PM Saves Immigrant Radio From Closure

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has personally intervened to try to stop the closure of Reka Radio - Israel Radio's Immigrant Absorption Channel. A statement from his office yesterday said, "the prime minister believes that Reka is a vital, most accessible, and sometimes the only tool for giving up-to-date and dependable information to the million Russian speakers living in Israel."

Sharon has succeeded where many others before him failed and Reka will continue to broadcast. Israel Broadcasting Authority chief Yosef Barel wanted to close the channel, which transmits 10 hours a day in Russian and two hours in Amharic, as part of the IBA recovery plan.

The decision angered the Russian community. "Immigrants aren't in fashion now," said one community member cynically. Many feel that since the last elections when Yisrael b'Aliyah got just two Knesset seats, the immigrant community has lost not just its political power, but its power as a pressure group.

"I hear this from all the immigrant groups who have recently lost their power and status," said one active member of the Russian-speaking community.

This sudden impotence was felt by ministers Natan Sharansky and Avigdor Lieberman, who recently met Barel to change his mind about Reka. The meeting with Lieberman was particularly strained - the minister's threat to "punish" the IBA in the Knesset Finance Committee failed to move Barel.

Barel stood firm in his meeting with Sharansky, who is seeking to pass legislation to protect the channel from future attempts to close it. These high-ranking petitioners with a 60 percent rating share in the community all failed to convince Barel.

But Barel failed to take account of a political campaign, led by Sharon himself, to stop the voters of the Russian community from straying and ensure their firm support for the Likud for years to come.

Industry and Trade Minister Ehud Olmert, the minister in charge of the IBA, also supports this. He too threatened to veto Barel's plans to close the station.

Two days before the IBA board was due to discuss the channel closure, Sharon pulled his weight and halted Reka's closure.