Fareed Zakaria Casts Hezbollah as a Model of Religious Tolerance

The August 22, 2010 edition of CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS” opened with a debate about the controversial mosque slated to be built in Manhattan. It ended with a monologue in which the host seemed to imply that Hezbollah’s “respect” for Jews could be a model for Americans concerned with the mosque plans. In that final segment, Zakaria said:

And now for the “Last Look.” With all the talk about places of worship and where they do and don’t belong, I wanted you to see this. This is the Magen Abraham synagogue. It’s not in Miami. It’s not in Tel Aviv. It’s in Beirut. That’s right, Beirut, Lebanon.

The synagogue is just now emerging from a painstaking restoration project. When the repairs began over a year ago, the temple was literally a shell of its former self. So why did this nation, often teetering on the brink of religious hostilities and hostilities with Israel, restore a Jewish house of worship? To show that Lebanon is an open and tolerant country.

And indeed, the project is said to have found support in many parts of the community, not just from the few remaining Jews there, but also Christians and Muslims and Hezbollah. Yes, Hezbollah — the one that the United States has designated a foreign terrorist organization.

Hezbollah’s view on the renovation goes like this. “We respect divine religions, including the Jewish religion. The problem is with Israel’s occupation of Arab lands … not with the Jews.” Food for thought.

Zakaria’s indirect main point may have been about the NYC mosque. But his more immediate point — that Hezbollah respects the Jews and is merely opposed to Israel’s “occupation of Arab lands” — dramatically misinformed viewers about the radical and anti-Semitic nature of the Lebanese terror group. Hezbollah has repeatedly made clear not only its opposition to Israel’s very existence, but also its contempt for Jews.

It is true that Hussein Rahhal, whom the Associated Press describes as “Hezbollah’s media chief,” has stated that the group’s “problem is with Israel’s occupation,” as Zakaria noted. But even if Hezbollah’s PR man opts for that euphemism, Zakaria owes it to his viewers to explain, without gloss, the group’s position. Hezbollah is not shy about admitting that, in its view, Israel occupies not just the West Bank but also Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Haifa and every other inch of its sovereign territory.

As Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah put it in a Sept. 18. 2009 speech, “Historic Palestine, from the sea to the river, belongs to the people of Palestine and to the whole [Muslim] nation.” Israel, he elaborated, “is a usurper and occupation entity, aggressive, cancerous, illegitimate, and illegal presence,” and nobody is permitted to recognize its existence.

The Jewish state, he continued, must be “wiped out”:

[We] will never recognize ‘Israel.’ We will not work with ‘Israel.’ We will not normalize ties with ‘Israel.’ We will not surrender to ‘Israel.’ We will not accept ‘Israel’ even if the whole world recognizes it. Our faith, belief, and declaration will remain unchanged, that ‘Israel’ is an illegal presence [and] a cancerous gland, and must be wiped out of existence.

Even if Zakaria, who is thought of as a deft observer of international affairs, understood that this is what Hezbollah’s spokesperson meant when he protested “Israel’s occupation,” many CNN viewers would not likewise be able to read between the lines. By ingenuously parroting the Hezbollah spokesman’s talking point without comment, Zakaria misled those who rely on him for serious analysis and unvarnished truth.

Equally misleading was the Hezbollah’s claim, again unquestioningly accepted by the CNN journalist, that the organization has no problem with the Jews, and in fact “respects” them.

Hassan Nasrallah, a Holocaust denier, was quoted in Lebanon’s Daily Star saying that if the Jews “all gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide.”

Lebanese researcher Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, an expert on Hezbollah and no fan of Israel, says that in Hezbollah’s world-view “there is a real antipathy to Jews as Jews.” According to her book Hezbollah: Politics & Religion, Nasrallah has said that “If we searched the entire world for a person more cowardly, despicable, weak and feeble in psyche, mind, ideology and religion, we would not find anyone like the Jew. Notice, I do not say the Israeli.” Saad-Ghorayeb also quotes Naim Qassem, the deputy secretary general of Hezbollah, saying, “The history of the Jews has proven that, regardless of the Zionist proposal, they are a people who are evil in their ideas.”

And in the same September 2009 speech quoted above, in which Nasrallah called for Israel to be wiped out, the Hezbollah chief expressed his respect for Jews as follows:

Abraham fathered Ishmael and Isaac. In the Torah, in the New Testament, in Zabour [David’s book of psalms], and in the Koran it is stated that Allah had promised Abraham’s descendants the Holy Land. [But] which ‘seed’?! To the sane among them. To the believers among them. To the pure among them. To the god-fearing among them. To those who went after Abraham – that patriarch and prophet – and followed his religion.

As for the criminal and murderous limb of Abraham’s progeny, who killed the prophets, spread corruption in the land, and committed atrocities and sins… these were not given any promises to start with.

A few sentences later, he drew a direct connection between the ancient Jews, whom he accused of killing prophets, and Jews currently living in Israel:

… God’s prophet Joshua entered the blessed land with a faithful, pious, and devout progeny of the Israelite Abraham’s descendants. But when they returned to corruption and killed the prophets again, God Almighty banished those who killed and destroyed, and scattered them across the earth — and there they are now rummaging under the foundations of Al-Aqsa Mosque looking for the ruins of a temple destroyed three thousand years ago by their criminal and corrupt deeds.

Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV offers more evidence of the same. It aired a Syrian-produced, medieval-style blood libel during Ramadan in November 2003. Entitled Al-Shatat (Diaspora), the 30-part series, included, for instance, graphic depiction of the kidnapping and murder of a Christian boy for use of his blood in the making of matzah. Other classic anti-Semitic motifs were featured as well.
The group’s ideology frequently spills into devastating violence. Hezbollah has been implicated, for example, in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, in which 85 people were killed. This is one of many deadly attacks by the group.

CNN’s Zakaria told his viewers he was giving them “food for thought.” Unfortunately, with regard to Hezbollah, they got little more than empty calories.

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