“Germany Bans Hezbollah Television Al-Manar”
Thus ran the headline to a sketchy 200-word AP dispatch that appeared on Friday and that was quickly picked up by other media, both old and new. The alleged news was in fact broken one day earlier by the Jerusalem Post in a more detailed report with the similarly categorical title “Germany Bans Hizbullah Television.” The problem, however, is that if one checks the fine print and if the word “ban” means ban, in the usual sense of the term, then the report is clearly false.
The Jerusalem Post story had the trappings of a real scoop, inasmuch as not only no other English-language media, but, curiously, no German media had previously made mention of any such “ban” of Al-Manar. The origin of the report seems to have been a passing remark by Israeli Public Security Minister Avi Dichter. Visiting Berlin last week to meet with his German counterpart, Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, and queried by the Jerusalem Post as to whether Germany’s notably lax policy toward Hezbollah would be on the agenda, Dichter commented, “I heard they banned Al-Manar.” Contacted by the Jerusalem Post, the German Interior Ministry appeared to confirm the news, saying that Interior Minister Schäuble had indeed “banned” the Beirut-based channel by administrative order on November 11. As reported by the paper, the Ministry spokesperson explained that the ban would “cover Al-Manar advertisements, fundraising for its Beirut studio, and the station’s reception in hotels.” It would not, however, affect the reception of Al-Manar in private homes. “Germany Bans Al-Manar in Hotels” might thus have been a more accurate title.
But even this is not sure. Since Al-Manar is only available in Germany via the, respectively, Egyptian and Saudi satellite networks Nilesat and Arabsat and since these can be presumed not to be the satellite providers of choice for German hotels in any case, the supposed “ban” appears to amount, in effect, to a purely notional ban of nothing at all that was actually occurring. As the German daily Die Welt bizarrely wrote in a short article that, nonetheless, repeated the claim that an order “banning” the channel had in fact been issued: “No interruption of [Al-Manar] broadcasting is to be expected as a result.” The headline on a German website devoted to digital television perhaps best summed up the surreal character of this prohibition that does not prohibit: “Schäuble Bans Al-Manar TV — But Ban Has No Consequences.”
It should be noted that to date reports on the supposed “ban” only make reference to the declarations of Interior Ministry spokespersons. No text of the November 11 administrative order appears yet to have been made public. No such text has been published on the Ministry website or in the latest editions of the German Federal Law Gazette [Bundesgesetzblatt]. As laws are not ordinarily supposed to be kept secret, this would mean that no such order has in fact yet been promulgated.
Hezbollah is not treated as a terrorist group by the German government and the German foreign intelligence service, the BND, is well known to maintain good relations with the organization. It is thus that the BND served as mediator in the negotiations that led to the release by Israel earlier this year of convicted murderer Samir Kuntar and four Hezbollah fighters in exchange for the bodies of Israeli soldiers Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser.
According to the German domestic intelligence service, the Verfassungsschutz, some 900 known Hezbollah militants are present in Germany. Interior Minister Schäuble himself cited this figure in the aftermath of the 2006 Israel-Lebanon war. Responding to a report in the German daily Die Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Schäuble admitted at the time that the some 6,000 persons evacuated from Lebanon to Germany during the war may well have included many Hezbollah members.
In a recent interview with the German television news magazine Report München, Amir Kulic of the University of Tel Aviv estimated that the real number of Hezbollah militants in Germany must be four to five times greater than the number given by the German Verfassungsschutz. According to an Israeli indictment, the suspected Hezbollah agent Khaled Kashkush received his marching orders from leading members of the German Hezbollah network. (See here from Ynet news.) Kashkush was arrested at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport in July after flying from Frankfurt.
German terrorism experts have spoken of an implicit or “secret” non-aggression pact between Germany and Hezbollah, which permits the latter to operate freely in Germany so long as it refrains from undertaking armed actions on German territory itself. Investigations by Report München revealed that Hezbollah-linked groups are even able to raise funds in Germany in the form of tax-deductible charitable contributions.