Paris (CNSNews.com) - Jewish groups are applauding a move by the French government to revoke the license of a controversial Hizballah-run television station, just weeks after authorizing broadcasts through it satellite network.
Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin told the French senate that the Lebanon-based Al-Manar's programs were incompatible with French values. An official complaint against the station for spreading hatred and violence would lead to the revocation of its license, he added.
The head of France's major Jewish organization said he hoped a petition sponsored by his group and signed by 25,000 people proved to the government that public opinion was opposed to allowing the station to broadcast.
Roger Cukierman, president of the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France (CRIF), said the signatories included the leaders of France's four major political parties.
In a rare show of agreement, the heads of the majority Union for a Popular Movement, Union for French Democracy, Socialist and Communist party all signed the petition.
"It shows how important this is," said Cukierman.
He said the channel, which is watched by millions of Muslims in Europe, delivered messages from people trying to justify terrorism and suicide bombing and often served to recruit more terrorists.
French officials must have taken the initial decision to approve the broadcasts as a result of pressure from Arab countries or groups, Cukierman charged.
"The government says constantly that it is fighting against anti-Semitism in France but all of a sudden it gives a full platform to an anti-Semitic channel to pour out its hatred in France," Cukierman said.
France's broadcasting authority, CSA, gave Al-Manar a license to air its programs to Europe through the French Eutelsat satellite network on Nov. 19 despite protests from groups in France, Israel and the United States.
It said that the station had agreed with strict compliance not to air programs that might "incite hatred, violence or discrimination based on race, sex, religion or nationality."
Just four days later, however, the station broadcast a press review in which an "expert" blamed "Zionists" for "attempts to transmit dangerous diseases such as AIDS."
According to a CSA source, the station had been under close scrutiny and the authority quickly filed a complaint that could lead to the revocation of the station's license when examined by France's high court, the State Council, later this month.
"Al-Manar broke its agreement to respect French law and the CSA is requesting a ruling from the State Council that it cease broadcasting," the source said.
Also welcoming the move to end the broadcasts, Richard Serero, secretary general of the International League Against Racism and anti-Semitism, said "granting the license was like throwing oil on a fire."
"It helped give an argument to those who are looking to lay the blame on anti-Arab racism," Serero said.
Al-Manar's news director told the French news agency AFP that the government was bowing to political pressure from "Zionist organizations" which were trying to create problems between France and Arabs.
Al-Manar ("the Beacon") is the official arm of Hizballah, the Iranian-backed, Lebanon-based group designated as a terrorist organization by the United States and several other Western governments.
According to Washington Institute for Near East Policy fellow Avi Jorisch, who is writing a monograph on the station, Al-Manar disseminates radicalism throughout the region, its impact second only to the Qatar-based al-Jazeera.
Having become a potent "psychological warfare" weapon in the Arab-Israeli conflict, it has been using the same methods to undermine the U.S. mission in Iraq, he writes in an article released earlier this year.
"Every aspect of al-Manar's content, from news to filler, is fine-tuned to present a single point of view: that of a militantly Islamist sponsor, consistently urging the recourse to violent 'resistance' as the only legitimate response to Israel's existence and the U.S. presence in the Middle East," Jorisch said.
(CNSNews International Editor Patrick Goodenough contributed to this report.)
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