German firm fights for Israel's security

Germanys largest media

Mathias D?pfner axel springer 248 88 (photo credit: Croutesy of
Mathias D?pfner axel springer 248 88
(photo credit: Croutesy of
The journalistic ethos of the Axel Springer publishing house - Europe's largest media conglomerate - is governed by a set of principles spelled out in the employment contract of each journalist, one of which advocates "the support of the State of Israel and its existence and reconciliation between Germans and Jews." In an exclusive, wide-ranging interview with The Jerusalem Post earlier this month, Dr. Mathias Döpfner, CEO of the Berlin-based Axel Springer AG media empire and a self-described "non-Jewish Zionist," explained the philosophy behind Springer's support for Israel and his coordination of the 10th annual European-Israel Dialogue taking place for the first time in Israel on Monday and Tuesday in Jerusalem. According to Dr. Döpfner, Axel Springer (1912-1985), the self-made founder of the media giant, "thought that a new Germany can only develop if it is somehow defining its relationship to Israel. He clearly said that the Holocaust cannot be compensated, but in order to find a new self-definition, Germany has to support from now on the State of Israel and its people." The magazines and daily newspapers of the Axel Springer publishing empire span Europe, and within Germany its mass-circulation Bild newspaper reaches more than three million readers. German media critics argue that within a European media landscape filled at times by shoddy and a one-sided press coverage of Israel, Axel Springer has been cutting against the grain by presenting a refreshingly balanced and objective view. "Israel and Europe should have an understanding of absolutely common interests in the defense of democracy and the values of the free Western world, "Döpfner told the Post. "Israel is the bridgehead of democracy in the Middle East. So it is in the interests of Europe to support it and to strengthen it. We share the same cultural roots and we share the same security interests and foreign policy interests. Let's bring it closer together," he said. In this vein, Springer AG jump-started the European-Israeli Dialogue 10 years ago, to foster "a political, social, cultural and scientific dialogue" that has "brought together business, media, politicians, scientists, artists, business people from major European countries," Döpfner said. The Dialogue's founding statement said that "Israel should be a member of the EU," he said. As a result of Döpfner's success in running the European-Israeli Dialogue, former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and European Commission Vice President Günter Verheugen turned to him in 2007 to chair the European Union-Israel Business Dialogue. Döpfner said the aim of the EU-Israel Business Dialogue "is to bring together Israeli and European business people to talk to about common interests with regard to their businesses. It can be very concrete. They can talk about joint-ventures. But also to talk to about common interests with regard to a political frame in which they can start and grow successful businesses. In the end, it leads to a closer relationship and more reliable support of European nations and the European Commission of Israel." Last year, Axel Springer's headquarters hosted the EU-Israeli Business Dialogue, which showcased 15 Israeli companies from the new media sector to German visitors. Döpfner added that "it is very important that we, on the one hand, never forget about Germany history... and what Germany has done, and because of that we have a special responsibility to support Israel and this is something we have to continue from generation to generation to make sure that it will never be forgotten. On the other hand, I think it is absolutely vital to define apart from that historical obligation from Germany, and from other European countries, a future-oriented interest in Israel." He quickly listed why the Israeli economy is attractive for foreign investors: "It is a very education-driven society. Elites in science and research play an important role. There are many examples: Ben-Gurion University or the Weizmann Institute. "The whole mentality of the society is knowledge-, science- and business-driven and a lot more innovative than many European societies. The number of hi-tech companies launched is tremendous. The track record of Israeli products and business ideas is amazingly high," Döpfner said. Asked about the thorny issue of Germany's flourishing trade relationship with Iran, Döpfner said that "the most important message would be that Europe and American are united when it comes to defending the right of the existence of Israel under all circumstances." He warned against allowing fundamentalists in the Islamic world to play Europe off against the US. "I am a strong believer in doing everything before a military option and the only instrument that might help and can work are sanctions. Unfortunately, just very few German corporations are doing that. Deutsche Bank is not cooperating with Iran. But most of them, big companies, are still doing business with the totalitarian regime in Iran... It is important that deeds follow words." Verena Hassler contributed to this report.