Thursday, August 21, 2008

Al Manar defies Australian ban, Barney Zwartz launches vile attack on Lebanese

Four years after the Australian pro-Israel lobby succeeded in having Al-Manar officially banned from Australian airwaves, the Hezbollah TV network has returned ... via Indonesia.

The Indonesian government threw out a request by the US to stop Al-Manar from broadcasting into Asia and the Pacific from its Indonesian hub.

Australia listed Hezbollah's military wing on its terrorist list following intense pressure by Australia's pro-Israel lobby, despite there being a 500,000 strong Arab presence in the country.

The pro-Israel lobby were quick on their heels when they found out Al Manar had seeped through Australia's airwaves with the Australia-Israel Review throwing the same old "anti-Semitic" slogan.

The Australian Arabic Council hit back, labelling Canberra's ban on Al Manar as "hypocritical".

But perhaps the most surprising was the extremely pro-Israeli reporting on the situation in Australia's generally impartial newspaper, The Age.

Barney Zwartz, The Age's Religion Editor who apparently has great respect for Islam, wrote a scathing article about Al Manar and Hezbollah, referring to it as "anti-Semitic TV". Zwartz' column was so anti-Hezbollah it made the Australia-Israel Review seem pale.

The following are some excerpts from Zwartz' extremely poor reporting, particularly for someone of his stature:

'Al-Manar promotes and raises money for terrorism, particularly against Israel.'

'The station is viciously anti-Semitic - perpetuating the medieval "blood libel" that Jews use the blood of Christian children in their Passover meals - as well as anti-Israel and anti-US. Hezbollah triggered a war with Israel in 2006 after kidnapping two Israeli soldiers.'

'Al-Manar's political talk shows feature guests from terrorist organisations. It has shown the decomposing bodies of Israeli soldiers. It also screens mundane programming, such as educational children's shows.'

'The station regularly broadcasts speeches by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and fatwas (Muslim legal rulings) endorsing suicide bombing as legitimate.'

A Religion Editor who has apparent experience with various faiths, particularly the three monotheistic religions, should certainly have a much broader approach to the Middle East. Zwartz, brought up Jewish and later a Christian convert, has worked with Muslims and claims to have a great knowledge and insight into the religion. His article on Al-Manar is deeply flawed and a shocking right-wing blitz on a topic he should be familiar with.

His comments may have appeased his Jewish backers, but it is an insult to the Lebanese and Arabic speaking people of Australia who are denied this channel because it does not fit well with the pro-Israeli hawks of this country.

Al Manar does not promote and raise money for "terrorism". That remark in itself demonstrates a great ignorance and blind approach to the Middle East. Hezbollah has confined its attacks to Israeli military targets, unlike the Israelis who often launch indiscriminate attacks against Palestinian and Lebanese civilians. Al Manar promotes and raises money to help fund Hezbollah's vast network of responsibilities, ranging from its social welfare services, to indeed, its military services, which has succeeded in protecting South Lebanon against Israeli aggression.

Why doesn't Zwartz write an article calling for the halt of the millions of dollars sent by wealthy Australian Jews to build illegal settlements on the West Bank, and to assist Israel's military in its continued Apartheid occupation of Palestinian Territories and its illegal, disproportionate use of force against Lebanon?

Hezbollah is a fundamentalist religious organisation, there is no doubt about that. It regularly airs programs on Islam, Christianity and Judaism. Certain people would consider Al Manar's programming of Islam un-Islamic - as Hezbollah is a Shia organisation. Programs are regularly aired in the West questioning and attacking the fundamentals of Christianity, but we dub that free speech.

Instead of shunning an (and it is only one of many) Arab and Islamic perpective of Israel, Judaism and the world around them, perhaps it would be better to understand why ... why is there such tension today between Islam and Judaism that would lead to such perceptions? And that's not excusing the ultra-Orthodox right-wing Jews who hold fascist, anti-Arab views. But, we won't be seeing a Zwartz article on anti-Arab racism existing among Jewish ranks anytime soon.

Al Manar is one of Lebanon's and the Arab world's most popular TV networks. By referring to Al Manar as a terrorist, anti-Semitic network,Zwartz is knowingly implying that those who are entertained by this network are also terrorists and anti-Semites (despite the fact that Arabs are Semites).

Hats off to The Age's Religion Editor. It appears that tolerance was not a prerequisite for this job. Instead of promoting understanding and awareness in a climate where fear and conflict is abound, Barney Zwartz has simply added fuel to the fire. He has destroyed any credibility he may have had among Australia's Arab and Islamic communities, only deepening the wide between Muslim and Jew, Arab and Israeli.

Australia's ban on Al Manar is politically motivated by the pro-Israel lobby and totally contradicts the notion of freedom of speech. It is a grave insult to the large Lebanese community, but indeed a key demonstration of the ineffectiveness of Lebanese-Australians to defend their rights.

By the way, to watch Al Manar, you can simply stream live from their website.

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