German paper refuses to fully correct report demonizing Israel

Article designed to ‘delegitimize the Jewish state,’ expert says.

January 23, 2016 20:27
4 minute read.
Süddeutsche Zeitung

Front page of the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper . (photo credit: screenshot)


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The Süddeutsche Zeitung - Germany’s largest circulation daily broadsheet newspaper – has refused to fully correct a false assertion that tens of thousands of Israelis fled to Germany because of the policies of the Netanyahu administration.

Roman Portack, a leading media expert at the Berlin-based German Press Council, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday that the correction that was issued does not conform to its “Best Practice” recommendation. The media watchdog group expects SZ to insert in its erroneous article the statement: “The German Press Council made us aware in its [recent] decision that the repetition of the controversial estimate did not satisfy the standards of journalistic accuracy.”

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The Munich-based SZ provided a correction online last week stating, “Editorial note: By the number it [the earlier article] deals with a controversial estimate.” Portack said the explanation is satisfactory but fails to inform the readers about the background of the dispute and why the correction was necessary.

It is unclear when SZ posted the correction.

Portack added that “transparency” is important in making corrections to inaccurate media articles.

Thorsten Schmitz’s article with the inaccurate claim appeared in the print edition of the paper in September 2014. The paper has refused to comment on whether it will furnish the readers with a correction in its print edition.

Schmitz, who faced criticism for anti-Israel articles while working as the SZ correspondent in Israel, has refused to provide a comment to the Post on his fact-challenged article since 2015. He declined to say if he was disciplined for the report.

The Press Council wrote in an early January decision 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.” There are wide-ranging estimates of the number of Israelis living in Germany.

The Frankfurt-based pro-Israel media watchdog NGO Honestly Concerned filed a complaint with the Press Council in late 2014 against SZ because of the article. Schmitz’s claim that tens of thousands of Israelis sought refuge in Germany was contradicted by Germany’s Federal Office for Migration and Refugees. The Office reported a total of 11,655 Israelis living in Germany in 2013. In 2012, 11,244 Israeli citizens lived in the Federal Republic.

German, American and Israeli critics say SZ has a history of anti-Semitism and attacking the Jewish state.

In article titled, “Defeat for the Süddeutche Zeitung,” on the website of “Mena-Watch,” a Middle East outlet, Alex Feuerherdt, an expert on modern German anti-Semitism, termed Schmitz’s article a method of “demonizing and delegitimizing the Jewish state.” Feuerherdt wrote that the newspaper’s failure to fully correct its inaccurate reporting “showed how little it is willing to show a minimum of fairness” toward Israel. SZ is a “sore loser,” Feuerherdt said.

The Mena-Watch article by Feuerherdt showed a photograph of Jews protesting against SZ in 1949 in Munich because of its lethal anti-Semitism. The Holocaust survivors are holding a banner reading, “Down with the Stürmer of 1949. The Süddeutsche Zeitung.” Der Stürmer paper was a Nazi paper that advocated dehumanized Jews with its cartoons and articles. Der Stürmer played a critical role in socializing the German public for genocidal anti-Semitism.

SZ published a letter to the editor in 1949 by Adolf Bleibtreu, a pseudonym, in which he said the Americans now have deal with Jews and claimed the Americans told him there is regret “that we did not gas all of them [Jews]....”

Post email and telephone queries to SZ editors-in-chief Wolfgang Krach and Kurt Kister seeking comment about the correction were not returned. Julia Bönisch, a deputy SZ editor, told the Post to not turn to her for answers.

When questioned about the SZ’s inaccurate reporting and alleged anti-Semitism at the paper, Katharina Riehl, the paper’s media correspondent, asked the Post on the telephone: “How did you come to me?” She said she would telephone the Post with an answer but later declined to.

The chief editors, as well as Bönisch and Riehl, declined to discuss the issue of continuity between paper’s anti-Jewish reporting after the Holocaust in 1949 and its present-day coverage of Jews and Israel.

In 2012, SZ labeled the best-selling American-Israeli writer Tuvia Tenenbom “the Jew Tenenbom” in a report. Der Spiegel covered the “Anti-Semitism dispute” between Tenenbom and SZ. Tenenbom said the use of the word “Jew” in SZ was “degrading” and “insulting” and reduced him to the Jewish religion by not using his first name. SZ journalist Malte Herwig rejected Tenenbom’s criticism.

Speaking from Israel, Nathan Gelbart, a prominent Berlin-based lawyer from the FPS firm, which successfully represented Honestly Concerned in the dispute with SZ, said “SZ has a long tradition of anti-Semitism after the Third Reich.” It is a “sad state of affairs when one of the largest independent dailies is not prepared to admit its mistake,” he said.

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