Religious Right Fights To Save Pro-Settler Radio Station

By Elli Wohlgelernter

Published November 07, 2003, issue of November 07, 2003.
  • Print
  • Share Share

JERUSALEM — Last month’s closure of the major media outlet of the pro-settler religious right, radio station Arutz-7, has left supporters scrambling to get it back on the air and critics satisfied that the law against illegal broadcasting has been upheld.

The Oct. 20 ruling by a Jerusalem Magistrates Court, after four and a half years of litigation, found 10 directors, station managers and broadcasters guilty of various violations, including transmitting from a boat within Israeli territorial waters and broadcasting from locations in the West Bank without the required government permits from 1995 to 1998. In addition, the station’s general manager, Ya’acov Katz, was convicted on two counts of perjury for declaring under oath that the station had broadcast exclusively from a ship outside Israel’s territorial waters.

The court, which is expected to hand down sentencing this month, could slap each of the defendants with a maximum three-year jail term and a fine as high as $650,000.

Arutz-7 (“Channel 7”) has had an iconic stature, almost since its 1988 launching, as a voice and symbol of the Israeli right and the settler movement. It projects an image similar to Fox News, claiming to offer unbiased reporting that is in contrast to the supposedly left-leaning general media. In addition to hard news, the station provides programming revolving around Bible and rabbinic legal commentary, as well as a variety of right-wing talk hosts.

“Its foremost impact on society was that it finally made the country pluralistic,” said Yisrael Medad, a board member of the right-leaning Israel Media Watch and a media columnist for the Jerusalem Post. “Religious and Sephardic Jewish music were rarely heard on national radio except in ‘corners.’ But here, religious figures became mainstream. All of a sudden, there were academics and writers and intellectuals who had a different ideological point of view.”

But the station was never granted a license under Israel’s restrictive broadcast laws and had to beam its signal from a ship outside Israel’s territorial waters, similar to Abie Nathan’s Voice of Peace radio ship in the 1970s. There have been repeated government attempts over the years to shut it down, all derided by loyal listeners as bids to stifle criticism by a political establishment that settlers view as left-wing.

“Arutz-7 over the years has been the only sane Jewish voice of a huge national camp, religious and irreligious,” said Nadia Matar, longtime weekly talk-show host and co-chairwoman of the right-wing activist group Women in Green. “For them, Arutz-7 was a breath of fresh air, of Jewish air. We cannot listen to the other stations, which we know are biased, pro-left, pro-Arab.”

Matar said the station’s closing was a continuation of the left’s decades-long campaign against the right, going back to the shelling in June 1948 of the Irgun weapons ship Altalena by the Israeli military on orders from then-Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion. “It’s a Bolshevik act,” she said.

But to lawmaker Zahava Gal-on of the left-wing Meretz party, the issue is content. Last week she asked Attorney-General Elyakim Rubenstein to open a criminal investigation into the operators of the Arutz-7 Internet site — which still maintains a Hebrew and English news operation — on suspicion of “incitement to murder and racism.” She quoted an opinion article on the Web site calling for the “killing of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians.” Arutz-7 argued that it was an individual opinion, not endorsed by Arutz-7, and that the sentence in question was taken out of context.

Gal-on said the issue is not one of free speech. “This was incitement to murder,” she told the Forward. “This week, when we are remembering the murder of Yitzhak Rabin, we should remember how words became a weapon, and how people like [convicted Rabin assassin] Yigal Amir used weapons because of the words of rabbis. It’s the same; it’s illegitimate to ask people to kill others.”

Particularly galling to the station’s supporters was that the closure of Arutz-7 — sometimes dubbed “Radio Free Israel” — took place under a right-wing government headed by the champion of the settler movement, Ariel Sharon. Indeed, the court ruling came just a day after the government lent its support to a proposed law that would fine advertisers on pirate radio stations. Some commentators suggest that the move was meant to make it easier for Sharon to evacuate settlements.

To Matar, however, the government move is not surprising. “Sharon may be portrayed in the world as a right-winger, but those who are really right-wing know that Sharon has turned to the left,” she said.

Likud lawmaker Yuli Edelstein, however, takes the opposite view, saying that while the closure under a right-wing government “causes many people to think that it’s a political attack on Arutz-7, I have to say thank God it happened in the days of the right-wing government. If it were a left-wing government, the reaction would be one of much more distrust and disappointment and political accusations.”

What Edelstein and some other observers found startling was the relative quiet from the station’s supporters following the closure. “It did surprise me, and that’s something I can’t understand,” he said this week. “I can recall only one person in the past two weeks who approached me and said, ‘Don’t let them do this to Arutz-7.’”

Arutz-7 management and supporters are now lobbying Knesset members for legislation known as the “open-air law” to enable the station to resume broadcasting on radio. Leading the fight are Knesset members Tzvi Hendel and Uri Ariel of the National Union Party, who have said they would not rest until Arutz-7 is allowed back on the air. There is also a street campaign begun this week, which includes putting up signs on the roads against the closure of Arutz-7. Volunteers are standing at intersections wearing Arutz-7 hats and T-shirts and giving out stickers with the motto: “Let the truth be heard — the people are with Arutz-7.”

Find us on Facebook!
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.