Journalist denounces Nazis – then lost dream job because of Israel – The Forward


Journalist Nemi El-Hassan brought cameras inside a neo-Nazi concert in 2017, exposing the rally to millions of Germans as she challenged organizers over the party-related merchandise touting Hitler far-right Alternative for Germany.

“El-Hassan is a confident, hijab-wearing Muslim woman, even at a right-wing rock concert in Themar surrounded by a group of bald, stocky men,” wrote a jury when awarding the report a Civis Media award. . “The reporter braved the crowds and questioned right-wingers – quick-witted, confrontational and fearless. “

The career of the young Palestinian-German journalist, who is also a doctor, took off and this fall, German public television announced her as the host of a new science program.

Then she was hung up.

A right-wing YouTube user resurfaced photos of her during an al-Quds march in 2014, an annual event to support Palestinians and castigate Israel that was created by Iran in 1979. Many in Germany see it as an anti-Semitic hotbed.

El-Hassan, 28, apologized, but his future in journalism is now uncertain. And his case has scared other pro-Palestinian activists in Germany, many of whom are Jews. They see a growing tendency to label criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic, a particularly powerful accusation in a country still traumatized by its Nazi history.

Local Antifa groups, known in the United States for their vehement far-left policies, are staunch Zionists in Germany, and liberal students who are not Jews often take part in blue and white marches to aggressively confront them. pro-Palestinian protesters. The German parliament went further than most pro-Israel groups in the United States in condemning the boycotts against Israel.

“Any kind of advocacy for Palestine, or solidarity for Palestine, is considered anti-Semitic at this point,” said Emily Dische-Becker, a Jewish filmmaker based in Berlin. “There is a projection on the Palestinians as the new Nazis and it is just assumed that everything they do is motivated by hatred of the Jews.

Different in Germany

While the debate over the definition of anti-Semitism in the United States hinges on the nuance of how people talk about Israel, Germany has seen much more explicit examples of hatred towards Jews posing as political protests in recent years.

Prior to the 2014 protest, which El-Hassan attended, anti-Semitic crowds draped in Palestinian flags had gathered across Germany. “Jew, Jew, cowardly pig, go out and fight alone!” a group chanted in Berlin, while protesters in Dortmund and Frankfurt applauded: “Hamas, Hamas – Jews on gas!” Some experts have attributed a significant increase in anti-Semitic street violence to the millions of asylum seekers from Muslim countries like Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq that the German government has welcomed in recent years.

Contemporary accounts of Al-Quds’ day march said it had stayed away from this type of anti-Semitism, with organizers stressing that they were not protesting against Jews. But later reports described many of the same offensive chants at the event, and El-Hassan apologized for her presence after pictures of her flashing a “V” sign with her fingers appeared in the room. hurry.

The Jewish establishment in Germany has expressed concern over El-Hassan’s role as host of the science show on WDR, a public broadcaster, after the footage became public.

“The public broadcaster has a great responsibility not to present on screen anyone who has spread hatred of Israel and anti-Semitism,” Josef Schuster, chairman of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said in a statement. German statement earlier this month.

The German press was less restrained. Bild, a German tabloid known for his inflammatory tone and massive political influence, took to history two weeks ago under a banner declaring: “Scandal of Islamism in the WDR.”

“I knew this was the way the media and society treated Muslims, basically, but it was still very difficult to experience firsthand,” El-Hassan said in a recent interview with The Forward. “You are able to prove that you are not an extremist.”

At the height of the controversy, the weekly Spiegel noted that El-Hassan began to cry as her reporters asked her about her religious beliefs and why she had stopped wearing a headscarf, after telling him about it. a school trip she took to a controversial Hamburg mosque when she was 15. Age.

El-Hassan’s apology appeared to calm the storm for a few days before Bild published a new post titled “I like” for anti-Semitism, “which focused on his engagement with a series of Jewish Voice Instagram posts. for Peace, the left-wing American group that supports a boycott of Israel. The newspaper reported on Tuesday that El-Hassan would not be allowed to host the science show, but could be retained as a writer for the program .

While establishment groups in the United States like the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League describe the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign targeting Israel as a safe haven for anti-Semites, they acknowledge that it also has supporters. who are sincerely interested in human rights. In contrast, the German parliament declared BDS anti-Semitic in 2019 and there has been a recent push to declare it an extremist movement that would come under federal police oversight.

El-Hassan said she had never personally supported BDS and had visited Israel twice, where her father was born, once to participate in an arts program with young Israelis and once again. with a delegation of medical students. But she admitted to “liking” a message from the Jewish Voice for Peace encouraging boycott of several large companies doing business in Israel and said she did not believe BDS to be anti-Semitic.

“I think it’s fair enough that everyone living under occupation makes this decision for themselves,” El-Hassan said.

The Central Council of Jews in Germany, the World Jewish Congress and the American Jewish Committee, which has an office in Berlin, all declined to comment on El-Hassan’s case or the speech around BDS in Germany.

Much of the country’s broad support for Israel and the intransigent reaction to any glimmer of anti-Semitism is rooted in shame and remorse at the German public’s complicity in the Holocaust. But as the far right grows in the country, leftist and “Islamist” anti-Semitism has become an easy target for Germans who are reluctant to focus on the rise of the xenophobic Alternative for Germany party, which is pro-Israel, or the party’s alarming number of German police and military who harbor anti-Semitic views.

“They don’t like looking at their own anti-Semitic issues, so I was a popular case,” El-Hassan said.

Jewish activists face backlash

Labeling Palestinian advocacy as anti-Semitic has also put left-wing Jews in Germany at a standstill. Jewish klezmer musician Nirit Sommerfeld has struggled to book German venues and receive public grants without certifying that she wouldn’t say anything anti-Semitic in her performances, where she sings Kristallnacht and Hanukkah. And Peter Ullrich, a sociologist at the Center for Research on Antisemitism at the Technical University of Berlin, recounted the case of a group of Israeli artists who were not allowed to organize an exhibition on the Israeli occupation. of the West Bank in a Berlin gallery.

Ullrich said that in order to maintain the position that supporting Israel is an appropriate way to atone for the Holocaust, German society must take a hard line against anti-Zionist Jews, whose activism undermines that belief. The irony, Ullrich said, is that it’s easy to see the German authorities’ attempt to suppress left-wing Jews as its own form of anti-Semitism.

“It’s a really weird turn,” Ullrich said. “They sort out good and bad Jews. “

But Ullrich said El-Hassan’s case, along with that of some Jewish activists, was helping to create a real conversation around Israeli policy in Germany that was long closed at the first mention of anti-Semitism. Hundreds of progressive leaders have signed a letter defending her, and El-Hassan herself hopes the controversy will force more careful assessments of allegations about anti-Semitism in Germany.

“I’m not at the point of thinking about my future in journalism and whether there is still a career ahead of me or not,” she said. “As a society, I hope that in the future we can distinguish between political demands which are fair and which should be discussed, and anti-Semitism which must of course be fought.”

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