Yisrael Bundak
Yisrael Bundak Photo by Emil Salman
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A former member of the Israeli Black Panthers protest movement was slapped with a NIS 260,000 civil suit this week for operating a pirate radio station that plays Middle Eastern music.

Yisrael Bundak, owner of Kol Hamizrach (Voice of the East ) is soon to begin serving an 18-month sentence for operating the station.

Bundak, one of three pirate radio station operators against whom the state prosecution filed civil suits this week, says he is being personally hounded because of his membership in the defunct Black Panthers movement, which was formed by second-generation Jewish immigrants from Middle Eastern countries (known as Mizrahim ) to raise awareness of social inequality.

The other two stations are Radio Kol Haemet (Voice of Truth ), a religious radio station, and Radio Briza, a Middle East music station. The prosecution said it intended to use both civil and criminal law to advance the rule of law and protect state assets.

Bundak was sentenced in July 2009 to two years in prison after being convicted of charges related to operating his radio station, which broadcast Middle Eastern music. Jerusalem Magistrate Alexander Ron wrote in the verdict that "the Black Panthers' 'struggle culture' and its derivatives, more accurately, this subculture, is passe, if it ever had a place."

"Spreading Eastern culture while flouting the law and scorning state institutions does nothing but damage [this culture's] content and public status," he wrote.

The judge's controversial statements prompted Bundak to launch a public campaign against the verdict. But he mustered only a small group of supporters, including Charlie Biton, a former Black Panthers leader, social activist and Knesset member. The group will protest outside the Justice Ministry during a meeting to discuss Ron's promotion to the District Court.

Following Bundak's appeal, the Jerusalem District Court reduced his sentence to 18 months, but added a NIS 25,000 fine.

In the 1990s Bundak headed a group of Middle Eastern singers who struggled to have their songs broadcast on Israel's public radio and television stations. He appeared at the Knesset Education and Culture Committee to make his complaints, together with singers Haim Moshe, Avner Gadassi and Margalit Zan'ani.

That was when he decided to set up a pirate radio station that would broadcast Middle Eastern music exclusively. He used to broadcast day and night from an improvised station in Jerusalem's Givat Shaul neighborhood, with instruments brought from Austria in shoe boxes.

After police raided the station and he was brought to trial, Bundak moved the station to the Bayit Vegan neighborhood, broadcasting ads for his landlord's laundry business in lieu of rent.

The state prosecution dismissed as groundless Bundak's allegation that the civil suit was part of a campaign to persecute him personally.