Targeting Lebanon’s Al Manar at Congress

By Franklin Lamb – Beirut

"Regarding Al Manar it’s personal for Israel. The reason is that Al Manar did to the Israeli government propaganda machine during and following the July 2006 war what Hezbollah fighters did to Israeli troops. Al Manar kicked butt.  That station must be made to disappear. The plan  is to stop the 15-20 million daily viewers of Al Manar from receiving its transmission and well as  to intimidate all the other Middle East TV channels that are suspected of moving toward the growing  “Culture of Resistance’  spreading in the Middle East from Lebanon." — A Washington DC observer of how Israel controls the US Congress 12/9/09.

Lebanon is a small country, approximately 0.7% the size of Connecticut with a population a bit more than 1% of America’s. But according to the four public US ‘Terrorist’ and Watch lists and at least seven supposedly secret US ‘T lists’ there are more Lebanese ‘terrorists’ and ‘inciters’ on the loose per square meter of planet Earth than any other nationality. Way more than say Iraq, Iran, Syria, Afghanistan or Pakistan could reasonably hope to muster. Increasingly these ‘terrorists and inciters’ work is claimed by some in the US Congress to be done via satellite TV channels. Such is the thesis of Congressman Gus Bilirakis, the ‘author’ of the 122nd US Congressional anti-Arab, anti-Muslim initiative in the past decade now known as the “Terrorist TV” Bill which passed the House on 12/08/09 and is now before the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

A Fresh Lobby Frontman

Veteran Congressional staffers sometimes identify the following four general groupings of supporters of Israel in Congress:

• Jewish members who care a lot about Israel and some of whom may or may not be ardent Zionists but  who  generally, but not always, put Israel’s concerns first;

• Evangelical Christians, who are eager to advance end-times, believe in Biblical prophecy and that Armageddon is rapidly approaching and strongly supports Israel over Arabs and Muslims in the Holy land conflict.

• Ultra Zionists with elements of racist feelings towards Arabs and Muslims

• Members who normally don’t favor Israelis much over Arabs or Muslims in their normal lives but who are regularly collared by the Israel lobby and who get the message and want to keep their congressional seats and add to their  generous $100,000 –plus yearly pensions and are willing to ‘go along to get along’ and generally will do AIPAC’s bidding.

Gus Bilirakis, Reagan Republican from Florida’s 9th District is from this latter category. Filling the seat his late father Michael held since 1983, “Congressman Gus” as he prefers to be known back home, has the reputation of being a nice, affable fellow who does not claim to know much about the Middle East or foreign affairs. Hard to stereotype as being a fanatic supporter of Israel, gross Islamophobe or Arab basher, Bilirakis basically wants to get along by going along. AIPAC likes him because he appears ‘regular American’ and not too ‘neurotically pro Israel.’ as one of his District office interns explained, adding that “our boss is ordinary, folksy, and just wants to help the simple people.”  Certainly he appears to fit the recent AIPAC mode shift of lining up more conservative members of Congress to do Israel’s bidding and to pull back a bit from the type casted “Liberal Jewish establishment” stereotype. By selecting Gus to introduce H.R. 2278, AIPAC and friends scored a public relations bonus.

Gus told his District’s Bay 9 News TV station on 12/9/09 that:

“My legislation will provide the United States with critical baseline information to combat media outlets that serve as vehicles for violent anti-American incitement,” said Bilirakis, who is a member of the House Committees on Foreign Affairs and Homeland Security. “Given the danger such incitement and radicalization poses to Americans both at home and aboard, it is crucial that these tools of terror be distinguished from reputable news outlets.

“We already spend too much on foreign aid to countries that take our money with one hand and slap us with the other. This legislation will help us ratchet down foreign aid to countries who take this approach.”

Bilirakis’ reputed suspicion towards ‘foreigners’ may be part of his general conservatism. The American Conservative Union Chairman, David Keene, noted during an award ceremony in May of 2009 that Gus scored “way higher than the 80% necessary to win ACU’s top award during the second session of the 110th Congress. In a short space of time, Congressman Bilirakis has already shown he is someone grass roots conservatives in Florida and elsewhere who love Israel will be turning to for future leadership.”

The Washington DC based “U.S. Campaign to End the Occupation” a pro Middle East Peace advocacy group saw things differently and gave Gus a -4 rating on its just released Congressional Report Card for the 111th Congress, which was barely above the worst rating assigned to any member of Congress, earned by Illeana Ros-Lehtinen  (who represents Florida’s 18th District including the Florida everglades opposite Havana, Cuba, about which she likes to joke, “on a clear day I can see Havana and keep an eye on the Castro boys”, reminding some of Sarah Palin learning about foreign affairs by watching Russia from her bob sled), who kept her position from the 110th on the groups  ‘Hall of Shame’ with a -5 score. Gus calls Ileana ‘my main Middle East tutor’.

How HR 2286 Can Save America from ‘Terrorists and Inciters’

The ‘TV Terrorist” bill passed on a House roll call vote, while, as is the norm, an eager AIPAC staffer in the front row of the House Visitor’s Gallery with clip board and pen in hand, peered down on the Floor keeping tabs on how the Members voted. As is the Congressional practice with ‘Israel Bills’ or Psych-War Resolutions Israel wants passed, the vote on H.R. 2278 was held under a suspension of the rules to cut debate short  and pass it quickly with the needed two-thirds majority. This fast track is normally used for relatively minor items like honoring “butterfly watchers day”, “national be kind to fat stray cats day” etc. The totals were 395 Ayes, 3 Nays, 36 Present/Not Voting- a slightly above average tally when AIPAC sends a legislative request ‘up the Hill.’

H.R. 2278 is what some employees in Congress call “a sleeper bill”. Legislation that is quickly and quietly passed, without much public notice, but which is very powerful in its effect. The language of the Bill, while  far overbroad and many first Semester law students would no doubt hammer it on Constitutional Law grounds, and some lawyers think a case brought under this law would be nearly impossible to prosecute, this legislation, if it passes the Senate, will  de jure establish  that “It shall be the policy of the United States of America to  designate as  a Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGT) any satellite provider in the Middle East (including Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen) that knowingly and willingly contracts with entities designated as Specially Designated Global Terrorists under Executive Order No. 13224, to broadcast their channels, or to consider implementing other punitive measures against satellite providers that transmit anti-American declarations  (read criticize US support for Israeli crimes) or incite violence against Americans.

Bilirakis’ bill also requires  that state-sponsorship of anti-American incitement to violence be taken into account when determining the level of assistance to, and frequency and nature of relations with, all states (Ed: such as Lebanon whose hoped for millions in US aid could be stopped) and urges “all governments and private investors who own shares in satellite companies or otherwise influence decisions about satellite transmissions to oppose transmissions of telecasts by… al-Manar … or any other Specially Designated Global Terrorist owned and operated stations that openly incite their audiences to commit acts of terrorism or violence against the United States and its citizens.”

The Bill also provides that beginning 6 months after the date of the enactment of the new law and annually thereafter, the President must prepare a report on anti-American incitement to violence in the Middle East including a description of all media outlets in the Middle East for program and news broadcast scrutiny.

Congressional sources report  that the political goal is to stop the 10-15 million daily viewers of Al Manar from receiving its transmission as well as to intimidate other Middle East TV channels that are suspected of moving toward the growing “Culture of Resistance’ in the Middle East.

More than 600 Middle East TV channels risk being closed down among the 19 target Countries listed in H.R. 2278. Some of the most strident criticism of America comes from Israeli colonists and extremist Rabbi’s in occupied Palestine.

MEMRI as Congressional Staff

Part of the job description of all Congressional staff employees who works on legislation includes doing research in support of proposed legislation or to demonstrate to the Member who employees them the need for a new law. This system by and large works in the US Congress except for the Middle East. This area of inquiry is hands off for all but ardent supporters of Israel.

One Congressional staffer who recently retired after 28 years working on the hill, noted on 12/13/09:

“It used to be that Congressional staffers actually did research and wrote recommendations for their bosses around here. Those days are long gone when it comes to Middle East issues. The Israel lobby handles all that now. If staffers want to be heard on Middle East issues from Iran to Palestine, they are discouraged. If they persist they run the risk of being targeted for unemployment by AIPAC and their bosses may cut them loose rather than confront the Lobby. In essence Israel is saying to Congressional staffers, “Listen up!  We know best and will handle Congressional Middle East legislation. Just get out of the kitchen, leave this to us and busy yourselves elsewhere.”

Those who demonstrated to Congress the urgent need for a “TV Terrorism” law included the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI).

 This was confirmed by the office of Congressman Gus Bilirakis and indeed the Congressman himself noted that ‘research’ provided by MEMRI helped to establish the need for the new legislation.

 MEMRI supplied the video excepted from Al Manar and cited by the sponsors as ‘evidence’ of incitement against Americans by the station and its satellite provider because it broadcasts the speeches of Hezbollah leaders on special occasions, as does virtually every other TV news channel in the Middle East that transmit at least portions of the speeches which are popular across the region. In fact all the video shows in spliced together excerpts from two speeches Hassan Nasrallah gave and two by his deputy Secretary-General of Hezbollah, Naim Qassim. They contain no incitement against Americans but rather criticism of Israel and of US support for Israel that can be heard any day of the week in all 50 States in the US.

The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) describes itself as a “free media monitoring service.” Based in Washington DC with half a dozen offices set up in countries including China, Tokyo, Germany, England, Italy and Israel, MEMRI was founded in 1998 by Yigal Carmon, a former colonel in Israeli military intelligence and its first three employees were also veterans of Israeli intelligence. Following 9/11 and George W. Bush’s executive order 13222 and the unleashing of the War on Terrorism, MEMRI shed much of its earlier pretense of being objective and became stridently anti-Arab and anti-Muslim.

Increasingly, MEMRI’s work has been criticized on three grounds: that their work is biased; that they choose articles to translate selectively so as to give an unrepresentative view of the media they are reporting on; and that their translations are frequently inaccurate.

The Middle East editor for the UK Guardian newspaper, Brian Whitaker has been one of the most outspoken critics of MEMRI, writing: "My problem with MEMRI is that it poses as a research institute when it’s basically a propaganda operation, “to further the political agenda of Israel."

Several critics have accused MEMRI of selectivity. They state that MEMRI consistently picks for translation and dissemination the most extreme views, which portray the Arab and Muslim world in a negative light, while ignoring moderate views that are often found in the same media outlets.

Juan Cole, Professor of Modern Middle East History at the University of Michigan reported that MEMRI "cleverly cherry-pick the vast Arabic press, which serves 300 million people, for the most extreme and objectionable articles and editorials." Laila Lalami, writing in The Nation stated that MEMRI "consistently picks the most violent, hateful rubbish it can find, translates it and distributes it in e-mail newsletters to media and members of Congress in Washington".

Professor Norman Finkelstein,in a June 2007 interview with In Focus newspaper explained that  MEMRI "uses the same sort of propaganda techniques as the Nazis… it’s  a reliable assumption that anything MEMRI translates from the Middle East is going to be unreliable."

In 2007, CNN correspondent Atika Shubert and Arabic translators accused MEMRI of mistranslating portions of a Palestinian children’s television program. MEMRI translates one caller as saying ‘We will annihilate the Jews,"’ said Shubert. "But, according to several Arabic speakers used by CNN, the caller actually says ‘The Jews are killing us." According to one CNN source, “Put bluntly, MEMRI is a hate group”.

Working with MEMRI, as its Al Manar specialist, Avi Jorisch senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies published  ‘research’ in 2004 entitled “Beacon of Hatred-Inside Al Manar”, funded by the  Israel advocacy ‘think tank’, Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP), with  the  assistance of Dennis Ross. Jorisch proudly admits he had the political goal of getting the Bush administration declare Al-Manar a “Terrorist organization.” One of Jorisch consistent worries is “that al-Manar broadcasts may contain coded communications — a way for Hezbollah’s terrorist "generals" to command terrorist  "troops" in the field, for example sleeper cells in the United States and elsewhere.”

During its 2008 annual Conference, Jorisch was honored in a private reception arranged by MEMRI and AIPAC, and given a champagne toast while being introduced “as the man who put Al Manar on the Terrorism list.” As recently as 11/4/09, writing in the Wall Street Journal, Jorisch accused Iran of using the UN to skirt sanctions and various other ‘terrorist’ acts relating to importing “foodstuffs, textiles and medicine” which could help it create a nuclear weapon.

Jorisch’s campaign against Al Manar is designed to show that it is anti-Semite, but he repeatedly misunderstood the context of some of his ‘proof’ including the phrase, “Jerusalem we are coming”, which he claimed to have heard on Al Manar.

Jorisch and MEMRI claim this language shows a threat against the Jewish state and therefore is anti-Semitic. In fact, the phrase “Jerusalem, we are coming” comes from the classic song of the Lebanese Christian singer Fairouz, whose, “Jerusalem, we are coming”, extols religious unity, worshiping in Jerusalem by all religions, and Jerusalem as a city of peace. Viewers in Lebanon and the Middle East and fans of Fairouz everywhere know this song  which is in no way anti-Semitic and it’s been played on hundreds of TV and radios stations including many in Israel.

With the 22 State member Arab League and the 57 member International Organization of the Islamic Conference condemning the House bill, and the Lebanese Foreign Ministry planning to summon US Ambassador Michele Sisson to discuss the matter, late word is that John Kerrey, Senate Foreign Relations Chairman may actually hold hearings on the Bill. If so it will be a major setback for AIPAC and friends. Will Al Manar actually be invited to present testimony? Debate AIPAC?

– Franklin Lamb is doing research in Lebanon and is a member of the Lebanese Steering Committee seeking to pass the 2010 Civil Rights Law for Palestinian Refugees in the current ‘Unity’ Parliament. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: fplamb@gmail.com.

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