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Thanassis Cambanis
photo by Rhonda Spivak

Editorial: How Come Thannasis Cambanis Hasn't Heard an Islamic Militant Say Jews Can’t walk This Earth? Reflections on Cambanis’s lecture in Winnipeg

by Rhonda Spivak, December 6, 2011

There were several very problematic comments made by journalist Thannasis Cambanis when he was in Winnipeg last month when he presented his views in a lecture about the Arab Spring at the Etz Chaim Synagogue on Nov 2, sponsored by the Jewish Heritage Centre.

I am going to discuss just one of these statements now, with a follow up article on others.

Cambanis, who has spent several years in Lebanon covering Hezbollah and wrote a book about Hezbollah entitled "A Privilege to Die"  spoke about the aims of Hezbollah.

While he acknowledged that Hezbollah's stated aim is to annihilate the State of Israel, his remarks suggested that  it is not the case that Hezbollah doesn’t want to eliminate all Jews.

Cambanis said he had "yet to hear" a "militant Islamist" say that ‘Jews don’t have the right to walk the Earth."

I believe when he he said this, it left the impression that Hezbollah wants to kills only Zionists not Jews.

Of course, just because Cambanis, didn’t hear Hezbollah members [militant Islamists] saying they wanted to kill all Jews, doesn’t mean it isn’t so.

A quick glance at Wikipedia in fact suggests otherwise.

A Hezbollah statement in 1992 vowed, "It is an open war until the elimination of Israel and until the death of the last Jew on earth." [this one doesn’t leave too much for the imagination, does it?]

In 2002, Sheik Nasrallah was quoted by the Lebanon Daily Star as encouraging Jews to move to Israel. "If they all gather in Israel, it will save us the trouble of going after them worldwide," Nasrallah was quoted as saying.

To see these two quotes, have a look in the New York Sun: . Nasrallah’s second statement is referred to in the New York Times (NY Times, May23, 2004, p. 15, section 2, column 1.) Note that Cambanis, who is a correspondent for The Altantic, and a columnist for the Boston Globe writes a column for never referred to any of this material in trying to convince his audience that Hezbollah has nothing against Jews per se.

For those, interested, you can read a column by Alan Dershowitz outlining how Hezbollah’s aim is going after the Jews worldwide.

One of the points Dershowitz makes is that "Hezbollah also worked hand-in-hand with Argentine neo-Nazis to blow up a Jewish community center, murdering dozens of Jews." [Curious that Hezbollah didn’t ascertain how many of the Argentinian Jews it killed were Zionists, as opposed to Jews before eliminating them all. Nor did the attack take place in Israel, but in Argentina, part of the Jewish Diaspora].

Readers may also want to read Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, a Lebanese political analyst, who argues that although Zionism has influenced Hezbollah's anti-Judaism, "it is not contingent upon it" because Hezbollah's hatred of Jews is more religiously motivated than politically motivated.

[ Saad-Ghorayeb, Amal. Hizbu'llah: Politics and Religion. London: Pluto Press, 2002. pp. 168–86]

Robert S.Wistrich, a historian specializing in the study of anti-Semitism, described Hezbollah's ideology concerning Jews:

 "The anti-Semitism of Hezbollah leaders and spokesmen combines the image of seemingly invincible Jewish power.... Like the Hamas propaganda for holy war, that of Hezbollah has relied on the endless vilification of Jews as 'enemies of mankind,… Wistrich, Robert S. A Lethal Obsession: Anti-Semitism from Antiquity to the Global Jihad. New York: Random House, 2010. pp. 766–767

It is unfortunate that Cambanis, standing on a shul bima, never raised any of this material in  a presentation which I believe suggested to his audience that Hezbollah has nothing against Jews per se, only Zionists and Israel.

Is it possible that Cambanis is rather gullible? If I were a Hezbollah spokesperson and I wanted a Western reporter to tell that world that Hezbollah doesn’t want to kill Jews, [just Zionists], that’s probably the line that I would make sure Cambanis was fed.

Do you think its possible that Hezbollah has figured out that it’s a good idea to tell Western reporters that they don’t hate Jews, just Zionists, so the reporters can become just a little more sympathetic to them? Did  Cambanis  even raise this as a possibility with his audience?

I wonder how many Jews buy into the narrative that Hezbollah doesn’t have anything against Jews per se, just Israelis [and that presumably Jews would be treated very well as a minority living in a Hezbollah run state!] . Which members of  Cambanis's audience would send their children off to live in a Hezbollah run state based on this distinction?

Note also that Cambanis said he had yet to hear an "Islamic militant' [not just a Hezbollah militant] say that Jews ought not be able to walk the earth. Would this presumably mean that throughout all his travels in the Middle East Cambanis has not heard Islamic militants, such as Hamas, [or members of other groups] say words to this effect? That's interesting because well known  journalist  Michael Totten, has certinly heard words to this effect, and quite recently even last month. All Totten had to do was watch the translations of Hamas TV from the  MEMRI website:

As Totten wrote on November 14, 2011:

"The following speech at a rally for the Palestinian Al-Ahrar movement that was aired on the Hamas-run Al-Aqsa TV is ghastly even by the standards of Gaza.

"The video clip is only three minutes long, but if you can’t stomach watching it, here are the highlights.

“Praise be to you, our Lord. You have made our killing of the Jews an act of worship through which we come closer to you. You have made your teachings into constitutions for us – the light with which we dissipate the darkness of the occupation, and the fire with which we harvest the skulls of the Jews…We are a people that moves closer to Allah through blood, through body parts, and through martyrs. Oh sons of Palestine, oh sons of the Gaza Strip, oh mujahideen – wage jihad, wreak destruction, blow up and harvest the heads of the Zionists [emphasis added].”


Cambanis  acknowledged during his talk that he himself doesn’t speak Arabic. That means if he were watching  this  Hamas TV clip quoted above in which Hamas speaks of killing of Jews as an act of worship (note the word Jews, not Israelis), and speaks of  harvesting the skulls of Jews , would Cambanis report this to a Western audience? Not unless he asked for and received a proper translation of the Arabic. And what if Cambanis neither asked for nor received a proper translation of the Arabic? How would he report on this? Would he say he has never heard words to such effect?      

Let's be clear: Cambannis himself can’t monitor Arabic media, as he doesn’t have the skill set required.

In a future article I will analyze  the suggestion that Cambannis made to Soody Kliman a member of the audience that it is an old canard that Arabs say one thing to Westerners and another thing to their own people.

Suffice it to say that there are, of course, lecturers who speak not only English but Arabic who have the required skill set to monitor Arabic media and do in fact do so on a regular basis. The Jerusalem Post’s Khaled Abu Toameh, Mordechai Kedar of the BESA Centre, or Itamar Marcus of the Palestinian Media Watch are a few that come to mind. Kedar, for example, who speaks Arabic fluently (I have heard him do so) is an Israeli scholar of Arabic and Islam, specializing in Islamic ideology and movements, and the Arabic mass media. After Cambanis’s lecture, I think it would be very appropriate to bring one of these Arabic speaking experts to our city to speak.

One final point. Let’s assume for a moment, that Hezbollah has nothing against Jews per se, but just wants to eliminate the State of Israel [something I don’t quite buy]. Since pretty well half of world Jewry lives in Israel, are we to take comfort in the fact that presumably only one out of two of us, would be killed for them to meet their goal?

One out of two—that’s not antisemetic, is it?


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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.