Pirate radio is focus of Yosef-Eliahu rift

Recent raids by the Shas-controlled Communications Ministry on an illegal haredi Sephardi radio station are seen by some as the latest chapter in an ongoing conflict between former chief Sephardi Rabbis Mordechai Eliahu and Ovadia Yosef. On April 9 and 10, Communications Ministry officials and police shut down five broadcast stations in Bat Yam, Givatayim, El ad and Jerusalem that belong to Kol Ha'emet (The Voice of Truth), a pirate radio station that supports Eliahu. The raid on Kol Ha'emet, owned by Shmuel Ben-Atar, is part of a larger struggle between Eliahu and Yosef, sources close to Ben-Atar and Eliahu told The Jerusalem Post Wednesday. The sources claim that Communications Minister Ariel Attias (Shas) ordered the raids to punish Kol Ha'emet for supporting Eliahu against Shas. Ministry spokesman Yechiel Shabi rejected the claims categorically. "The Communications Ministry has consistently acted against all pirate radio stations, regardless of their affiliation. Pirate broadcasts interfere with aviation communications and are liable to endanger lives," he said. On Friday, Eliahu, during a Torah lesson broadcast on Kol Ha'emet, cursed those responsible for the raids. "It is forbidden to take frequencies away from Kol Ha'emet," he said. "Whoever does, prevents the dissemination of Torah. The Torah will not forgive him and he will get his punishment from the heavens." Eliahu and Yosef have repeatedly locked horns over the years on halachic matters. Each follows a different tradition on how to decide Jewish law. Throughout his lifetime, Yosef has fought single-handedly to reinstate the halachic hegemony of Rabbi Yosef Karo (1488-1575), the author of the Shulhan Aruch, for all Sephardi Jews. In contrast, Eliahu follows the tradition of the Iraqi Rabbi Yosef Chaim (1832-1904), known as the Ben Ish Chai, and other Sephardi halachic authoities who were heavily influenced by Kabbala and Ashkenazi customs. The latest battle between the two is over the Pappouchado brand egg, and fruit juice matzot (matza ashira). Eliahu announced on a Friday afternoon broadcast during Pessah that the Matzot, which is under the kashrut supervision of Rabbi Avraham Yosef, son of Ovadia and Chief Rabbi of Holon, are not kosher for Pessah. In a broadcast response Avraham Yosef called Kol Ha'emet to complain. Without mentioning Eliahu's name, Avraham Yosef attacked him. Yosef said that the statement made by "that man who spoke previously" was not based on real knowledge. A few days after the exchange between Eliahu and Yosef, Communications Ministry officials and police raided Kol Ha'emet, which has been broadcasting for 14 years. Despite the confiscation of broadcasting equipment, the station managed to get back on the air within 15 minutes. This was not the first raid, said one radio station worker, but it was the most severe. Sources close to Kol Ha'emet and Eliahu said the raids were a response to Eliahu's Pappouchado comments. The sources also say that tension between Shas and Kol Ha'emet began four years ago when the broadcaster began hosting Eliahu on Friday afternoons between 1 and 2 p.m., a time slot that once belonged to Avraham Yosef. Shabi replied, "The communications minister is not directly involved with monitoring and enforcement of communications regulations. Rather, ministry officials and police are responsible for those operations." "It saddens us that interested parties have sullied the minister and the ministry with insinuations. Neither the minister nor the ministry are involved in halachic disputes, rather their motives are solely professional. Those who are intelligent need no more elucidation to understand this," Shabi said. The fracas comes weeks ahead of the announcement of the winner of a Communications Ministry tender for the establishment of a legal Haredi-Sephardi radio station. Kol Ha'emet is one of the radio stations competing in the tender. However a worker at the station was skeptical about his station's chances.