PARIS (Dec. 1)
In the end, Hezbollah just couldn’t resist being Hezbollah. Only 11 days after the Lebanese Shi’ite group’s satellite TV station faithfully promised France’s public broadcasting authority that it would desist from its regular diet of anti-Israel and anti-Jewish viewing material, the station overstepped the mark once more.
The result was an appeal by the CSA broadcasting authority to France’s highest administrative court to allow it to ban the network.
In a statement Tuesday, the CSA said Al-Manar broadcasts were a threat to public order and in breach of the agreement the group signed with the CSA on Nov. 19.
The CSA decision comes after it examined a tape of an Al-Manar news broadcast on Nov. 23 that accused “Zionists” of “transmitting dangerous diseases such as AIDS through exports to Arab countries.”
Coming on the heels of a vigorous campaign by local and international Jewish organizations, the program — just one of a number of offensive shows since the channel was licensed, according to the groups — proved the final straw for CSA Chairman Dominique Baudis.
In a move slammed by Jewish groups, the CSA initially had rejected an Interior Ministry recommendation that Al-Manar’s transmissions be “immediately terminated.” Instead, the CSA issued the channel a new license on Nov. 19.
Because the station is broadcast across Europe through the French-owned Eutelstat satellite network, that decision effectively allowed Al-Manar to continue transmitting throughout the 25-state European Union.
The Jewish groups began protesting the channel following the transmission of the virulently anti-Semitic, Syrian-made series “Al-Shatat,” or “Diaspora,” during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in October 2003.
Based on the notorious czarist-era forgery “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” the series depicted Jews planning world domination and presented violent scenes in which a Christian child is murdered on a rabbi’s orders so his blood can be used to make matzot.
The CSA decision to grant Al-Manar a license shocked Jewish organizations who felt they had received a specific guarantee from the government that new legislation would prevent the channel being re-licensed.
When the CSA signed the agreement with Al-Manar, Jewish groups believed the CSA had been forced to capitulate as a result of the state’s close diplomatic ties with the Arab world.
In a letter to Baudis last week, Roger Cukierman, president of the CRIF umbrella organization of French Jews, said there was “such incoherence in this decision that it appears to me that it can only be explained by CSA submission to pressure from countries which sponsor the Hezbollah; Lebanon which hosts it, Syria, the occupying power, and Iran, which finances and arms Hezbollah.”
American Jewish organizations also joined in the fray.
The Anti-Defamation League’s national director, Abraham Foxman, said the decision “undermines the significant progress that the government of France made last year to combat the anti-Jewish and anti-Israel environment that exists in some sectors of French society.”
Jason Isaacson, the American Jewish Committee’s director of government and international affairs, protested the decision in a private meeting in Paris with government spokesman Jean-Francois Cope.
“Al-Manar is a fountain of hatred against Jews, Israel, America and other Western societies spilling over the airwaves, and it should not be allowed to use France as a vehicle for spreading its message of hate across Europe,” Isaacson said, according to an AJCommittee statement issued after the meeting.
CRIF’s campaign had gone into even stronger mode this week, with the group running an on-line petition calling on Baudis to reverse his initial decision.
As of Tuesday, the petition had garnered around 15,000 signatures, including the support of the leaders of France’s three largest political parties, embarrassing the government.
CRIF also took to the streets of Paris with a bus touring the city and gathering further support for its campaign.
While the sheer weight of facts ultimately proved Al-Manar’s downfall, Cukierman said it would not have come about without concerted pressure.
A beaming Cukierman told JTA Tuesday that the CSA “had understood not just by their own wisdom, but by the success of the pressure applied.”
Nevertheless, he said, the bus campaign, set for different Paris locations throughout the week, would go on until the court passes formal judgement on the CSA request and “until the patient is healed.”
Similar reaction came from Shimon Samuels, international liaison director of the Paris-based Simon Wiesenthal Center.
“This has sent out an important message to all hate groups that there’s no place on the airwaves for this sort of material,” Samuels told JTA.
With Jewish groups patting themselves on the back, the debate over the decision to grant the license in the first place moved to Parliament.
In a fiery debate following the CSA turnabout Tuesday, opposition legislators slammed Culture Minister Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres for the government’s incompetence in drafting legislation that failed to prevent the transmission of racist and anti-Semitic material over French and European airwaves.
Greeted with cries of “do something” by Socialist legislators, Donnedieu de Vabres said the government would draft new legislation to allow the CSA a quicker route to deal with such issues in the future.
But for at least one legislator in the ruling UMP Party, that proposition didn’t go far enough.
Pierre Lelouche, a legislator from Paris who is Jewish, called on the government to allow the Interior Ministry to immediately ban channels deemed to be racist and anti-Semitic.
“I believe that the prime minister knows that he must put some order in this affair,” Lelouche told legislators.”Today everyone’s hiding behind everyone else. This is a grave situation.”