If Israel is getting roughed up lately, that’s never the case at WABC-Radio (770 AM). Its conservative hosts — Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Mark Levin, among others — can sound as if they’re broadcasting from Israel. Aaron Klein, their newest on-air host, actually is broadcasting from microphones in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. What was once “W-A-Beatles-C” might as well be “W-A-Bibi-C.”
It’s profitable, too. WABC was one of only two stations among New York’s top 15 (the other was 92.3 WAXQ, a music station) to have increased ad revenues from 2008 to 2009.
Another conservative station climbing in the ratings is AM 970, “the Apple,” with Curtis Sliwa, Bill Bennett, Dennis Miller, Dennis Prager and Michael Medved, a group every bit as supportive of Israel as is its rival down the dial.
WABC’s weekends were usually given to softer programming. Now, with the hiring of Rabbi Shmuely Boteach (Sundays 7-9 p.m.) in February, and Klein (Sundays 2-4 p.m.) just a few weeks ago, WABC upped the ante in the quest for pro-Israel listeners. Klein, though not as well known as the ubiquitous Boteach, is the former editor in chief of The Commentator, Yeshiva University’s student paper, and now a columnist for the Jewish Press and World Net Daily.
Marc Tracy, at the online Tablet Magazine, writes, “What’s interesting about [Klein’s hiring] is it represents the broader trend whereby the energetic right-wing — which, let’s recall, has actually not historically been a place overly welcoming to Jews and even Israel — has now made common cause with Jewish concerns and right-wing Zionism.” But with the Obama administration and Israel at historic odds, going in this direction is right up WABC’s wheelhouse. The “energetic right-wing,” going back to at least the Reagan years, has been the most welcoming place to Israel, perhaps anywhere on the planet, and the synergy was most recently evident, as Tracy points out, when Norman Podhoretz and other conservative Jews defended Limbaugh from criticism by the Anti-Defamation League.
As far as ratings are concerned, it is too soon to measure the impact of Boteach and Klein, but the latest Gallup poll showed that 85 percent of Republicans support Israel’s government, compared to only 48 percent of Democrats, and those Republicans are the heart of WABC’s audience.
It was at World Net Daily where Klein, 29, broke the story about the radical politics of Van Jones, which led to Jones resigning as Obama’s “special adviser on green jobs,” and “I was the one,” says Klein, who in early 2008 “broke the first story about Obama and Bill Ayers,” who was a leader of the terrorist Weather Underground in the 1960s, before becoming friendly with Obama some 20 years later when both were working — legally — in Chicago. (The link between the two appeared in blogs as early as 2005, according to The New York Times.)
If Ayers was the one Sarah Palin referred to when she said Obama was “pallin’ around with terrorists,” Klein is the author of “Schmoozing with Terrorists” (WND Books) based on Klein’s interviews with Hamas leaders and other Palestinian radicals. It was on WABC’s John Batchelor show in 2008 where Klein reported that Ahmed Yousef, chief political adviser to Hamas, preferred Obama for president, a statement widely reported as a Hamas “endorsement” for Obama that was cited by John McCain in his campaign.
Klein’s book has some unusual endorsements on its cover. Muhammad Abdel-Al, of the Palestinian militant group Popular Resistance Committee, writes, “I hope Klein’s book will be fair in the way it represents the resistance, but if it isn’t, we will not mourn for this Jew.”
Ala Senakreh, of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, writes, “I appreciate the guts and courage Klein had when he came to meet us in spite of all the risks.”
WABC’s program director, Laurie Cantillo, said Klein’s show would be “gutsy, smart and engaging.” In fact, it might be rougher than that. The title of Klein’s next book, to be released in May, “The Manchurian President: Barack Obama’s Ties to Communists, Socialists and Anti-American Extremists,” pretty much sums up Klein’s brass-knuckle style.
Klein’s reporting brought him on-air attention, as a guest on Fox and the radio shows of Hannity, Batchelor, G. Gordon Liddy and Michael Savage.
Aside from prominent conservative guests, Klein can surprise by bringing on guests who fully support Obama’s Israel policy, such as Jeremy Ben-Ami, executive director of J Street.
Klein, who calls Obama “incredibly anti-Israel” and a “racist” for not allowing Israel to build new Jewish housing in Jerusalem, had a spirited exchange with the J Street leader, before Ben-Ami found it more exasperating than spirited and abruptly hung up on Klein mid-interview.
Unlike those in the peace camp, who value negotiation and compromise, the terrorists and Klein, while in disagreement over tactics and end results, value the same passion and the idea that certain things and places are beyond compromise.
“Some,” says Klein, “from Islamic Jihad, Hamas and Al-Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade actually call me regularly because I’m one of the few journalists who pay any attention to them. Even though they know my politics, and they know I’m a Jew — they absolutely know I’m a Jew — I let them speak. It’s important for Americans to hear what they have to say.”
Klein who made aliyah in 2004, moving to Gush Katif to cover Israel’s removal of Jewish settlers from Gaza, says, “Eventually I think [that Israel] will come to some accommodation on the West Bank. Terrorists have announced to me — and anyone listening — that they will use the territory to attack and kill Jews. They don’t mind telling me because they know they’re going to get what they want anyway, because 99 percent of the world is on their side.”
Klein writes, regarding the Palestinians, “I have respect for one thing — at least they care about the Al-Aqsa Mosque. … I wish Jewish leaders cared enough about the Temple Mount. … Well, if believing [that] Jews have a right to pray on the Temple Mount is an extremist cause, call me an extremist. I am not advocating expelling Muslims. … But it’s our holiest site; why the hell can’t we pray there?”
Several years ago, he wrote that he can be less angry at terrorists (“How can I blame terrorists who do not have an ounce of humanity and decency to them…? I cannot fault evil for being evil”) than at those who have disappointed him: “I was furious at the Israeli government … and I was angered at the hypocrisy of the international community … and I was fuming at my fellow Jews,” whom he dismisses as bourgeois, “too consumed with maintaining their stock portfolios and vacation homes in Boca Raton.”
Actually, most American Jews who disagree with him do so because of a far more serious left-wing perspective on the conflict — all the more challenging for its seriousness. And there are many who share Klein’s legitimate Zionist fears and international loneliness who are every bit as mindful of their stock portfolios. In fact, The Wall Street Journal, whose very mission is to be concerned with stock portfolios, is perhaps more thoughtful and supportive of Israel’s West Bank policies than any other media outlet.
However, we live in a time when some, on both left and right, find anger more comforting than analysis, and the sharing of pain can be more popular than attempting to persuade even those in “Boca Raton.”
Please visit Jonathan Mark’s blog, “Route 17,” at www.thejewishweek.com.
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