COLOGNE — A new documentary on European anti-Semitism was financed with over €170,000 of taxpayer money. So why is it not being shown to the public? Because the TV networks holding the rights refuse to broadcast it.
The 90-minute film, “Chosen and Excluded — Jew Hatred in Europe” by German producers Joachim Schröder and Sophie Hafner, was commissioned by German public TV broadcaster WDR on behalf of its French-German partner channel Arte.
Presenting the various ways in which anti-Semitism is expressed in contemporary Europe, the documentary shows right-wing Neo-Nazis, BDS activists and a demonstrator dressed like a hippie who designates himself a libertarian and praises the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” Anti-Semitism among worker’s rights activists in France is featured alongside cases of Muslim Jew-hatred, some of which culminate in the torturing and cold-blooded murder of Jews.
However, once the documentary was submitted — and approved by the editor — the heads of the networks decided that it would not be broadcast because the movie allegedly “fails to meet formal requirements.”
Throughout Europe, the decision has roused much criticism: The French daily Le Monde and German anti-Semitism researcher Monika Schwarz-Friesel, among others, call it a case of censorship.
Seemingly, the controversial crux of this alleged “censorship” is Israel.
Paying special attention to the denigration of the state of Israel as one of the most prevalent contemporary forms of Jew-hatred, the documentary highlights the activities of NGOs that engage in anti-Semitic Israel bashing while receiving European tax money. In order to contextualize anti-Semitic libel about the Jewish state by contrasting it with the reality on the ground, the producers included footage from Israel and the Palestinian territories.
That footage, ironically, is what Arte program director Alain Le Diberder, states as the major reason for pulling the plug on the production.
In a press statement Le Diberder claims that the producers failed to comply with the requirement to deliver a documentary about anti-Semitism in Europe, because they included too much footage from Israel and too little from European countries.
‘This is ludicrous’
“This is ludicrous,” says Serap Güler, a member of both the WDR network’s program council as well as the executive committee of German chancellor Angela Merkel’s CDU-party.
Michaela Engelmeier, a Social-Democratic member of the Bundestag (Germany’s federal parliament), likewise calls Le Diberder’s statement “incomprehensible.”
Invoking a recent report on anti-Semitism that highlights the connection between Israel bashing and Jew hatred, MP Engelmeier explains in a written statement to The Times of Israel that, “A documentary that aims to present the problem of anti-Semitism in a reflected manner has to consider the relationship between anti-Semitism and criticism of Israel. In order to do so it is necessary to refer to the situation in the Middle East.”
She also criticizes the fact that public tax-funded German TV networks “increasingly promote anti-Israeli narratives, while at the same time refusing to show a documentary on anti-Semitism that has been hailed by experts.”
In the same vein, Volker Beck, an MP for Germany’s Green Party and president of the German-Israeli Parliamentary Friendship Group of the German Bundestag, says that the decision not to show the documentary “is even more disturbing when considering that Arte and WDR have shown programs which could be seen as criticizing Israel one-sidedly.”
Last Tuesday Arte screened a documentary about the 1967 Six Day war, which, critics say, was biased against Israel. And in March the WDR screened a documentary about Dutch right-wing politician Geert Wilders, which raised the idea that Wilders would spread Islamophobia in Europe on behalf of Jews and the State of Israel. The Association of Jewish Communities in the German State of North-Rhine-Westphalia is in the process of preparing a complaint against the broadcast to the WDR program council.
‘If Arte sticks to its decision not to show the documentary, the WDR should broadcast it’
Volker Beck proposes that “there should be a public event at which Schröder and Hafner’s documentary on anti-Semitism in Europe should be shown and discussed.”
He further proposes that “If Arte sticks to its decision not to show the documentary, the WDR should broadcast it.”
The WDR claims that it cannot do so because the rights are exclusively with Arte. This position, however, is disputed.
Who owns the documentary’s rights?
According to the documentary’s producer, Joachim Schröder, who signed his contract with the WDR rather than with Arte, “WDR is free to screen the film anytime, since Arte has waived its rights to broadcast it first.”
“We cannot confirm this assessment, since we haven’t seen the agreement between Arte and WDR yet,” says intellectual property attorney André Nourbakhsch from from the law firm .rka Attorneys at Law.
“However,” the attorney continues, “this is a contract issue. It is clear that Arte and WDR, in this matter, are not bound by copyright law, but rather by inter partem contracts between them.
“Regardless of what these agreements stipulate in detail, if WDR actually wanted to show the documentary and if Arte wouldn’t object to this, in spite of declaring explicitly that it doesn’t want to broadcast the film on its own channel, there would be no legal restrictions barring them from coming to such an agreement. In other words: The whole thing is not about binding legal restrictions, but rather about administrative decisions,” says Nourbakhsch.
‘The whole thing is not about binding legal restrictions, but rather about administrative decisions’
Criticism has also been voiced from the council of Jews in Germany which demanded in a letter to the presidents of the two TV networks that they screen the documentary. An online petition in favor of screening the documentary that has been launched on the Citizen Go website last Thursday was signed by more than 4,700 supporters by Saturday afternoon.
With public pressure mounting, the WDR issued a new press release last Thursday, questioning the journalistic merits of the documentary, which, according to the network, would contain inaccuracies and fail to substantiate some of its assertions. In particular, the film’s finding that hundreds of millions of euros in tax money go to NGOs engaging in Israel bashing is controversial.
In fact, these figures are based on research by the Jerusalem think tank NGO Monitor, which has provided The Times of Israel with a detailed record of its sources.
Responding to the WDR allegations, the head of NGO Monitor, Prof. Gerald Steinberg, who also appears in Schröder and Hafner’s documentary, writes: “Sweeping and unsupported claims that our data is somehow inaccurate are simply political statements that have no basis in the facts. Based on their press release, it appears that no one at the WDR has looked at NGO Monitor’s comprehensive data and documentation. If they act professionally and examine the data themselves, they will see that it is entirely accurate.”
Schwarz Friesel, who also appears in the documentary, suggests that, “From a scientific point of view, the facts presented in the film reflect an accurate image of the reality on the ground.”
Historian Michael Wolffsohn has been quoted in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung describing the documentary as “the by far best, smartest and historically deepest documentary on this topic, while at the same time being very much up to date and true.”
The Israeli-born, Berlin-based Islamism expert and author Ahmad Mansour also calls the film “great and overdue.”
Producer Schröder is convinced that talk of journalistic insufficiency is a pretext.
“Why does the WDR discover the alleged journalistic shortcomings now, more than five months after we submitted the documentary?” he asks.
Schröder believes that “the WDR is trying to turn the editor in charge, Prof. Sabine Rollberg, into a scapegoat by claiming that she made a mistake when greenlighting the film last December.”
Author, actor and director Gerd Buurmann also believes that the WDRs allegation against Schröder and Hafner’s documentary are cynical, given the “German public TV network’s long history of broadcasting uncorroborated anti-Israeli statements that later on were exposed as lies.”
On his blog, Buurman published a long list of anti-Israeli rumors that were disseminated by the public TV networks. He believes that, in fact, WDR and Arte are withholding the film because its findings are “inconvenient.” The documentary raises the idea that Europeans and especially their social elites incite anti-Semitism among Muslims. This is an allegation, Buurmann says, people at WDR and Arte don’t want to face.
Richard Herzinger, a correspondent and columnist for the German daily Die Welt points to an accumulation of “untrue and distorted allegations against Israel in the public media.”
“[The people in charge at WDR and Arte] don’t want to admit Hafner’s and Schröder’s voice, because it shakes their own prejudices,” concludes Herzinger.