On Wednesday, the sweltering afternoon temperatures made for a heated trial in the ongoing case of Farah Maraqa against international German broadcaster Deutsche Welle (DW). As we made our way into the courtroom, it became clear that the number of Farah’s supporters in the small room far surpassed the available seating. The judge himself, together with legal clerks, scrambled to lug additional chairs into the room as we waited huddled together in our sweaty masks. We were gathered to support Farah in her case against DW which in February fired her along with six other Arab journalists based on specious claims of antisemitism. While DW’s single legal representative sat alone, the strength in numbers displayed by Farah’s supporters was palpable.
Here in Germany, the accused often find few white, German-speaking lawyers who are willing to represent them. Many of these individuals must therefore seek German lawyers from racialized groups who are more likely to empathize and identify with these clients, such as those from Muslim or Middle Eastern communities. In such cases related to deeply political questions surrounding weaponized antisemitism accusations, the state of Israel, and solidarity with Palestinian rights, this ubiquitous white vs. non-white dynamic helps to reinforce toxic “us vs. them” perceptions which pervade German society.
Farah’s presence in the courtroom with legal representation from Dr. Hauke Rinsdorf by her side, broke the assumption about German lawyers and their positions regarding Arab and Palestinians – especially with false allegations of the biggest German nightmare – antisemitism.
Inherently fraught political and historical questions surrounding Israel, Zionism, and Palestinian human rights fall outside of the purview of a labor court. In addition, Farah’s writings, which were used by DW’s lawyer to attack her, were mostly before her contracts with DW. This caused Farah and her lawyer to argue that her previous writings can’t be a reason for termination. To support their argument, they concentrated on how DW dealt with the allegations including missing deadlines and procedural errors since announcing its decision to suspend her.
Comparison with pornography
DW’s lawyer first presented a bizarre and sexist analogy which compared Farah’s comments before she worked for DW, with a male worker who lets a female colleague see pornographic pictures which he had hung up in the past. This, argued the lawyer, damages the relationship irreparably. In short, the analogy rests on the right of an employer to terminate their employee based on any comment they disagree with before hiring by the organization.
Throughout the proceedings, DW’s lawyer repeatedly inserted her personal opinions and feelings regarding Farah’s allegedly offensive past comments. At one point, the lawyer stated “I found it disgusting”, implying that Farah had openly voiced support for Islamic jihad. This referred to a satirical article has been already challenged and excluded from DW’s report.
DW’s lawyer accepted responsibility for the procedural errors which took place throughout DW’s process of firing Farah. She also blamed these mistakes on the organization’s large size, and explained that other delays were symptoms of DW’s ongoing organization-wide “impartial” investigation to ensure that alleged antisemitism doesn’t extend beyond the seven sacked journalists. During the proceedings, the lawyer contradicted her own statements regarding mistakes made by DW. At first she claimed that Farah’s past comments were easily accessible online, while later she claimed that delays in accessing these online posts resulted from the large organization-wide investigation.
The judge made a proposal on how to continue, based on the recommendation of Farah’s lawyer, striving for reputational rehabilitation. The court declared that both parties must release a joint statement that must be mutually agreed upon by the 2nd of September. The hearings will continue on the 5th of September, where a final verdict is expected.
The judge’s requirement for a joint statement to be published was promising, and even DW’s lawyer agreed to participate. But it is likely that DW will see this as an opportunity to distance itself from Farah and to publicly demonstrate that their opinions on Israel differ. However, what is unlikely to be included in the upcoming joint statement is what DW’s views on Israel actually are. These kinds of baseless accusations by powerful institutions help them to avoid transparency regarding their specific positions on political questions surrounding Israel and Palestinian human rights. Ultimately, DW is just one example of countless powerful, state-funded media organizations that create smoke and mirrors to obscure their agendas.
The judge also advised DW to provide a platform where Farah can publicly express her perspective and experiences. This is something that DW’s lawyer openly rejected. However, without an opportunity to share her perspective, Farah’s credibility and career are tainted. It is likely that DW will be unwilling to allow Farah the chance to clear her name publicly on their site, as it would then become necessary to offer this to the other sacked journalists.
A joint statement depends on DW acknowledging that Farah is not an antisemite. Anything else will irreparably damage her professional reputation and make it almost impossible for her to find a job in Germany.
Reactions to the Verdict
In response to the trial’s outcome, Farah remarked that “It’s a step forward if we will agree to a statement that makes clear I am not antisemitic, that will bring me some justice.”
The European Legal Support Centre (ELSC), which is advising Farah, issued the following Statement:
“It is very brave and important that Farah went to court to challenge her termination. Her dismissal by Deutsche Welle was not just extremely problematic with unfounded allegations, but also politically charged and discriminatory. Which was also reiterated by DW’s lawyer in court yesterday, claiming the divergence of their political stances on Israel.
During Farah’s hearing, DW’s lawyer did not even refer to the articles mentioned in their own investigation report by Ahmad Mansour and others, who they hired. They rather referred to sentences from two other satirical articles Farah wrote in 2014 and 2015, taking them out of context.
This case is illustrative of a worrying trend in Germany of institutionalised silencing of Palestinian voices and narratives by employing malicious practices. It depicts how the anti-Palestinian sentiment and the institutional use of the IHRA definition can lead to severe infringements upon the freedom of expression and freedom of the press. This also leads to a significant chilling effect on any individual who would express their opinions on Palestine/Israel.
We are satisfied that Farah Maraqa could lay down her conditions of the settlement and that the judge favored them. We hope that DW will abide by them and will come to the conclusion that they should stop their censorship practices.”
September 5th is the date to keep on your radar, as the judge will be expecting a joint-statement from Farah and DW. This case, along with many other similar cases, has made clear that powerful media organizations will expend great energy to advance specific agendas at the expense of their own employees while simultaneously claiming to provide unbiased objectivity to the public. Farah’s struggle is but one small piece in the larger fight for justice for Palestinians in Germany and around the world.