Axel Springer Fires Lebanese Employee Who Questioned Pro-Israel Stance

The firing by the German media giant follows a smear campaign against Arab and Palestinian journalists in Germany in recent years.

19 June 2023, Berlin: The logo of the Axel Springer publishing house is displayed above the entrance to the publishing building. The Axel Springer publishing house wants to push ahead with its savings course at the "Bild" newspaper with leaner regional structures. Photo: Monika Skolimowska/dpa (Photo by Monika Skolimowska/picture alliance via Getty Images)
The logo of the Axel Springer publishing house is displayed above the entrance to the publishing building in Berlin. Photo by Monika Skolimowska/picture alliance via Getty Images

The German media giant Axel Springer, which has famously enshrined support for Israel in its mission statement, fired an employee who strayed from its staunchly pro-Israel editorial line, according to an interview with the employee and supporting internal documents. 

Kasem Raad, a 20-year-old apprentice at the company, was summarily fired last week after questioning the company’s Israel policy through internal channels and posting a video online disputing parts of the Israeli military’s narrative of the brutal Hamas attack on October 7.

“It is one of my rights to ask questions. I wanted to stay at Axel Springer,” said Raad, who was fired just a few weeks into a three-year position at the company. “Unfortunately, I was taken in for questioning by senior management, who told me, ‘We are Germans and we need to do this,’” he added, describing his manager’s explanation for the company’s Israel policy.

Raad’s account of being fired is supported by a termination letter and screenshots of his posts on the company’s internal message board that were reviewed by The Intercept. The letter makes no mention of the reason for his firing, but in an interview, he said his bosses were clear about why they were letting him go. “They explicitly stated that my questioning and video were the reasons for their decision, which had no connection to my performance,” Raad said.

Adib Sisani, Axel Springer’s head of corporate communications, declined to comment on Raad’s specific claims. “As a matter of principle, we never comment on individual personnel matters,” Sisani told The Intercept. “In general, allow me to refer you to German labor law, which has a probation period at the beginning of any work contract for the duration of six months. Within this time period, both the employee as well as the employer can terminate the contract without a reason.”

Even before the start of the most recent Israeli war in Gaza, Germany has long repressed voices critical of Israel, through both governmental and corporate policy. The repression has intensified in the last few weeks: The German government banned most gatherings protesting the Israeli bombardment of Gaza, and police attacked protesters who took to the streets nonetheless. Rights groups like Amnesty International have decried the crackdown in Germany, while organizations in the United States are calling attention to the professional consequences facing Americans who speak critically of Israel’s military campaign. American CEOs, law students, and even Starbucks employees have faced repercussions, including threats of termination, public smear campaigns, and letters of dismissal from their jobs. 

The human rights group Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor reviewed a slate of firings of Arab and Palestinian journalists in German state-owned media in 2021 and issued a prescient warning: “We caution German media groups … from unfairly dismissing Palestinian and Arab journalists because of smear campaigns by pro-Israeli or far-right groups. This would set a dangerous precedent that would only encourage even more discriminatory targeting of public figures of Palestinian or Arab origins or who hold views sympathetic to Palestinian rights and freedom.”

Kasem Raad was fired by German media company Axel Springer after questioning its policy of supporting Israel.

Photo: Kasem Raad

For Raad, that warning hit home shortly after he joined Axel Springer, a private company that is based in Germany but has holdings across the globe, including Politico in the United States. As The Intercept previously reported, one Axel Springer subsidiary, the news aggregator Upday, instructed its employees to downplay Palestinian deaths in its coverage of the ongoing Israeli war against Gaza.

A Lebanese immigrant, Raad moved to Germany after completing the ninth grade in Lebanon. He became fluent in German and, after completing a required certificate course, landed a three-year multimedia apprenticeship at Axel Springer that started in early September at the company’s TV channel, Welt TV. 


Europe’s Largest News Aggregator Orders Editors to Play Down Palestinian Deaths

He was still settling into his new role when Hamas launched a surprise attack on Israel that killed more than 1,400 people. On October 7, Axel Springer’s editorial team posted an internal article titled “We stand with Israel.” Raad sought clarification on the company’s stance by sending a private message to an employee who runs the company’s internal message board on October 11 asking “why does Axel Springer support Israel?” Having received no reply, the next day, Raad posted the same question under the Israel article on the message board, according to screenshots viewed by The Intercept. “I posted a comment asking about why we have a company policy supporting this country,” he said in an interview. “Immediately my question got flooded with angry comments and I was called in for an interrogation.” 

Screenshots reviewed by The Intercept show other Axel Springer employees replying “what kind of question is that??!!!!,” asking whether Raad had read his contract before joining Axel Springer, and wondering how he could ask such a question given “the current, terrible atrocities.” 

The same day, Raad said, he was called into an office and reprimanded by his manager, who oversees the company’s training programs, before a second meeting on October 13 with Sisani, the company spokesperson, who cautioned him from pushing back against the company line. 

After meeting with Sisani, Raad once again posted on the message board, saying his discussion with the executive provided helpful answers to his questions which were “clearly different from the unsatisfactory answers I received from you.” He added: “I strongly believe in open dialogue and finding answers, especially at a time when many people lack knowledge about current social issues.” 

Five days later, Raad posted a video to his personal Youtube channel attempting to debunk a viral narrative that Hamas beheaded babies during its attack that even the Israel Defense Forces could not confirm. He said he heard nothing from company supervisors until two days later, October 20, when he was called into yet another meeting and received a letter informing him of his termination. 

As part of its charter, Axel Springer maintains five “essentials.” These include standing up for “freedom, the rule of law, democracy and a united Europe”; supporting “the Jewish people and the right of existence of the State of Israel”; advocating “the transatlantic alliance between the United States of America and Europe”; upholding “the principles of the market economy and its social responsibility”; and rejecting “political and religious extremism and all forms of racism and sexual discrimination.” 

Raad said that, in his experience, some of the essentials are prioritized above the rest: “I find the whole situation really ironic. One of the essentials of Axel Springer are the tenets of freedom and democracy. They should remove this fucking essential from their code of conduct and they should remove the rejection of political and religious extremism. In my case, they ignored all of their own essentials, and chose their support of Israel over everything else.”

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