Timo Al-Farooq

Independent journalist | Political commentator

Keine Abos und 1 Abonnent

How I Tried to Get An Opinion Piece That Criticized Israel Published in Germany And Failed

'Freedom of Speech' by Faramarz Ghahremanifar (Anaglyph 3D), 2015. (Source: Aesuithiel, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons. Image has been cropped)

About eight months ago I wrote an essay in German titled "What it means to be a leftist today. And what that has to do with Israel." It dealt with the overall hypocrisy of the German left (social democrats, Greens, socialist leftists, anti-fascists) with regards to their anti-racism credentials in general and their blind spot with regards to Israel in particular, extensively arguing the case that you cannot call yourself an antiracist if you willfully exclude Israel from the discussion.

Why? Because Israel - lauded by Western narrative construction as "the only democracy in the Middle East" is founded on the exclusionary ideology of Jewish supremacy, better known as Zionism (which the United Nations Human Rights Council has designated as racist), and built on lands ethnically cleansed of indigenous Palestinians in what Arab historiography has aptly named the Nakba, which is Arabic for "catastrophe."

While it took me three days to write the piece, I spent weeks trying to get it published, sending it in to a dozen or so left-leaning German media outlets, small and big. My reasoning: antiracism being a traditionally leftist issue and Zionism being a form of racism, surely they would willingly accommodate a piece that criticized Israel's racism against Palestinians?

Not only was my reasoning faulty, bordering on the naive, I also wholly underestimated the scope of the collective guilt complex my white German countrypeople nurtured with regards to the sins of their Jew-murdering forebears and the former's counterproductive way of atoning for them: namely by turning a blind eye, a deaf ear and a mute mouth to Israel's 72-year-long-history of human rights violations against Palestinians.

Despite recent legal victories for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS) in Europe which have strengthened the Palestinian cause for justice and have backed Israel as the occupying military power into a tight corner, the German media from left to right continues to disregard core tenets of journalistic ethos when it engages in de-facto censorship by silencing pro-Palestinian perspectives or/and defaming them as anti-Semitic...

While most of the media outlets I pitched my piece to did not write back at all, the ones that actually bothered to extend to me the courtesy of a reply all refused to publish. Not necessarily because my piece lacked merit, as some of them mentioned, but explicitly citing its criticism of Israel as the reason.

One lesser-known German online news portal named Telepolis which - despite its relative obscurity - is part of the prominent media consortium Heise Gruppe and has in the past published pieces surprisingly critical of Israel refused to run it simply because of my past contributions to the Russian state broadcaster RT's German language news website.

This makes me wonder what kind of press freedom we have in Germany where writing as an independent freelance journalist for an international news organization (which was the home of recently deceased media celebrity Larry King's political talk show Politicking) can stigmatize you and keep your work from getting published.

Another publication, a leftist monthly newspaper called analyse & kritik (engl.: analysis and criticism) which describes itself as the "newspaper for leftist debate and practice", made no secret of the primary reason for rejecting a piece that they at first instance voiced tentative interest in but ultimately respectfully declined.

When asking the editor I had e-mailed back and forth with whether their rejection had anything to do with my criticism of Israel (something he had already alluded to when telling me in his first response that due to the length of the piece "among other things", he thought it might not get published with them), he answered: "Yes, of course that ["that" referring to the cryptic "among other things"] refers to the criticism of Israel :-)"

The smiley face at the end of the sentence I found to be quite telling of the tragicomic farce that is leftism in Germany where not only is any criticism of Israel swept under the rug (while at the same time fighting all other forms of injustices) but is done so in a shameless and light-hearted manner.

If criticism of Israel - which even the country's largest human rights organization B'Tselem in a bombshell of a Guardian Op-Ed from last month called an apartheid state within which and the territory it occupies doesn't exist "a single square inch...where a Palestinian and a Jew are equal" - doesn't have a discoursive home in a publication for "leftist debate and practice", where else then?

After weeks of trying to get the piece out there, to no avail, I decided to translate the parts of the article that dealt with Israel into English and amalgamate them into a separate piece which I would then try to get published in English language media.

And lo and behold: within a mere 48 hours of e-mailing my submission to various publications I not only got an answer but also a positive one: the Palestine Chronicle, a non-profit online news organization on whose honorary editorial board sits no other than renowned linguist and activist Noam Chomsky, willingly ran the piece in October of last year under the title " German Hypocrisy: The Left & Israel ".

This made me think: The fact that it was easier to get an antiracist opinion piece published in what was then still Trump's America than in oh so liberal Merkelian Germany was quite fascinating and says a lot about the alarming state of press freedom and independent news in my country where (pro-) Palestinian perspectives are routinely silenced by pro-Israel opinion-making.

While this is disheartening in itself, I was not particularly surprised at the rejections handed down to me by media outlets run and populated overwhelmingly by white Germans with their white German perspectives. These are a people who - three quarters of a century after the Holocaust and despite their much lauded Vergangenheitsbewältigung ( a German compound word meaning "coping with the past", the specific past to be coped with being Nazi Germany and the Holocaust) - still haven't mastered the fairly straightforward art of reconciling guilt and responsibility.

Germany's comprehensive head-in-the-sand approach to the State of Israel's aforementioned seven decades of mistreating Palestinians ("mistreating" is putting it extremely mildly) is a testament to this chronic inability and stain on the country's conscience.

No, what was far more disconcerting was something else: Among the media outlets that had refused to publish the initial German-language piece was also the award-winning MiGAZIN, an online news portal that I have regularly contributed to and which defines itself as "the magazine for migration and integration."

It is one of the handful of publications (the "MiG" in MiGAZINstands for "Migration in Germany) within the shamefully exclusivist white world of German journalism that is run by Germans who have what we call "an immigrant background", the German equivalent to Britain's BAME (Black Asian Minority Ethnic) designation or Canada's "visible minorities": the publication's founder and editor-in-chief, Ekrem Şenol, is a German of Turkish descent and the editor I have always sent my submissions to - judging by her typically Turkish name at least - is as well.

Therefore, this made it doubly troubling that in a country where lack of diversity is rampant and minority representation is criminally low, especially in journalism, a magazine that is basically "for us, by us" would refuse to include an antiracist opinion piece. By doing so, MiGAZIN simply gave in to the external pressures of a discursive climate in Germany where weaponized anti-Semitism smears are routinely employed in order to silence any legitimate criticism of Israel's human rights violations and racist oppression of Palestinians.

My piece not only criticized racism in Germany but also the German discourses surrounding racism which are also exclusively white-dominated and therefore qua natura marginalize the voices of people of color and ethnic minorities. In the context of Palestine, this entails willfully excluding Israel's systemic racism and systematic human rights violations against Palestinians on their own land, stolen or illegally occupied by the self-appointed "Jewish State", from the antiracist conversation.

The fact that the same people who are probably no stranger to experiences of racism were not willing to publish an antiracist piece and instead chose to sheepishly toe a line that basically delineates supporting every injustice and violent act Israel chooses to commit had me so chagrined that I wrote an e-mailed letter to MiGAZIN, voicing my disbelief and disapproval.

Despite an instant reply from the editors that they would get back to me with a statement, they never did. My letter which I have translated into English and include here in an abridged version (omitting the parts that don't have to do with Palestine/Israel) not only tells the story of the freakishly backwards state of diversity politics in Germany where ethnic minorities have next to no say in political and social matters, but also of the hair-raising hypocrisy that is antiracist discourse in Germany.

I have added additional parentheses in square brackets where something might be unclear to the reader:

Dear M**** [editor who I used to send my submissions to],

I am deeply disappointed by your decision. You could have run the piece in an abridged and "softened" version, and your refusal to do even that I cannot quite fathom: if MiGAZIN is not "the right medium for this topic" as you say, where does antiracism belong then?

Antiracism also includes criticism of Israel and criticizing the German discourses surrounding Israel, despite what white Germans with their half-assed guilt complex might think.

"When it comes to this topic, MiGAZIN is a bigger target [for anti-Semitism smears] than other media outlets which due to their backgrounds and composition of personnel [referring to the Turkish/Muslim backgrounds of some of its editorial staff], are not a priori under suspicion of being anti-Semitic," you said.

Meaning: Germany is so cerebrally racist and Islamophobic that people of Turkish background - like some of you at MiGAZIN - are qua natura deemed anti-Semitic. Do you realize how insulting that is? Are you just going to sit back and take this kind of racist and slanderous blanket suspicion?

With your refusal to publish my piece - even parts of it - you are doing nothing else than knuckling under to one of the key tenets of German supremacist consensus: blind fealty to Israel. And all that despite you saying that my text has "very good and strong passages that we really would have wished to publish."

For a publication that is supposed to represent my perspective (and by "my" I mean that of the overwhelming majority of Germans with an "immigrant background"), your core target groups at the end of the day seem to be the Moritzes and Anjas of this country rather than the Murats and Aylins.

I understand if news desks that are exclusively run by and populated with white Germans refuse to publish the piece and explicitly cite its criticism of Israel as the reason for doing so. I expect nothing better from them. But from MiGAZIN, whose editor-in-chief is of Turkish descent? Does the "M" in MiGAZIN still stand for "migration" or does it stand for "mimicry" by now? Come on, you're better than that!

You write that my piece "could have much more of an influence if it appears in other media." I personally think an article doesn't have the biggest influence where readers are of the same opinion as the author, but where the former might hold a differing view and be encouraged towards (self-)critical thinking. Which is why I believe your argument to be utter nonsense you yourself probably don't even believe to be true.

I would have loved to send you a revised draft, but got the impression that in your conformism you do not even wish to handle the issue of Palestine/Israel with kid gloves. Even though you as the mouthpiece of "immigrant" Germans could make an important contribution to finally ending this white German indecency of self-censorship whenever criticism of Israel is involved.

No wonder that nothing ever sustainably changes in Germany and that a person like Ai Weiwei took to his heels a short while after having moved to Germany and left for England because he found our country so utterly backwards and beyond improvement.

In the U.S. people of color and their white allies are currently challenging authority and racist structures at an unprecedented level, and partially with immediate success, whilst in authority-abiding Germany where white people are rarely allies and much too often patronizers you cannot even get an antiracist article published when it is too critical of Israel.

And even you as a magazine for "immigrants" are not exempt from kowtowing to hegemonic narratives constructed by white people for white people. Even in Israel there is more freedom to criticize Israel than in Germany, as Haaretz-journalist Ofri Ilany found out to his amazement when researching an article about the left-wing fascist Antideutsche movement [a radically pro-Israel wing within Antifa in Germany and Austria which is ideologically divided over the issue of Palestine/Israel].

This is why for years on end we keep talking about the same old things in Germany: Is Islam a part of Germany? Are we a multicultural society? Should female teachers be able to wear the hijab? Does Germany have a problem with racism? The UK, Canada, New Zealand, and even a systemically racist United States currently afflicted by mass uprisings against racist police brutality are light years ahead of us in these matters.

One reason why we are not moving forward in Germany is that "migrant voices" like yours don't speak out confidently enough. Narrative construction is already primarily the domain of white Germans: if guys like you keep opting to yield the floor to them and keep dancing to their Leitkultur-tune, then they have already won.

[ Leitkultur means "guiding culture" or "core culture", a German term from sociology weaponized in issues of diversity politics by conservatives and liberals alike to mean that white German culture should be the dominant culture in multicultural Germany; interestingly enough the term was coined by one Bassam Tibi, a Tunisian-German academic and quite unfortunately your run-of-the-mill self-hating colonial "brown sahib" who routinely advances the agenda of organized white German Islamophobia and xenophobia with his inflammatory rhetoric against refugees from countries like Afghanistan or Eritrea.]

After your e-mailed rejection I went and not only got a second opinion, but three different ones: a Palestinian-German one, an African-German one, and a Jewish-German one: all three of my friends were unanimous of the opinion that you should have published my piece, especially since you claim to represent the "immigrant" perspective. And my African-German friend, a doctoral candidate in African History, explicitly asked me not to drop the Rwandan genocide/Holocaust comparison from the article that you said you could not publish. Is she an anti-Semite for doing so?

[In my piece I had written: "In the Rwandan genocide 800,000 people were killed in the course of six weeks: on average that is a number that exceeds the death toll of the European Holocaust - 6 million killed between 1941-45 - by far. But no one would ever dream of granting the Rwandan genocide the principle of singularity under which the Holocaust is treated in this country.]

The fact that you would have edited out my criticism of this principle of singularity that elevates the Holocaust [above other equally heinous genocides in modern human history, like Rwanda in 1994 or the Belgian colonial genocide of 10 million Congolese people between 1888 and 1908] just goes to show that even you as an "immigrant" magazine bow to political pressure and comply with this white German indecency of hierarchizing victims of genocides and putting Jewish suffering above Black suffering, exactly what I criticized our German discourses surrounding Vergangenheitsbewältigungfor in my article.


That to you it is much more important if white Germans think of you as anti-Semitic instead of courageously going your own righteous way is symbolic of our infantile and heteronomous discursive culture in Germany. There is a word for this typically lefty-liberal and bourgeois phenomenon of voluntary complacency: cowardice.

Be that as it may, I thank you, dear M**** for your time and will be happy to submit in the future written pieces that don't dare to question the consensus of white German supremacy, so that no one can call you - who by the way have the same inalienable rights guaranteed by our constitution as your fellow white Germans - anti-Semitic.

Article 3 of the [German] constitution states:

"No person shall be favored or disfavored because of sex, parentage, race, language, homeland and origin, faith or religious or political opinions. No person shall be disfavored because of disability."

"No person" also includes people who wish to criticize Israel.

Should you actually value a flourishing culture of discourse and a plurality of opinion, the least you can do is publish this letter. I believe people have a right to know in what poor shape freedom of the press and freedom of speech are in Germany when even a respected "immigrant" magazine like yours cannot publish legitimate "immigrant" perspectives on antiracism for fear of racist accusations of anti-Semitism.

Timo Al-Farooq

To this day, the good folks at MiGAZIN have not dignified me - who in the past has written multiple articles for them that didn't have the audacity to criticize Israel - with a response.

This article first appeared in the British news website The Muslim Vibe under the title "In Germany, Even BAME-Run Media Submissively Adhere to the Country's Zionist Dictate of Silencing Palestine" and has been abridged and updated. Zum Original