The SZ apologized this month for an allegedly racist and sexist cartoon depicting a black migrant assaulting a white woman.
Henryk M. Broder, a leading expert on modern German anti-Semitism and a columnist at the daily Die Welt, first exposed Schmitz’s failed methods of journalistic verification. Broder, who has testified in the Bundestag as an expert witness on anti-Semitism, recently said at a packed reading in Berlin for his new book, “That is Really Insane,” that the SZ is the “most anti-Semitic and reactionary newspaper” in Germany.