By Avi Jorisch
In 2001, I came back to the United States after living in Egypt for a long time, and was asked to write a book for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
I thought “I’m going to write a book on al-Manar” – Hezbollah’s television station – because I learn languages best by watching television.
And I had started watching al-Manar while I was still living in Egypt. At the time, the Washington Institute said, “Come on, with a name like Avi Jorisch you’re going to go to Lebanon, interview Hezbollah and watch thousands of hours? No dice, it’s not gonna happen.”
But as long as I signed the insurance policy saying that I wasn’t going to get the organisation in trouble in any way, shape or form, they were willing to let me go to Lebanon.
And I have to tell you I was very surprised by what I heard.
Even though I’d watched thousands of hours, the rhetoric that I saw on al-Manar really shocked me. They say what they mean and they mean what they say.
They call for an Islamic republic. They call for the killing of coalition troops, including Australians, in Iraq and Afghanistan on a daily basis. They call for the destruction of the State of Israel, throwing all the Jews into the sea.
They had on a particularly repugnant show that essentially recreated the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, where they accused Jews of basically slicing the throats of little Christian children on Passover for the unleavened bread, really some unbelievable things.
And watching that television, watching that programming and listening to those officials, coming straight from the horse’s mouth, really compelled me to move on to the next phase, where we went after al-Manar television.
From 2004 onwards, we encouraged officials all over the world to essentially ban the television station. When we started off, they were broadcasting on 14 satellite providers, and they were broadcasting bank account details for viewers to give donations to Hezbollah.
Al-Manar had a bureau chief in downtown Washington DC, they had Western corporate sponsors like Coke, Pepsi, Proctor and Gamble, Western Union, that were basically funding them to the tune of somewhere between US$5 and 10 million a year.
This is a station that gets somewhere between 20 and 30 million viewers a day. That’s more viewers than CNN gets around the world combined.
It is a station with an axe to grind and a message to send, and certainly an ideology to propagate. It is a very, very powerful and clever station. It is an enemy not to be underestimated.
But by the end of 2005, we’d really made some tremendous inroads into bringing that station down to size. They were designated by the US Treasury Department, the US State Department, and by the European Union.
Coke, Pepsi, Proctor and Gamble, Western Union and 20 other companies stopped advertising on al-Manar. Their bureau chief [in Washington] was taken in by the FBI, some other bureaus around the world were closed down.
Twelve out of the 14 satellite providers stopped carrying them: two in France, one in Spain, one in Holland, one in China, one in Thailand, one in Brazil, two in the United States, one in Barbados. It was one of the most amazing things.
But the problem unfortunately still continues. Saudi Arabia and Egypt continue to broadcast the station.
A year or two ago, Indonesia’s Indosat picked up the station and is now broadcasting it to places like Australia, and throughout Southeast Asia.
The fact that the Egyptians and the Saudis continue to carry it actually means that it’s being broadcast throughout the Middle East, and all of Europe.
In other words all Arabic speakers essentially in Europe, half of Africa and this part of the world get to watch these vitriolic messages day-in and day-out.
I don’t have children yet but I can assure you I would not want my children watching this station between the hours of four and six in the afternoon.
Yes, they have programming like Sesame Street and other such wonderful things but between those hours they interlace it with music videos encouraging young children to become suicide bombers, to support what they call the resistance – it really is essentially poisoning the next generation of Arabic speakers, and Muslims alike.
Parts of Europe often say, and even in Australia I understand, that there’s an external wing of Hezbollah, there’s the kinder, gentler side and then there’s the other militant wing. That is a farce. I hate to break it to you but in my own talks with Hezbollah, and I had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with that organisation in Lebanon, they themselves say, “Wings? What are you talking about, we’re one and the same.”
Avi Jorisch is the founder of the Red Cell Intelligence Group, a Washington-based counter-terrorism consultancy, and is a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defence of Democracies. Previously, he served as a policy adviser at the US Treasury’s Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence. In 2004, he authored Beacon of Hatred: Inside Hezbollah’s al-Manar Television for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the first comprehensive study of al-Manar. He recently visited Australia as a guest of Limmud Oz and AIJAC. The above is excerpted from his June 12 address to AIJAC in Melbourne.