Saturday, March 22, 2008

Israel's Farsi radio service gets Purim reprieve

With highly appropriate Purim timing, the Israel Broadcasting Authority has saved the Jews of Persia... as an audience, says The Jerusalem Post.

Four million shekels have been allocated in the IBA's budget to spare Israel Radio's budget-threatened shortwave Farsi broadcasts, which are widely listened to in Iran, and are regarded as a crucial bridge to the Jewish community there.

But the radio respite has not been extended to the IBA's other foreign language broadcasts, including English, which will no longer be available to radio listeners outside Israel after the end of this month. (..)

"It's terribly sad. We're shutting ourselves off from vast, passionate audiences," one veteran Israel Radio English staffer told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday. "The whole French Jewish community, the whole Latin American Spanish-speaking community, Ethiopian Jews - we're cutting them all off."

In Britain, the Post was told, concerned listeners apprised of the imminent move protested to the new Israeli ambassador, Ron Prosor, who said the matter was out of his hands.

Menashe Amir, the veteran director of the Persian broadcasts, hailed the Farsi-language respite as a case of salvaging victory from the jaws of defeat in the realm of Israeli public relations. "We could not have afforded another defeat in regards to Iran," he said.

The short-wave Persian broadcasts had been going out since 1958, serving not only as a cultural lifeline to Iran's Jewish community, but as a credible news source for Iranian Muslims too, said Amir.

"Our broadcasts aim to give information about Israel, and to explain the Israeli position toward the Palestinian issue and peace process, to the Iranians, who face vast, poisonous propaganda from the Iranian regime against Israel," he said. "The broadcasts also constitute great support and encouragement to the Jews in Iran, strengthening their position in the Persian community."

IBA spokeswoman Linda Bar said Chairman Moshe Gavish had stepped in with the funding to save the Persian broadcasts precisely because of that vital role.

Amir said Israel Radio's Farsi broadcasts were widely regarded in Iran as a non-biased and accurate counterpoint to the government-controlled news agencies there. "In [prime minister Yitzhak] Shamir's time," he recalled, "the IBA went on strike for two months. A joke came about that [Ayatollah] Khomenei had told Shamir, 'We'll pay the workers' salary demands. Just bring back Israel Radio in Persian. We want to know what's going on in Iran!'"

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