From a tiny studio in a rundown district of southern Tel Aviv, a group of Iranian-Israelis beam non-stop music and news in a bid to reach out to their former fellow countrymen.
As the war of words between the leaders of the Jewish state and theIslamic Republic heats up over Iran’s contested nuclear programme, Farsi-language web broadcaster, Radio RadisIN, is trying to set a different agenda.
Based in a small shopping centre in Tel Aviv’s outskirts, RadisIN was set up three years ago to encourage a sense of unity among the estimated 300,000 Israelis of Iranian descent.
But it also has another, perhaps more important raison d’etre: to send news and views from Israel directly to Iranians living in the Islamic Republic and around the world.
“Our goal is for Iranians to really know what is happening here in Israel, and also at home,” broadcaster Kami Itzhakyan told AFP. “The Tehran regime hides the truth from them.”
Born in Iran, Itzhakyan immigrated to Israel 25 years ago and today is one of the station’s 35 presenters and journalists, who provide a 24-hour diet of popular and classical Iranian music, cultural programmes, and political news and analysis.
“In Iran, all of the news which is broadcast is a lie. There is no truth in it,” he says. “I want our listeners in Iran to know the real truth.”
RadisIN, a contraction of “radio” and “Iran,” broadcasts on the Internet mainly because the Iranian regime is not able to interfere with the US-owned Intelsat Galaxy 15 satellite through which its programmes are transmitted.
The programmes are also rebroadcast by several free cable and satellite stations, the station says.
The result? A growing audience. Although they have no idea of how many people they reach, they have callers ringing in from around the globe, most of them from the United States, France, Germany and of course, Israel.
And from time-to-time, a listener may dare to ring in “from somewhere in Iran”.
The morning’s lineup features an hour-long news programme looking at the political scene in Israel and across the world, with a strong focus on Iran.
This is followed by a three-hour slot devoted to Iranian history, politics, culture and the arts, which is frequently punctuated by popular Iranian music.
One of the most popular programmes is a cookery show featuring rare Iranian recipes, which is presented by 73-year-old Vida Leevim, one of the station’s favourite broadcasters.The things you hear on RadisIN are things you don’t hear on Iranian radio or in the Iranian media which is full of clerics, religious broadcasting and prayers,” she told AFP.
“The young people there don’t like that, so what do they do? They go to RadisIN.”
Inside the tiny studio, which is kitted out with a battery of microphones and computers, sits Amir Shai, the 42-year-old founder of RadisIN.
He says the Iranian people couldn’t be more different from their bellicose leader, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is known for muttering murderous threats towards Israel and threatening to wipe the Jewish state off the map.
“I was brought up in Iran. I know the Iranian people very well. I know they are a peace-loving people who know how to welcome guests. The Iranian government expresses the exact opposite of the Iranian people,” he told AFP.
As the global standoff over Iran’s disputed nuclear drive intensifies, life in the Islamic Republic has become increasingly hard for its citizens, who are suffering from the effects of a battery of hard-hitting international sanctions, Shai said.
“The people of Iran are tired and hungry, they are collapsing under the dictatorship. In today’s Iran, eating a chicken or a piece of meat is luxury — whole families cannot afford even one chicken per month,” he said.
Iran insists that its nuclear programme is for purely peaceful purposes, but for the people, the issue of nuclear energy was “complete nonsense,” he said.
“The Iranians want democracy and freedom,” he said. “They know the price they are paying for nuclear energy is not worth it.”
Both Israel and Washington have threatened a military strike if Tehran does not scale back its nuclear programme, and many in Iran are preparing for the inevitability of war, says Itzhakyan, who like many others at RadisIN, stays in touch with friends back home.
“There’s a sense of war in Iran, people fear that war is very, very close. Some people are going to the supermarkets and stocking up on supplies which they are keeping at home in case of war,” he says.
In the meantime, as speculation grows that Israel is poised to mount a lightening strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, RadisIN is sticking to business as usual, despite attempts by the Iranian regime to shut them down.
“They tried to block us, and got into our website and damaged it,” says Shai.
“The regime knows that a station like RadisIN, which was set up by people in Israel, is much more dangerous to it than if it were set up by a government body.
“They don’t want my voice — along with another 35 or so other broadcasters who speak heart-to-heart with the Iranian people — to be heard,” he said.
“But it’s important for the Iranian people that it is.”