Israeli radio station targeted by fake free speech campaign
Activists have attacked the Army Radio with a bizarre phone message scam, reports Daniella Peled
24 Jun 11

Daniella PeledActivists have attacked the Army Radio with a bizarre phone message scam, reports Daniella Peled

In a scam targeting one of Israel’s most popular radio stations, a right-wing Zionist group this week sent out messages from Palestinian figures pledging support for the radio’s promotion of free speech.

My Israel, a grouping of activists who describe themselves as Israel’s “online ambassadors”, were campaigning against Galei Tzahal, Israel Army Radio, for its practice of interviewing Hamas officials on air.

On 21 June, hundreds of members of the Knesset and journalists received a text message purporting to be from Ribhi Rantisi, a Hamas member from Gaza who often speaks to the Israeli media in Hebrew.

“This is Ribhi Rantisi from Hamas. I will soon call you about the Knesset debate on Galatz,” the message read.

It was followed minutes later by a recorded message emanating from a Palestinian number which said, “I am calling upon the members of the finance committee to give Galei Tzahal freedom of expression. I am interviewed on Galei Tzahal and am allowed total freedom of expression.”

In an apparent play on words referring to the station’s catchphrase, “Galei Tzahal, the home of the soldiers”, Rantisi added, “Galei Tzahal is the home of all of us.”

Afterwards, Rantisi told the Walla news website that he had been called up by someone claiming to work for Galei Tzahal who asked him to say something about the importance of freedom of expression.

“I didn’t send a message or call anyone, they just scammed me and forged my phone number to send a message in my name,” he added.

The following day, My Israel sent out another text pretending to be from Ashraf Ajrami, a Fatah member and Palestinian activist who spent 12 years in Israeli detention.

It read, “This is Ashraf Ajrami, [former] prisoner’s minister of Fatah. I will soon call you to let you know of our joining the campaign for Galatz against the public protest in Israel; this is not an imitation, a fake or a prank.”

Although it is operated by the army, Galei Tzahal, also known as Galatz, is a well-respected radio station which — like other state media outlets — has been criticised by many on Israel’s political right for having an allegedly left-wing agenda.

Declining to clarify whether this campaign — titled “Galatz — a knife in the soldier’s back” — would continue, My Israel director Ayelet Shaked said, “The problem with Galei Tzahal is that in recent years it has become detached from the people and from the soldiers, and all its journalists are left-wing. We want more balance and diversity there.

“It doesn’t make sense that a station which belongs to an army which is in the middle of a war against Hamas — a terrorist organisation — interviews Hamas members in a very nice and polite way while our soldiers are fighting them.”

My Israel, founded in June 2010, whose funding comes from the Yesha council of settlers, is campaigning against a bill underway in the Knesset which would allow Galei Tzahal to continue to run messages from its sponsors. This is a lucrative option which increases their budget and allows them to hire civilian broadcasters alongside army journalists.

There have been some suggestions that these civilian reporters have been the ones to create most of the controversy among the right wing, leading to efforts to have the Knesset reduce their budget and effectively muzzle them as a news organisation.

“Freedom of speech is very important,” said Shaked, “and we have no problem with, for instance, interviewing [veteran Palestinian negotiator] Saeb Erekat. But Hamas is a terrorist organisation by definition, and don’t accept Israel’s right to exist, so there is a difference between them and the Palestinian Authority.”

Asked why, in that case, My Israel sent out a message purporting to be from Ajrami in an effort to discredit the radio station, Shaked added, “This a very aggressive campaign to get attention and wake up Israeli public opinion, so we are showing that even in the PA everyone supports Galei Tzahal.”

In a statement put out after the Rantisi episode, the radio station said, “It seems that the radicals in our society are so desperate in their attempt to take over the public discourse that using a Hamas member is legitimate in their eyes. Galei Tzahal is a leading radio station and whoever is worried by its success should examine themselves.”

Uzi Benziman, the founding editor of Israeli media watch website Seventh Eye, which is affiliated to the Israeli Democracy Institute, said that the campaign was a troubling development.

“This is part of a trend to terrorise public broadcasters in Israel, not using violence but intimidation, to shift their emphasis to right-wing views,” said Benziman, who himself was one of those targeted with the Rantissi message. “Part of the Israeli public may agree that Hamas should not be interviewed, seeing them as enemies — and rightly so.

“But at the same time they are potential partners for negotiations, and in this era of the internet and mass communication, how can you put limits on people trying to put their message across?”

Daniella Peled is an editor at the Institute for War and Peace Reporting