In a Spin: Ya’alon, Regev Clash Over Army Radio Playlists

Defense minister instructs station heads not to meet with culture minister, who is trying to introduce more Middle Eastern-style Israeli songs at military’s Galgalatz station.

Marc Israel Sellem

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev clashed publicly Thursday over the latter’s campaign to introduce more Middle Eastern-style Israeli songs on Army Radio’s music station.

Ya’alon told Yedioth Ahronoth earlier in the day he had instructed staff at Army Radio not to discuss the matter any further with Regev. However, the culture minister responded that she would be pursuing the issue via parliamentary channels, namely at the Knesset Education, Culture and Sports Committee.

“The defense minister forgot that the army is the people’s army, and that Army Radio should express all voices in Israeli society,” she said. “The discussion is the same: will Galgalatz continue being an elitist radio station? The defense minister’s decision reveals that he is not attuned or sensitive to voices emanating from the public, which considers Galgalatz to be elitist. Ya’alon is backing [Army Radio] station manager Yaron Dekel in the station being a social barrier.

"I thought this would be an opportunity to make Galgalatz multicultural, but unfortunately the defense minister missed his chance. It’s no secret that [parent station] Army Radio is an elitist station. I was happy to read that Ya’alon is thinking of closing it,” she added.

Regev said she had asked Dekel to make Galgalatz’s playlist committee – which determines what songs are played – a more transparent body, one that would reflect all sections of society. She said Dekel had agreed with her, adding that the idea to create a partner station that would focus exclusively on Mizrahi music was proposed by Dekel.

Regev ended with a veiled threat. “It’s no secret that I and other ministers believe there is no reason to invest public money in a station that competes with state radio [Israel Radio] and other local stations. I believe that funding for this station should be canceled, and I’ve presented this idea to the prime minister.”

An associate of Ya’alon responded angrily to her comments. Regev “should conduct her political spin elsewhere, not with us,” the associate said. “She can scream until she’s blue in the face, but she won’t interfere with Army Radio."

“Regev voiced her views to the station’s commander, and that was the end of it. Let her look for headlines somewhere else,” the associate added.

Earlier Thursday, a Defense Ministry official said Ya’alon had approved the initial meeting between Regev and Dekel, but that “her current activities constitute interference with the station’s operations.” Ya’alon has now ordered station employees not to meet Regev again. “It’s important that people at the station stay attuned to public sentiment and hear diverse opinions – which is why Ya’alon approved the meeting – but Minister Regev will not determine playlists,” added the official.

The two main styles of local popular music are Western-style pop and rock, and Mizrahi (or Mediterranean) music, which has a more Middle Eastern vibe and has become increasingly popular with younger audiences.

Earlier this week, Regev announced she was in talks with managers at Galgalatz with the aim of introducing more Israeli music – but particularly Mizrahi sounds. She said her attempt to change the station stemmed from a wish to bring about “cultural justice” and promote Israeli songs and performers. She said she believed that “with the station’s willingness to change, I’ll succeed in leading this drive for the benefit of the public and the station’s listeners.”

Regev said there were three options for changing the structure of the station: One was the establishment of a partner station that would broadcast only Israeli music; another was to greatly increase the amount of Israeli music Galgalatz played; and the third option was to change the composition of the playlist committee, so it was “more representative of Israeli society.”

However, although she is culture minister, Regev has no authority to implement changes at the military radio stations; any decisions about their content can only be made by the defense minister.

Singer Maya Bouskilla, whose initial claims that Galgalatz didn’t play enough Mizrahi music prompted Regev’s intervention, responded to Ya’alon’s comments on Facebook. “I got up this morning and received some surreal news. Our defense minister is interfering in an important and historic process that the Army Radio stations are going through. If Ya’alon knew how much his decision damages our security as artists, he’d think twice,” Bouskilla wrote.

“Why shouldn’t a public station funded by taxes represent Israeli music? Honorable Defense Minister, maybe what’s needed here is a concrete-busting bomb? Why are only hipsters and ‘cute ones’ acknowledged? Let them have their own station.”