Pro-Jewish at a German daily - a personal story
Pro-Jewish at a German daily - a personal story

Manfred Gerstenfeld interviews Daniel Killy

“On January 15th 2014, I became the Executive Managing Editor of the Weser-Kurier, the only independent daily in the major German port city of Bremen. I was responsible for the contents and appearance of the daily edition. As part of my job, I was tasked with converting the very print-orientated mode of editing into a tri-medial news desk where the web edition, apps and the printed daily paper would be equally important.”

Formerly an Executive Editor with Bild, Europe’s largest paper, published by Axel Springer AG, Daniel Killy is a Jewish-German-American publicist, specializing in Jewish/anti-Semitic media issues.

“Bremen has been a tower of support for the Palestinians for many years.  Since Germany returned to democracy seventy years ago, the city and the federal state have been governed by the Social Democrats. The Social Democrat left has been taking a very harsh stand against Israel, with one exception — Jens Böhrnsen, who served as President of the Senate and mayor of Bremen from 2005 until May 2015.

“Usually the hatred toward Israel — and the Jews— is barely hidden behind political arguments against the ‘oppression’ and ‘colonization’ of the Palestinians. Bremen is a stronghold of boycott, divestment and sanctions supporters (BDS). This makes it virtually impossible for a newspaper to speak out for Israel. I tried to change that by writing a number of pro-Israel op-eds and editorials.

“Before long, a storm of protest set in. I received anonymous threats, and was told that a leaflet discrediting my life and work had been circulated among Bremen’s politicians. Later I found out that the author of this Nazi-style denunciation was a former Weser-Kurier editor, himself the son of a notorious Nazi editor. 

“This was my welcome gift. The paper was very supportive in the beginning, especially the outgoing editor-in-chief, for whom I was substituting. Yet it soon became clear that many at the Weser-Kurier considered me to be biased.

“In July 2014, during the Gaza campaign, the open hatred against Israel on Germany’s streets reached its climax. I wrote a somewhat personal essay entitled ‘Vanishing Values’ describing how it felt to be a German Jew at that time. I received much positive feedback from colleagues. However, senior management responded by instructing me that for the time being, I shouldn’t write about Jewish issues and Israel anymore because I was not neutral.

“I realized only later that this instruction went against Germany’s official state doctrine. Germany is a steadfast friend of Israel and protector of its Jewish population. To be forbidden, as a journalist, to take a stand for Jewish issues, is a demonstration of blunt anti-Semitism, and does not stem from media neutrality. Could one possibly imagine that an editor of Christian faith would ever be prevented from expressing his or her solidarity with Germany’s Christian values? I ignored the management’s instructions. Most of the time I was running the paper alone, and I continued to put forward my political and ethical views on the Middle East and the growing migrant and classic anti-Semitism in Germany.

“In December 2014 things got worse. I had arranged the first interview in a German daily with the newly elected President of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Josef Schuster. A few days later, I met the incoming new editor-in-chief of Weser-Kurier for the first time. I then got an email from him saying that I had not been ‘independent’ enough in the interview.  He said that my questions represented my position as spokesman of the Jewish Community in Hamburg rather than that of an independent journalist. He informed me that such an approach would not be allowed after he came in as editor-in-chief.

“I replied that I saw this email as an insult to my journalistic independence. The following day I received an official letter from the Chief Executive Officer of the paper’s publisher, Bremer Tageszeitungen AG. He and his co-signatory, the human resources manager, officially forbade me to do any more voluntary work for the Jewish Community as this was putting my independence as a journalist in jeopardy.

“In January 2015 I addressed the CEO about the issue. I told him that the Schuster interview had been correctly handled by any media standards. He was uncomfortable with the situation, and then said ‘Mr. Killy, you need to understand that we as Bremen’s monopoly paper can’t afford to be considered pro-Jewish.’ I commented that this explanation was perhaps seventy years too late. He replied, ‘No, no, of course I didn’t mean it like that.’ However, he did. He apologized if he had offended me and done me wrong, and told me that he would talk to the incoming editor-in-chief about the matter.  There was absolutely no problem anymore, he said.

Six weeks later, I was fired.”