Israel's Left and Right Fight It Out on the Radio

Nationalist radio host calls leftist listener 'servant of the Arab enemy, Hamas pimp'; row leads to mutual libel suits.

In September 2009, Amnon Holtzman went on the radio to respond to the obstreperous show hosted by Yoram Sheftel on 103 FM titled "Sheftel is Irritable." The ensuing altercation led to mutual libel suits amid the argument about historical facts. It is doubtful such an argument could be settled in court.

"You've rewritten history in most of your shows so far," Holtzman told Sheftel. "You keep repeating the falsehood that 1,500 Israelis were killed because of Oslo... you knowingly lied, saying the Beit Lid terror attack took place before the [Baruch] Goldstein murder. It was Goldstein who directly caused the suicide bus attacks... by murdering 29 worshipers."

Sheftel, known for his nationalist views, lashed back. "Israel's graveyards are filled by bodies that you and the likes of you brought upon us," he said. He called the listener an Israel hater, a "servant of the Arab enemy" and a "Hamas pimp."

A week later Sheftel spoke of Holtzman in his show. "Last week a cheeky man came on the air, a language thug, a pathological liar," he said. "That despicable scummy swindler who belongs to ... Gush Shalom, one of those filthy types who throw stones at Israel Defense Forces soldiers in Bil'in... that abominable liar who spoke on the air in the service of the Arab enemy, whose entire life is dedicated to lies and to deceiving his nation and country in the Arab murderers' service," he said.

Speaking to another listener, Sheftel mentioned Holtzman again. "That creep, called Amnon Holtzman? That's exactly the type who used to take part in the Arabs' terror attacks in prestate Israel," Sheftel said.

On September 30, Holtzman's lawyer Eran Lev wrote to Sheftel, accusing him of slander and demanding an apology on the air and NIS 200,000 in compensation. This is exactly the kind of "incitement that led to the murder of a prime minister in Israel," he wrote.

Sheftel not only did not retract his statements, but also called Holtzman a "Judeo-Quisling." Holtzman sued Sheftel in the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court in November, demanding NIS 200,000 for slander. He attached documents and citations from wars he had taken part in, combatant military service as a tank commander and newspaper clips from Haaretz and Davar, some dating back to 1929, refuting Sheftel's claims about the 1929 Hebron massacre.

The legal argument about slander turned into a dispute about historical events. Holtzman said he was a Meretz convention delegate whose entire political activity, including appearing on radio shows, stemmed from "sincere concern for Israel and its future." Contrary to Sheftel's statement, he said he did not belong to Gush Shalom, had not been in Bil'in or Na'alin, did not take part in the demonstration at the separation fence and certainly did not throw stones at anyone.

"Thus the respondent's portrayal of [Holtzman] in live broadcast as a 'pathological liar' and a 'despicable type the likes of which throw stones at IDF soldiers'... constitutes severe damage to the plaintiff's reputation," the suit says.

In response to Sheftel's calling him a "Judeo-Quisling," Holtzman said he had served as a tank commander and fought in the Yom Kippur War and the war of Attrition.

Sheftel claimed in his defense that he is a lawyer "known for his nationalist views and belligerent character." His show is "a radiophonic stage, known for its host's stormy temper" and "sometimes becomes a real radiophonic calamity," he said.

He said he had a "legal, moral or social obligation as the show's host, among other things to dispute...unbridled, groundless slander against the people, society and state."

He accused Holtzman of falsehoods that even "the most despicable Israeli Arab leaders didn't dare to utter."

Holtzman had said the 1929 massacre erupted following the provocation of Betar men marching to the Western Wall, and that an equal number of Jews and Arabs were killed in it. Sheftel said these statements were as grave as "the anti-Semitic blood libels."

Sheftel said Holtzman should apologize to the offspring of Hebron massacre victims for "defiling their sacred memory."

"The best-known radical left-wing spies and traitors convicted in Israel had served in senior IDF ranks," Sheftel said about Holtzman's military service. "Not to mention other radical left-wing spies and traitors like Marcus Klingberg, Ehud Adiv and apostate Mordechai Vanunu, who all served in the IDF."

Sheftel filed a counter-suit against Holtzman for NIS 200,000, seeking compensation for "severely damaging his good a man of profound knowledge of modern history and the annals of the Jewish people."

In his response in February, Holtzman said Sheftel doesn't have a good name but is notorious for "being rude, ranting and raving brutally at people and inciting against the peace camp and its leaders, at Arabs, gays and other minorities and even against the Supreme Court and its justices."

He said Sheftel's comparing him to the Nazi collaborators was "especially severe coming from a Jewish Israeli lawyer who enlisted to protect Nazi criminal Ivan Demjanjuk and who supports this contemptible criminal to this day." He said Sheftel's suit is provocative and annoying and should be dismissed.

Holtzman denied Sheftel's assertion that 40,000 Palestinians entered the territories following the Oslo Accords, and that the Palestinian police entering the Palestinian Authority after the agreement were armed with automatic weapons.

He submitted an article by Tom Segev saying the Hebron massacre was part of hostilities that erupted between Jews and Arabs at the time, for which the official fatality figures are 133 Jews and 116 Arabs."

He also attached a Reuters report from Davar citing the official fatalities' figure as of September 3, 1929, as "109 Jews, 83 Muslims and 4 Christians," a Haaretz report of September 2, 1929, about the number of fatalities and other reports about Jews killing Arabs during that period.

Holtzman accused Sheftel of distorting historical facts on three issues - claiming that 1,500 Israelis were killed because of the Oslo Accords; claiming the Beit Lid terror attack preceded Goldstein's massacre in the Machpela Cave; and the claim that the 1994 terror attacks began after Yasser Arafat entered the territories.

The suits are yet to be brought before a judge. Or a historian.