A unique militant blend of the views of Chabad, Kach, Breslov, and Rav Kook is how one might describe HaKol HaYehudi, a website that serves the Religious Zionist community in Israel. Its chief editor, Yehuda Perl, 27, recently spoke with The Jewish Press.
The Jewish Press: When did HaKol HaYehudi’s website start?
Perl: Seven years ago after a multitude of events in which the government, along with the army, police, and court system, damaged both the image and the lives of the settlers in Judea and Samaria.
The settlers weren’t afforded the opportunity to tell their side of the story in the media, which often distorted the truth and publicized false information. I started at the website as a young freelance writer on a voluntary basis and worked my way up the ladder.
In what way is your website different than other news websites?
For one thing, we are independent. We’re not in anyone’s pocket. This allows us to write what and how we please. There are voices in the settlement movement that aren’t given a chance to be heard, or whose opinions are anathema to the national debate – even in media outlets that favor the settlers – because they are considered too militant, or too anti-government, or not in line with the traditional ideology of Dati-Leumi political parties or the Yesha Council.
Since we are located in Yitzhar, we have almost instant access to breaking news in the area, and we have intimate connections with the young people of the hilltops who are in the forefront of the news. For example, just recently, most of the stories about the hilltop outpost Kumi Ori first appeared on HaKol HaYehudi, and if not for our reporting, the true account of the conflict between the young settlers and the army would probably not have been told.
Have rabbis expressed their support for the website?
Rav Yitzchak Ginsburgh is our spiritual mentor. He heads the Gal Einei organization which disseminates the inner teachings of the Torah to Jews and non-Jews alike. We also maintain close connection to other rabbis – for example, Rav Shmuel Eliyahu, chief rabbi of Tzfat.
Recently, we did a video interview with Rav Dov Lior, a leading halachic expert in the Religious Zionist community who refuses to grant interviews to other media outlets [except The Jewish Press in America] because he trusts us not to distort his words.
Why aren’t there photographs of women on your website?
There are some modest photographs of women that sometimes accompany articles, but they don’t appear on the front page in order to honor the customs of our charedi readers.
How many viewers do you average per month?
Around 65,000 different people, and we are steadily drawing more. There are a growing number of Israelis who realize that the establishment media is broadcasting half-truths and distortions to brainwash people into thinking that the settlements are the number-one obstacle to peace. And more and more people want to hear the truth and be exposed to true Jewish values that aren’t compromised due to pressure from the Right or Left.
In addition to the news and unique investigation stories we offer, our opinion page boasts deep thinkers from a variety of Torah streams. To me, the most important thing isn’t the quantity of readers, but the quality and impact of our content.
Can you cite examples of stories you published that other websites chose to neglect?
Two years, at the Ariel Junction in Samaria, an Arab terrorist murdered Rav Itamar Ben Gal, may his killing be avenged. The day before the murder, the terrorist surveyed the site and got into an argument with soldiers who were stationed at the bus stop. He cursed them and there was even a scuffle.
An Israeli at the bus stop asked the soldiers why they didn’t arrest the Arab, and one of them answered that they didn’t want to take the risk that a judicial complaint would be filed against them by some leftist civil rights organization. The following day, the Arab returned and murdered Rav Ben Gal.
When the information reached us about the previous day’s encounter, we verified its accuracy and wrote up the story, but before posting it we asked the IDF for its reaction. After our request was jumped up the ladder to the head of the IDF Spokesman’s Office, we were told in a most unpleasant manner not to publish the information – that it made the army look bad, that it could damage the army’s sensitive relationship with the settlers, and that all other media outlets had agreed not to publicize the incident.
After the outburst of yelling, the voice sweetened with promises to give us exclusive scoops in the future if we cooperated. We went ahead and published the story. It triggered a wide protest against IDF policy, demanding that instead of handcuffing our soldiers in encounters with potential terrorists, they be granted freedom to act without fear of arrest and judicial reprisal.
On another occasion, we received information that convicted terrorists were purposely letting water run non-stop in prison sinks, a form of terrorism that cost the state 5.5 million shekels a year. In light of the report, the Ministry of Internal Security cracked down on prisoner privileges, and Cabinet Minister Gilad Erdan sent a letter of thanks to HaKol HaYehudi for uncovering the story.
We also were the first to report the widespread “agriculture terrorism” waged throughout the country, whereby Arabs, out of nationalistic motives, steal livestock and destroy the crops of Jewish farmers. At first, we were termed the boy who cried wolf until our repeated in-depth investigations were accepted as fact. Now the Knesset has demanded that Shabak officially classify Arab agricultural violence as acts of terror.
Have there been instances where the general media actually lied about Arab violence in Yesha?
Yes, and if I cited all the instances, you wouldn’t have room for anything else in this week’s newspaper. Here’s one example:
One morning two years ago, dozens of Arabs from the village of Borein approached one of the hilltop outposts near Har Bracha, hurling stones and igniting fires. Alerted settlers hurried to intercept the marauders and chase them away from the Jewish homes on the mountain. After an hour battle, the Jews chased the Arabs back to their village.
The report on the Walla website stated that the settlers had started the altercation, attacking the Arabs for no reason and without any warning. Only after HaKol HaYehudi reported the true facts did Walla correct its falsified version by quoting what we wrote on our website.
Do you believe HaKol HaYehudi has directly influenced the situation in Yesha?
Definitely, yes. Not only in Judea and Samaria, but throughout the country. We’ve influenced the policies of several government agencies and Knesset members on the Right, the operation of Tzahal in Yesha, proceedings in the courts when hilltop youth are unjustly arrested, as well as media coverage of the settlements. We are a media watchdog.
Frequently, the obstacles are difficult, but I believe that with persistence and hard work, we can improve the situation. So far, we have had a lot of siyata d’shmiyah in bringing the full picture of events to the awareness of the public. Often, our hope that Medinat Yisrael will be run according to the laws of the Torah seems out of reach, but we see divine assistance in our efforts, and we believe in Hashem’s assurance to Rachel, “There will be reward for your deeds.”
Do you intend to start a HaKol HaYehudi website in English?
B’ezrat Hashem. In the past, we translated some articles and had other material written for us in English, but because of limited funding, we haven’t yet been able to get a full-scale English site up on the Internet. With the help of Hashem, we will be reaching out soon with a true Jewish voice to our fellow Jews in the Diaspora who haven’t yet mastered Hebrew.