The television station of the militant group Hezbollah is facing an uncertain future in France after being accused of broadcasting anti-semitic programmes. Al-Manar has already been taken off the air in Australia and now France's media watchdog, the CSA, has asked the French Council of State to block broadcasts from the Lebanese-based network through the Paris-based satellite operator Eutelsat.
The CSA's action was sparked last December when CRIF, an umbrella group of French Jewish organisations, complained that Al-Manar had televised a series in France it purported was anti-Semitic.
At the centre of the storm appears to be the Syrian-produced 29-part series, "Al Shatat," which the station broadcast throughout much of the Muslim world and in France, which has an estimated 5 (m) million Muslims, many of Arab origin. It is based on "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion," a 19th-century, anti-Semitic tract commonly used in Nazi propaganda to incite hatred againstJews.
The series depicts, among other scenes, a Christian child's killing on the orders of a rabbi so the blood can be baked into Passover matzos (flour and water bread).
But while Al Manar's Chief executive, Mohammad Haidar, freely admits the channel is opposed to the Israeli presence in Palestinian territories he denies that the station is racist or in anyway criticises the Jewish faith.
English language presenter, Tamara Mattar told APTN that she believed the controversy was part of an ongoing campaign against media organisations that did not conform to the international norms of newsgathering.
The Lebanese Foreign ministry have been quick to defend the broadcaster, saying that while their programming is highly critical of Israeli policy, it is in no way racist or anti-semitic.
Hezbollah, which has grown from a militia into a political party with nine legislators in the Lebanese Parliament, uses the station - as well as a radio station, a weekly newspaper and Internet site - to seek support for its causes. But the station has powerful detractors. Protests were filed by American diplomats with the Lebanese and Syrian governments over "Al-Shatat" late last year, and the station has been taken off the air in Australia. In addition, Hezbollah is on the USA's list of 'terrorist' organisations.
In January, French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin said the "Al Shatat" series revolted him and pledged to stop it. Paris has taken many steps to stem an anti-Semitic tide over the past four years, apparently related to the continuing Israeli-Palestinian violence.
But Lebanon claims French authorities have taken "a political role rather than a judicial" stance in the case against al-Manar.
While Jewish groups have applauded France's steps, Lebanon says there should be a distinction between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism."The Zionist ideology and practices are condemned because they are the basis of the Arab-Israeli conflict and the source of the tragedy and injustice the Palestinian people are subjected to," the Foreign Ministry statement said.
Zionism, the Jewish national movement, is based on the belief that Scripture has foretold the return of the Jews from the Diaspora to Israel, which includes land currently occupied by Arab Palestinians.
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