The weekly magazine Der Spiegel has been plunged into a further fact-checking crisis after a massive backlash over its weekend publication alleging – with echoes of a classic antisemitic conspiracy theory – that two small pro-Israel organizations are directing German Middle East policy.
“The Spiegel must officially apologize for practicing Israel-related antisemitism,” Uwe Becker, commissioner to combat antisemitism in the state of Hesse, wrote on Twitter. “The article contains all the stereotypes that constitute antisemitism, and is an example of how deep these though patterns are in mainstream society.”
A team of six Spiegel journalists wrote in a three-page article that two organizations based in Germany – Values Initiative and The Middle East Peace Forum (Naffo) – are, according to the magazine’s headline, “controlling German Middle East policy.”
After outrage on social media over the headline and the thrust of the article, Spiegel wrote: “How two associations want to influence the German Middle East policy.”
The article reports that the two groups used “dubious methods” to mount a “targeted campaign” to secure a Bundestag resolution opposing the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel.
Germany’s parliament passed a non-binding anti-BDS resolution in May. Spiegel claimed that members of parliament did “not want to reject the resolution out of fear of being labeled an antisemite.” The magazine did not provide any quotes from Bundestag MPs expressing such a sentiment.
The website of Values Initiative published a detailed question-and-answer section on Sunday in response to the Spiegel article, which claimed that the organizations run a “network” and wield outsized “influence.”
“Both Naffo and the Value Initiative have contacts with specialist politicians in the relevant areas (foreign policy/domestic policy) and meet them for talks, send position papers or invite them to thematically oriented events,” Values Initiative wrote.
DR. ELIO ADLER, head of Values Initiative and a former member of Naffo, told the Bild newspaper that the Spiegel article “feeds antisemitic myths.”
A statement on the organization’s website noted that “Articles like this in Spiegel show how urgent our association work is. As a civic, Jewish voice in Germany, the Values Initiative advocates strengthening the values of the liberal-democratic order from a Jewish perspective.”
Adler and his German-Jewish group have been involved in combating contemporary antisemitism in Germany over the years.
Spiegel further alleged that Naffo “advocates for positions of Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu,” and “carries out aggressive lobby work” in Berlin’s government district. The magazine claims that the “questionable methods” of Naffo involve a conference where positions were exchanged with politicians, and trips were arranged to bring German MPs to Israel. Spiegel also reported that two Naffo members made a 1,500 euro donation to the Green Party in 2013.
“In the end, the question remains: just how independent can politicians be when they make money off their contacts?” the magazine wrote.
The donation was legal, and according to critics of the Spiegel report, was a modest contribution.
Naffo executive director Mirjam Rosenstein told Bild that Naffo comments on political issues through publicly available position papers and meets with politicians, just as every association from the automotive industry “to the rabbit breeders’ association” does. She flatly rejected that Naffo represents Netanyahu, noting that last year Naffo hosted opposition politician Yair Lapid, chairman of Yesh Atid.
Free Democratic Party MP Frank Müller-Rosentritt, who co-initiated the anti-BDS resolution, wrote on Twitter: “Dear Spiegel, Both myself and many of my colleagues in the Bundestag are committed out of conviction against antisemitism [and] BDS, and [to] friendship with Israel. This assumption of corruption is outrageous & far from any reality!”
The article suspects that the two organizations are “front organizations” for Israel’s government with links to the Mossad, although it did not provide any evidence for that claim. Both Values Initiative and Naffo flatly denied receiving funds from Israel’s government.
“ANTISEMITIC INCIDENTS are now almost daily [occurrences] in Germany, but Der Spiegel has nothing better to do than ‘uncover’ a Jewish-Zionist plot,” said Simone Rodan-Benzaquen, director of the American Jewish Committee’s Paris-based Europe Office. “Apparently, Der Spiegel has not learned much about fact checking since the Claas Relotius scandal.”
Rodan-Benzaquen’s reference is to Claas Relotius, a former reporter for Spiegel, who fabricated scores of news stories, including anti-American articles. Last year’s Relotius scandal revealed the magazine’s defective fact-checking system and widespread latitude for anti-American articles.
According to Israel Hayom, journalists involved in the alleged antisemitic Spiegel article were linked to the fake news reporting by Relotius. A Post media query to Spiegel spokeswoman Anja zum Hingst was not immediately returned regarding ties to Relotius. When asked about the allegations of antisemitism contained in the article, Hingst wrote: “We cannot understand the criticism and stand by the results of our research.”
Veteran German journalists such as Sabina Wolf took Spiegel to task for providing no evidence for its allegations.
“EU [and] Bundestag have adopted the definition for antisemitism: ‘... a certain perception of Jews... which can lead to hatred towards Jews...,’ Wolf, who works for Bavarian Broadcasting 24, wrote on Twitter. “Der Spiegel conjectures without evidence influence of Jews and institutions on the Bundestag. That is antisemitic.”
The six Spiegel journalists who wrote the article are Matthias Gebauer, Ann-Katrin Müller, Sven Röbel, Raniah Salloum, Christoph Schult and Christoph Sydow.
“Jews’ lives in Germany depend on police protection,” Marc Felix Serrao, the Berlin-based correspondent for the Swiss paper Neue Zürcher Zeitung, wrote on Twitter. “Anyone who publicly wears a kippa risks his health. And the Spiegel publishes a story about a Jewish conspiracy so thin and wanting that one would have to laugh if it were not so bitter.”
The Spiegel article also quoted German Undersecretary of State Niels Annen, who criticized the two pro-Israel groups: “Any attempt to influence the balanced position of Germany or Europe in one of the sides’ directions is problematic.”
Annen celebrated Iran’s regime in February at Tehran’s embassy in Berlin, and also opposes a full ban of the Lebanese organization Hezbollah. The US, Canada, Britain, the Arab League, Israel and the Netherlands have proscribed Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.
Journalist Philip E. Fabian dissected the Spiegel article on the website of Germany’s best-selling paper Bild, and wrote on Twitter about the article that “Bild Politics summarizes what’s wrong with that (namely everything).”
Dr. Josef Schuster, head of the nearly 100,000 member Central Council of Jews in Germany, told Bild on Sunday: “The article clearly uses antisemitic clichés, fueling antisemitism. This type of reporting is irresponsible and dangerous.”