The Ideal Partner. Cologne's DuMont publishing house buys into Ha'aretz in Israel. By Rainer Burchardt
Sixty years after the Holocaust, it is a German publishing house that has bought shares in the Israeli daily newspaper Ha'aretz. This has caused no waves among the Israeli public.
A wealthy man of the world. The Cologne publisher Alfred Neven DuMont, one of the hundred richest people in Germany, has just landed yet another coup. Barely six months have passed since public accusations that the family business profited from "Aryanization" during the Nazi period, and now the liberal-minded but vanity-stricken lion of Rhenish high society has announced a partnership with the Israeli daily newspaper Ha'aretz. Only a scoundrel would see a link between the two events.
And as so often in such cases, a close, longstanding friendship between men helped this deal along. None other than Israel's former ambassador to the Federal Republic of Germany, Avi Primor, is said to have oiled the wheels for his pal from Cologne. Primor, now director of the Center for European Studies at IDC Herzliya private university in Tel Aviv, still has an excellent reputation in Germany.
Almost daily, he is consulted by German media as a competent assessor of the Middle East conflict. In many people's eyes, he is far more popular than the current ambassador, Simon Stein, who, unlike Primor, adopts hard-line positions.
Primor, on the other hand, a man of the Labor Party, gained his reputation not only due to his perfect command of German, but also because of his balanced judgments regarding the Palestinians. It is he who will now represent the DuMont family on the board of the Israeli newspaper.
The commitment from Germany is very welcome. Publisher Amos Schocken, head of a family clan like Dumont, is pleased that this will free up "potential for development within the company" that could not happen with the limited capital available to date. The injection of funds from Cologne will boost Ha'aretz's share capital to around ?100 million ($127 million).
Salman Schocken, the grandfather of the current owner, acquired Ha'aretz 71 years ago. With circulation of 550,000, it is Israel's third largest newspaper after Jedioh Aranonot and Maariv, and it is highly regarded, especially among leftist intellectuals.
Ha'aretz Group also publishes 15 local weekly papers and operates a large printing works. According to Schocken, the additional funds will be used to expand the "Walla" Internet portal and the company's activities in the multimedia sector. The publisher sees huge potential for development in the online market.
Primor's son, incidentally, runs the English-language edition of Ha'aretz, which appears as a regular supplement in the International Herald Tribune. The U.S. media tycoon and majority shareholder in Pro7/Sat1, Haim Saban, also owns shares in the paper.
DuMont is full of praise for his new partner: "There was not a single point that spoke against the deal," he says, calling Schocken "the ideal partner." And indeed, the partnership brings together two liberal minds and their media enterprises. Although they have much in common, the Cologne publishing house with its broadsheets Kölner Stadtanzeiger and Kölnische Rundschau (circulation: 360,000), Mitteldeutsche Zeitung (275,000), and the tabloid Express (225,000), as well as holdings in advertisers and in radio and publishing companies, will now be the "bigger brother" from Europe. Added to which, in September DuMont takes over a majority holding in the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper from DDVG, the Hamburg-based holding of the Social Democratic Party.
According to the latest figures, the Cologne publisher has a total turnover of ?512 million ($653 million); the company currently employs around 3,000 people; DuMont is a publisher in the 11th generation. In 1802, Niklaus DuMont and the heirs of printing works owner Arnold Schauberg purchased the Kölnische Zeitung newspaper. Subsequent marriages in the families created the DuMont Schauberg publishing house, which is also a major presence on the German book market. Its series of travel titles in particular is very popular.
In the words of Primor, the current DuMont, whose son Konstantin is being groomed to take over the business, is to be credited with a major contribution to reconciliation between Germany and Israel. On the occasion of a company anniversary, he wrote in a personal letter that DuMont deals openly, credibly, and in a relaxed manner with the past, and that the Middle East is particularly close to his heart. He was quick, for example, in agreeing to found a German Society of Friends of the Peres Center for Peace, which works toward reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians. It goes without saying that DuMont is also a benefactor of Tel Aviv University.
This will have been one of the main reasons for Amos Schocken to go to Neven DuMont for help after the Springer publishing house postponed any possible deal due to ongoing negotiations over a merger with the television group Pro7/Sat1. But Schocken, whose group was slipping into the red, was in a hurry, especially after The New York Times also turned him down due to problems of its own.
For DuMont, the request came at an opportune moment, following the need earlier this year to fight off what the company saw as a targeted campaign by the news magazine Der Spiegel and the daily newspaper Bild concerning "profiteering from Aryanization in the Third Reich." On the basis of research carried out by the historian Ingo Niebel, the publishing house was accused not only of having welcomed Hitler's rise to power, but also of having made money on deals transferring ownership of expropriated Jewish real estate.
DuMont promptly denied this and threatened legal action. He freely admitted that his company had never been openly opposed to the Nazis, but pointed out that precisely this restrained position had enabled it to go on publishing, thus safeguarding jobs to the benefit of its staff.
The fact that DuMont's father, Kurt Neven DuMont, welcomed the Nazis' rise to power in the 1930s is undisputed. In the family history, this is now described as follows: "Open resistance would have meant concentration camp, basically suicide, without being able to damage the Nazis in any real way. Even under pressure, Dr. Kurt Neven DuMont remained the focus of a group who shared an unbroken belief in century-old ideas, and who took action when, where, and however possible." Early this year, however, the company admitted that Kurt Neven DuMont was a member of the Nazi Party, and that the family history would now be subjected to new and extensive scrutiny.
- Rainer Burchardt is a professor of media management at the Fachhochschule Kiel and a publicist; from 1994 to 2006, he was editor in chief at Deutschlandfunk radio in Cologne.