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Treasury Move Seen As Key Step in Struggle Against Hezbollah Tv

March 28, 2006
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Activists scrambling to keep Hezbollah’s TV station off the air liken it to a game of whack-a-mole: Get al-Manar off one satellite provider and it pops up on another. But the U.S. Treasury Department handed them a hefty hammer on March 23: Any U.S. business doing business with the Lebanese terrorist group’s TV affiliate now faces sanctions and possible prosecution.

“Any entity maintained by a terrorist group — whether masquerading as a charity, a business, or a media outlet — is as culpable as the terrorist group itself,” Stuart Levey, the Treasury undersecretary for terrorism, said in the statement naming al-Manar and its radio affiliate al-Nour “specially designated global terrorist entities.”

That gives the groups striving to keep al-Manar off the air substantial leverage in their talks with satellite providers, said Mark Dubowitz, chief operating officer at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a Washington-based advocacy group.

“This gives the Treasury Department the ability to seize the assets or impose penalties against any organization in the United States doing business for al-Manar, and to go after any of the funding sources of al-Manar,” said Dubowitz. The foundation funds the Coalition Against Terrorist Media, which has spearheaded the fight to suppress al-Manar.

The television station is notorious for broadcasting virulent anti-Semitism, including a miniseries based on the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” the notorious forgery describing a cabal of Jews who control the world.

A more substantial concern was al-Manar’s fund-raising drives, which broadcast bank account numbers where donors could deposit money. Terrorism experts say that because the broadcaster is virtually indistinguishable from Hezbollah, funding al-Manar amounts to raising money for a terrorist group that continues to attack Israel’s northern border six years after Israel withdrew to U.N.-certified lines.

Jewish groups who have been pressing for the removal of al-Manar note that Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran, was responsible for bombing the U.S. Marines barracks in Beirut in 1983, killing 241 servicemen .

“Hezbollah, Iran’s terrorist proxy, is the No. 1 killer of Americans other than al-Qaida, and al-Manar is its global mouthpiece, inciting hatred and violence against the United States and our allies,” AIPAC spokesman Josh Block said in welcoming the decision.

AIPAC lobbying led 53 U.S. senators to sign a letter last August urging President Bush to name al-Manar a specially designated terrorist entity. The American Jewish Committee joined with a coalition of moderate Muslim and Christian groups to press for the designation.

Al-Manar “relentlessly incites terrorism and recruits suicide bombers to target Americans, Europeans, Israelis and moderate Muslims,” the AJCommittee said in a statement welcoming the decision.

The White House’s Jewish liaison office notified Jewish leaders of the designation in an e-mail, a signal of how seriously the community has taken the battle to keep al-Manar off the air.

The first blow came in December 2004, when the State Department placed al-Manar on its terrorist exclusion list. That keeps officials who work for the organization from traveling to the United States.

However, the action was largely symbolic: The station’s sole U.S. employee, a reporter who occasionally freelances for the channel, was a U.S. citizen and beyond the reach of the list.

Nonetheless, the move provided the coalition and others with the imprimatur of U.S. government backing when they approached satellite providers and asked them to remove the channel. Since 2000, the group says, it has persuaded eight satellite providers to remove the channel.

The coalition maintains that al-Manar is currently broadcast only on Arabsat, majority-owned by the Saudi Arabian government; and Nilesat, which is owned in part by the Egyptian government. Those satellite “footprints” bring al-Manar into homes in the Middle East, North Africa and parts of Europe.

The coalition also says it has revealed to a range of corporations, including Pepsi, Coca- Cola, Western Union and Procter & Gamble, that their Middle East subsidiaries broadcast on the channel. The corporations subsequently removed the ads, which the coalition estimates cost al-Manar $2 million in revenue.

The 2004 designation also helped nudge The Associated Press, which had provided al-Manar’s U.S. correspondent with feeds for broadcasts, to sever all ties with the station.

Those successes relied on moral suasion, Dubowitz said. With the new designation and the legal penalties it provides, it should be even easier to keep al-Manar off the air.

The next target, he said, are the Internet service providers that host al-Manar’s Web site.

Once again, Dubowitz said, the whack-a-mole metaphor has been apt: A soon as one ISP drops al-Manar, it pops up on another.

“It would be interesting to see if new designation helps us with the ISPs,” he said.

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