Friday, 02 August 2019 15:03

GERMANY – Pseudo “investigative” article perpetuates antisemitic stereotypes of hidden Jewish political manipulators

An article published in popular news magazine Der Spiegel portrays the work of two Jewish lobby groups in Germany as dubious and worrisome, invoking the antisemitic trope of scheming Jewish cabals. This is Germany’s media monitoring highlight for July.

This article is part of the Media Monitoring Highlights of July, a monthly overview of the most significant results of our monitoring of traditional and new media in Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, and the United Kingdom.

spiegel lobbyingDate of publication: 12 July 2019

Media Outlet:  Der Spiegel, a German weekly news magazine, one of the oldest and largest of its kind in Europe.


Headline: “‘Lobbyism in the Bundestag: How two associations want to influence German Middle East policy”

ContextIn May 2019, the Bundestag – Germany’s parliament – passed a resolution which condemns the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement as antisemitic. Furthermore, the resolution holds that the German government cannot support any organizations which support the BDS movement, call for a boycott of Israel, or question Israel’s right to exist. According to the resolution, the “radical nature of the all-encompassing call for a boycott leads to the stigmatisation of Israeli citizens of Jewish faith as a whole."

Proponents of the BDS movement assert that the movement attempts to emulate the campaigns against South African apartheid in the 1980s. However, critics of the movement point out that comparisons between apartheid South Africa and Israel are “an unfair and inaccurate slander.” After all, while problems between different ethnic groups in Israel might persist, Arab Israelis are citizens with the right to vote. Aside from ending an alleged Israeli apartheid, the goals of the BDS movement include stopping the occupation of the Palestinian territories and allowing Palestinian refugees and their descendants (which would amount to roughly five million people) to their ancestral homeland. As the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) argues, some supporters of the movement might genuinely believe that boycotting, disinvesting and sanctioning Israel could bring about policy change; however, “the predominant drive of the BDS campaign and its leadership is not criticism of policies, but the demonization and delegitimization of Israel.” This is in line with the Bundestag’s resolution which holds that the “argumentation patterns and methods used by the BDS movement are anti-Semitic” – and this resolution is the backdrop to the article in question published in Der Spiegel, one of Germany’s most popular news magazines.

Specifically, the article claims that two lobby groups – WerteInitiative (“Value Initiative”) and Nahost Friedensforums (“Middle East Peace Forum”, abbreviated as “Naffo”) – which represent Jewish-German positions had influenced German politicians in order to mold and further the resolution. The authors find evidence for this alleged manipulation in donations made to the parties by private people associated with the lobby groups, group dinners held by the associations for the members of parliament, and similar lobbying efforts. In doing so, the article evokes and perpetuates anti-Semitic stereotypes of scheming Jews influencing politics for their private purposes.

Myth DebunkingThe article is problematic for three main reasons: 1) the examples given as proof appear to have been chosen arbitrarily, 2) the language used is polemic, and 3) the article alludes to anti-Semitic tropes. 

First, it is unclear why the authors single out this case and these lobby groups. While one might criticize political lobbying as a practice in general, the authors specifically focus on Jewish lobbying groups. Furthermore, the article suggests that the resolution was passed due to the efforts of WerteInitiative and Naffo – which is a stretch to say the least. 

On the issue of a dinner after which several attending representatives had tweeted similar content regarding a documentary on antisemitism, the article asks suggestively “All of it mere coincidence?” – leaving it to the reader to draw connections while allowing itself sufficient deniability. This is poor journalism and far below the standard to which the public can hold a magazine such as Der Spiegel.

Secondly, the choice of words in this article repeatedly bears negative connotations. For instance, the authors write that the lobby groups promoted their cause “offensively” – “so offensive”, in fact, that one interviewee apparently spoke of “systematic exertion of influence” which resulted in the resolution passing. The article also speaks of “aggressive” and “dubious methods” and highlights how “subtle” the work of the lobby groups was.

Lastly, the article alludes to the antisemitic stereotype of a small hidden Jewish cabal manipulating global affairs. For instance, the authors write that “It is remarkable, however, how large the influence of these two associations is, considering how relatively small they are and how little the wider public knows of them.” Sentences such as these attribute awesome and unnatural power to groups that appear to be insignificant to the uninitiated eye – thus playing into conspiracy theories about allegedly powerful Jewish string-pullers. This leads into the main argument of the article, which holds that scheming Jews are using their money to change the course of history—AKA, a classic anti-Semitic stereotype. The following sentence is problematic, too: “The Israeli government then celebrated the Bundestag resolution as though it were a trophy.” Again, the article insinuates that the resolution would not have been passed without these two lobby groups. More importantly, it invokes the idea that the Bundestag played into the hands of the Israeli government in some kind of game – one which was won by the Israeli government now celebrating its triumph. Sentences such as these may lead to a further demonization of Israel and perpetuate the anti-Semitic notion that Israel is meddling in other countries’ affairs.

Spiegel’s own follow-up article – which was meant to address some of the criticism levied against the original – does little to truly address any of the criticisms. It fails to explain why these lobby groups were singled out and why the respective examples of allegedly worrisome practices were brought up. Even with the additional explanations, the examples still appear to be arbitrary. It also does not address any of the polemic language used and dismisses the allegation of antisemitism without sincerely reflecting on why these criticisms were levied in the first place.

In sum, this article bases its arguments on far-fetched, speculative, and superficial evidence that is a textbook example of some of the most common tropes and stereotypes.

More to read:

BDS: how a controversial non-violent movement has transformed the Israeli-Palestinian debate

German magazine under fire for promoting anti-Jewish conspiracy 

Pro-Israel Groups Promoted anti-BDS Resolution in German Parliament, Der Spiegel Reports 

„Der Spiegel“ und das gefährliche Spiel mit den Israel-Freunden 

Heftige Kritik am „Spiegel“ wegen Antisemitismus

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