“Here is the president of terror,” proclaims a Hizballah propaganda film montage on Al-Manar television, showing the face of President Bush alongside an American flag. As faces of dead and wounded children appear on the screen, crude pictures of bombs rain down on the pictures, all of them labeled “MADE IN AMERICA.”
President George Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert have now gained “most wanted” criminal status on Hizballah’s television station, as the terrorist organization escalates its anti-American and anti-Semitic propaganda. While Bush, Olmert, Israel, America, Jews, and most Westerners have always been frowned on by Hizballah, the messages of hate have deepened noticeably in the last week as Hizballah has come under greater military pressure.
Hizballah’s main propaganda arm, al-Manar television, has begun featuring video clips of Olmert saying, “[W]e believe in our struggle because no struggle is more moral." Out of nowhere, a Nazi swastika armband appears on Olmert’s right arm and, through the miracle of television, Olmert, whose words are translated from Hebrew into Arabic, suddenly grows a Hitler-like mustache.
Similarly, a Hizballah commentator, identified as “Professor Ramouda,” offered this take on Israel: “Israel is not a country, but rather a military base built on the principle of racism. They are using all the techniques used by the Nazis.”
To those who are familiar with Hizballah’s television, radio and Internet eructations, the charge of being a Nazi is somewhat out of charcter, because Hizballah daily features its uniformed terrorists marching in Nazi-like goose-step and using the familiar open-palm “zig-heil” salute. At the same time, al-Manar screens a relentless barrage of anti-Semitic propaganda.
Two days before the deaths of 27 Lebanese in the collapse of a building—used as a Hizballah rocket warehouse—al-Manar launched an unusually anti-Semitic attack on Israel when a featured commentator claimed that Jews were instructed to kill women and children. “What does their Torah say: it says kill all men, women and children and even animals,” said the Hizballah commentator, Ghassan Matar, identified as a former member of the Lebanese parliament. “That is what their Israeli Zionist god, their racist god ‘Yahweh’ orders them,” sneered the gray-haired Matar, gesturing broadly with his hands. Matar, who was wearing tinted eye glasses and a short-sleeved yellow jacket, said that Israeli conquest of some villages in southern Lebanon would not bring it victory.
Al-Manar is also known for broadcasting programs based on the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion”—an anti-Semitic tract first developed by the Russian Czars and then distributed by the Soviets.
The growing anti-Jewish and anti-American assaults on al-Manar may be indicative of tension felt by Hizballah personnel in recent days. This would explain why the anti-American message has also been escalated as Hizballah emphasizes the “American role” in regional events, perhaps as an explanation for why things have not gone as well as Hizballah hoped.
“Land is not the most important factor, but rather the spirit of the people,” declared a strategic commentator identified as Dr. Col. Amin Akhtai, interviewed on the television station that until now has been bragging about battlefield successes. Dr. Akhtai said that Hizballah was not concerned about loss of terrain, because “perhaps the remaining terrain is better suited for defense.” Most telling about his remarks was the fact that he prefaced them with a lengthy and uncharacteristic eulogy to “those heroes who have become martyrs in the defense of Lebanon.”
Israel regards al-Manar television as a potent propaganda force, but the IDF has so far failed to knock it off the air though it has caused obvious damage to Hizballah’s broadcast product—interruptions and drops in the quality of broadcasting. But Hizballah’s propaganda is still potent, and it is a complicated mix of psychological warfare, part of which is aimed at the Lebanese population, part at the broader Arab audience, and partly at Israelis, trying to demoralize them. There is still a bragging tone to much of the Hizballah broadcasts—including phony claims of sinking two Israeli missile boats and shooting down an Israeli fighter jet.
Still, there are many signs of Hizballah stress, including growing calls for Arab aid, international intervention and ceasefire. Facing growing criticism at home in Lebanon for the destruction of southern Lebanon, Hizballah is also draping itself, literally, in Lebanese flags and Lebanese nationalism, and pretending that it is looking out for Lebanese interests.
These messages of distress are beamed throughout the Arab world by Al-Manar’s satellite broadcast, and many parallel messages are relayed by Al-Jazeera, the Gulf-based satellite TV channel, that echoes Al-Manar’s pan-Arab and Pan-Islamic messages.
One suspects that the anti-American and anti-UN riots and demonstrations in some Arab capitals have to do not so much with Arabs upset at pictures of dead Lebanese civilians but rather with the increasing militant Arab outrage as “the Arab street” begins to sense the truth: Hizballah still has some rockets, but Israel has killed hundreds--over 400 by Israel's count--of Hizballah's estimated 700 active fighters in southern Lebanon.
The Palestinian media and many Israeli Arabs have echoed Hizballah’s political messages, including the media of the Palestinian Authority (PA), controlled by Mahmoud Abbas, which receives millions of dollars in American aid. Nazir al-Ghul, anchorman of Voice of Palestine radio, began morning broadcasts this week with a condemnation of American transfers of precision laser-guided bombs to Israel.
The change in the Abbas regime’s view of America is not unexpected, because Abbas and his Fatah movement have—for more than a week, at least—been supporting the killing and kidnapping of Israeli soldiers as a legitimate form of “resistance." A cartoon in the Abbas-controlled Fatah newspaper Al-Hayat al-Jadida this week depicted an Arab holding up a bandaged hand in a sign of victory in which the fingers were kidnapped Israeli soldiers.
The stridently anti-Israeli and anti-American attitude of the supposedly moderate Abbas regime has been largely ignored or excused by Israeli policy makers and Israeli army intelligence analysts (such as former intelligence chief Aharon Ze'evi-Farkash) since Abbas publicly referred to Israel as “al’udu al-sihyouni”—the Zionist enemy—during his election campaign a year and a half ago.
For their part, the Palestinians make no attempt to hide their delight at the deaths of Israelis in or near Lebanon. Al-Ayyam, a Palestinian paper controlled by Abbas’s Fatah movement, had a cartoon this week that showed an explosive mine—shaped like Lebanon—waiting to blow up an Israeli naval vessel. The largest Palestinian newspaper, Al-Quds, which is also vetted by Abbas and the PA, has featured several cartoons this week showing Israelis burying themselves in a grave marked Lebanon or in quicksand marked Lebanon, and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert being hung out to dry on a clothesline.
A similar message also appears on Al-Manar. “Notice how scared and confused they are,” noted a Hizballah commentator Friday afternoon to his colleague as they reviewed films from Israeli television showing bloodied Israelis against the background of destroyed buildings in Haifa and Nahariya Israel.
Both Palestinian and Hizballah criticism of American diplomatic support for Israel is clear in cartoons in both the Lebanese and Palestinian press. Some of these cartoons have a distinct racist or sexist tone, but one of the tamer cartoons, below, shows Condoleeza Rice seeing the situation—the need for a ceasefire—backwards through a telescope.
Dr. Michael Widlanski is a specialist in Arab politics and communication whose doctorate dealt with the Palestinian broadcast media. He is a former reporter, correspondent and editor, respectively, at The New York Times ,The Cox Newspapers-Atlanta Constitution, and The Jerusalem Post. He has also served as a special advisor to Israeli delegations to peace talks in 1991-1992 and as Strategic Affairs Advisor to the Ministry of Public Security, editing secret PLO Archives captured in Jerusalem.
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