Not long ago, an American Jew asked Rabbi Yedidyah Atlas, senior correspondent and commentator for Arutz 7, Israel National Radio, what the practical answer was to Israel's ongoing war with the Palestinians.
"The practical answer is mashiach," Atlas answered. "And the mystical answer is negotiations."
This week, Atlas spoke at B'nai David-Judea Congregation in Los Angeles to a small but passionately concerned group of local Jews about the state of affairs in Israel and about the phenomenal impact of Arutz 7 (Channel 7) in particular. The station, which started as a plucky upstart in 1988, is Israel's only independent national radio station. To keep its freedom from government interference, it broadcasts from a ship in international waters 12 miles off the coast of Israel.
Arutz 7 began as a way to combat what Atlas calls the "post-Zionist influence" of many Israeli media outlets that were damaging Israeli morale.
"When we started broadcasting, only about 15 percent of songs played on Israeli radio stations, including the Israeli Defense Forces [IDF] station, were in Hebrew. We have always played 100 percent Hebrew songs." Since then, other stations have slowly followed suit and now play a majority of Hebrew songs, as well.
But the impact of Arutz 7 far transcends pop culture. The station also broke a major story about Yasser Arafat calling for jihad (holy war) during a speech at a Johannesburg mosque in 1994, after the Oslo accords were signed.
Unbeknownst to Arafat, a non-Muslim journalist in the audience taped the entire speech. When Israel's government-controlled media stations ignored the tape, Arutz 7 ran with it.
As American Jews have become increasingly fed up with what they perceive as an anti-Israel bias in most major media outlets, more and more log on to Arutz 7 for their news about Israel. The station was the first to broadcast from Israel on the Internet and now has hundreds of thousands of listeners.
Arutz 7 broadcasts on both AM and FM bands, one station dedicated to all Hebrew; the other station divided among broadcasting in Russian, English and French for new immigrants. There are also Web sites for each language as well. While Arutz 7 would like to also broadcast in Arabic, the donor-supported station currently lacks the funds to do so.
Its Web site (www.arutzsheva.com), receives more than 8 million page views per month, and more than 50,000 people subscribe to its direct e-mail news digests each day. More than 20 percent of subscribers are non-Jews. Even the Library of Congress uses Arutz 7 as one of two Internet news sources about Israel.
Tova Abady, a visitor from New York in Atlas' audience, said of Arutz 7, "Not everyone is in tune with the real Israeli news. If I don't log on, I really don't know what's happening."
During his remarks, Atlas, a fifth-generation American who made aliyah at 17, gave another reason why Arutz 7 was needed when he deconstructed a sentence from a recent Reuters news story about Israel. The last sentence of the article read, "At least 836 Palestinians and 256 Israelis have been killed since the uprising erupted over Israeli occupation shortly after peace talks stalled."
Atlas asked, "Why does the reporter omit the fact that many of the Palestinians killed were suicide bombers and others who attacked with guns and missiles? Who shot first? Reporters often refer to 'Israeli occupation,' even when talking about violence in Palestinian-controlled areas."
Atlas denounces this kind of "advocacy journalism," which is often deceptive in its wording. "This reporter, like so many, uses the phrase 'after peace talks stalled' as if it were a car with engine trouble -- it just sort of happened. This kind of language suggests justification for the violence committed against Israelis each and every day," he noted.
He also decried other standard journalistic jargon that calls a terrorist who kills a few people "an activist," while a "militant" is one who kills more than a half-dozen. Yet people like himself, who have families and pay taxes, are called "settlers," an Old West term suggesting illegal appropriation of land.
As a journalist, Atlas has specialized in geostrategic and geopolitical aspects of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The author of the books "Harsh Realities" and "Israel in Medialand," Atlas has also written for the Wall Street Journal, Insight Magazine and the Jerusalem Post.
Atlas feels a more major war is inevitable, and he expects it sooner rather than later, but he calls news reports that Israel has no stomach for another war simply "propaganda." For example, recently many media outlets ran stories about an estimated 50 IDF reservists now refusing to serve in the West Bank on "moral grounds." But Atlas, who is also a reserve officer in the IDF and rabbi of the Binyamin Brigade -- the largest regional brigade in the Judea-Samaria Division -- noted inaccuracies here as well.
"There are only 15 IDF officers who have taken this stand, and more significantly, a recent poll in Israel of reservists, conducted by a respected pollster not known for his right-wing views, found that resolve to fight for Israel is the highest it has ever been," he said.
"Ninety-three percent of reservists polled said they were prepared to fight even an all-out war on the Palestinian Authority if need be, and 76 percent made no distinction between serving an area such as Tapuach, far into the occupied territories, versus Tel Aviv," Atlas added.
Despite the grim scenario, Atlas displayed the kind of tenacity and even optimism that has kept Israel and the Jewish people alive. "The Talmud tells us that we will take possession of the land of Israel through pain and suffering. Even with all our anguish, we must thank Hashem for the opportunity to possess our land."
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