Government raid on right-wing radio station sparks Knesset row

JERUSALEM — The Knesset erupted in an uproar this week after police raided a right-wing pirate radio station and essentially shut it down.

The move, which came as Israeli troops clashed with Israeli settlers in the West Bank, sparked stormy protests and charges of undemocratic behavior.

The station, known as Arutz 7 (Channel 7), broadcasts from a ship off Israel's coast outside Israeli waters. It was docked near Ashdod port for repairs when police boarded the vessel Monday with a court order from the Communications Ministry to shut it down.

Police charged that the station had no license or authorization to transmit its signal.

In the Knesset, the closure of Arutz 7 quickly hijacked what started out as two routine no-confidence motions on the political situation.

National Religious Party member Yitzhak Levy said he was adding the seizure to his party's no-confidence motion, charging that Communications Minister Shulamit Aloni ordered the shutdown because "the station was bothering the government."

Eliezer Sandberg of the right-wing Tsomet Party said the police raid showed the government's intent to silence voices of the opposition.

Hagai Segal, the Arutz 7 news director, told The New York Times the impounding of the station's equipment "shows that under the government of the left, Israel is no longer a democracy. This measure was taken to shut us up."

"It is an obvious next step after administrative detentions, and the attack on religious soldiers who declare they don't want to uproot army bases in the territories," he said.

Opposition and Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu agreed there was a basis to ensure the Arutz 7 operated legally, "but there's a second basis to democracy, and that second basis is freedom of expression," he said.

Arutz 7, Netanyahu said, is the only station in the country that expresses the views of the nationalist camp — and for that reason, Aloni decided to close it.

But when the Likud was in power, he added, it tolerated voices of dissent. Foreign Ministry offices abroad received subscriptions to two left-wing papers, Davar and Al Hamishmar, he said, while the Labor government canceled overseas subscriptions to the right-leaning Jerusalem Post — even when publisher Yehuda Levy offered to provide the papers free.

Similarly, he noted, the Likud left peacenik Abie Nathan's pirate radio station, the Voice of Peace, unmolested in the 1970s.