Congress examines anti-Israel Palestinian TV show

WASHINGTON — Every day in the West Bank and Gaza, Palestinian children gather in front of television sets to watch the "Children's Club."

But unlike "Sesame Street," on which the show is loosely based, this show teaches children more than simple math and the value of sharing. They learn about the glory of killing Israelis.

In one episode, a Palestinian girl about 10 years old, standing against a backdrop of Mickey Mouse and other Disney cartoon friends, gets up in front of some 20 classmates to present her skit.

"When I wander into the entrance of Jerusalem, I will turn into a suicide warrior in battledress," she yells, tugging at her green dress.

The show's host, an adult, stands and applauds, saying, "Bravo. Bravo. Bravo."

Armed with this video clip from the Feb. 6 show — and more than a dozen other similar ones — Republican lawmakers hope they now have the long-sought ammunition they need to end U.S. funding for the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation, which airs the show.

Since 1994, the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation, which also runs a radio station, has received about $500,000 from various U.S. federal agencies.

That funding is separate from the $400 million the United States has given to the Palestinians since the Israelis and Palestinians launched the Oslo accords in 1993.

There have been consistent efforts to cut off all aid to the Palestinians by some U.S. lawmakers critical of the Palestinian effort to crack down on terrorism. But even many supporters of general aid to the Palestinians are so outraged by the anti-Israel television programming that they support the campaign to cut off any U.S. link to the network.

"Why should people who preach hate, divisiveness, bigotry and prejudice get a dime?" said Rep. Jon Fox (R-Pa.).

The lack of U.S. funding would not impact the day-to-day operations of the network, say congressional aides involved in the effort, but it could prompt U.S. allies to re-evaluate their support for it.

Fox and about a half dozen of his colleagues, along with the National Jewish Coalition, a Republican group, have led the effort to end support for the PBC, which in addition to the "Children's Club" airs many sermons and news-style broadcasts that praise suicide bombers and encourage violence against Israelis.

Since the peace process began, activists of all political stripes have tried in vain to convince the Palestinians to change the way they talk about Israel.

Without peaceful rhetoric, they argue, the people will never support peace.

Last year, members of Congress defeated a Fox-sponsored amendment to end U.S. support for the network. The effort failed at the last minute on procedural grounds.

At that point, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu privately urged several members of Congress to revive the campaign to cut off funding.

Now, Sens. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and John Ashcroft (R-Mo.) have joined Rep. Michael Forbes (R-N.Y.) and Fox to lead the Capitol Hill effort.

Beginning next week, the lawmakers, in conjunction with the NJC, plan to send a daily letter to all members of Congress until they convince the congressional spending committees to end all U.S. funding for the network.

The letters will include excerpts from the "Children's Club." In one of the episodes from the show, which have been recorded and distributed by an Israeli-based group, Peace for Generations, children stand and proclaim their devotion to becoming "martyrs."

"Like my father, I will live in the shadow of the heroes and echo his voice with my blood," said one young boy on the Feb. 13 episode.

Initially founded as a separate entity, the television station is now considered by the U.S. government to be a direct arm of the Palestinian Authority.

In 1995, Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat changed the structure to force directors to report directly to him.

That's when the United States Information Agency cut off direct funding for the station and decided to support and train individual journalists, including many who work for the PBC.

But in 1997 the USIA decided to try again, providing more than $200,000 of satellite-receiving equipment after the PBC agreed to broadcast seven hours of Worldnet and Voice of America programming on American policy, society and culture.

In a letter to U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright circulating among Republicans on the hill, the lawmakers are urging her to support their effort to cut off the USIA and other U.S. agency funding.

The Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation has been "benefiting from U.S. assistance while engaging in a campaign in support of violence and hatred against the United States and its interests. This campaign has further fostered an atmosphere sympathetic to violence and terrorism in the region," the letter says.

James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, said that "however outrageous" such a show is, it would be "unfair to punish the entire Palestinian people" by cutting U.S. funds to the network.

Zogby found an ally at the Anti-Defamation League, where national director Abraham Foxman said cutting off aid would be "too drastic" because the network can still be "used as an instrument for good."

Foxman instead called on Congress to issue a stern warning to the Palestinian Authority to exercise restraint.

For its part, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the pro-Israel lobby, has decided to support the effort to end U.S. funding.

"This would send an important message that these are not the kind of broadcasts that the U.S. ought to be funding," said an AIPAC spokesperson.

Even Jewish groups traditionally supportive of U.S. aid to the Palestinians say the Palestinian television station has crossed a line.

"Obviously these offensive broadcasts have to stop," said Tom Smerling, Washington director of the Israel Policy Forum.

But Smerling questioned whether the current effort is the "most effective means."

In the end, continued funding for the PBC may be too politically hot to support, according to many on Capitol Hill and in the Jewish community.

Matt Brooks, executive director of the National Jewish Coalition, expressed the view of many when he said, "Who are the people who are going to stand up on the floor of the U.S. Congress and advocate continued U.S. taxpayer support for this kind of hatred?"

The National Jewish Democratic Council took a similar position, suggesting that Democrats, too, would support cutting off funds.

"To have this television network under the control of the Palestinian Authority air this kind of program while the U.S. is trying to get the parties together sends a cold-blooded message to Israelis," said Stephen Silberfarb, deputy executive director of the NJDC.