By GARY BAUMGARTEN
OK, he’s not exactly telling you to stick your head out the window and yell, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!” But pretty close.
Eiliyokim Cohen, who lives in a small settlement on the West Bank, mixes humor and outrage with his Jews News video blogs everyday. In a way, he’s a right wing version of Jon Stewart, using humor (a daily feature is a “phone call” from his “neurotic mother” back in the United States) and facts to, well, tell Israel’s story from a settler’s viewpoint.
For example, when President Obama said that Israel must go back to the pre-’67 war boundaries, Cohen interrupted his video blogcast to take a “call” from his mother to assure her that he was not, suddenly, living in “Palestine.”
The Boston native, who now lives in Shiloh, says his mother, who, of course, watches every podcast, takes it all in stride.
“She thinks it’s funny,” Cohen says.
His rants are all posted on YouTube and on Facebook.
Cohen says he started two years ago penning a blog expressing what he says is decidedly his right wing views about Israel. But he got tired of just writing and wanted a way to bring his personality out. Thus, the creation of Jews News.
“I call it a mixture of offering a logical right wing rational approach. Mixed with garage humor.”
The skits get your attention. But they don’t mask the message.
“No one in the mass media says the truth about Israel. There’s always someone they have to answer to. Well, I can say what I really think.”
Right now the Jews News World Headquarters set is simply Cohen in front of an Israeli flag. But he soon hopes to create a professional looking set. With a green screen and a real news desk.
Of course, it won’t be too terribly professional. “The studio will be in my spare bedroom,” he acknowledges.
Something he’s not particularly ashamed about.
“I want to make this like a cult classic.”
Jews News is getting some 700 daily hits on YouTube. And is picking up several hundred more each day on Facebook. So it’s beginning, as intended, to go viral.
How Cohen got from Boston, where he was an unaffiliated conservative Jew, to Shiloh, where he fits right in with the other Torah observant settlers, is an interesting story. You might say that Torah saved his life.
The short story focuses on a high speed police chase in 2008. “I was high on cocaine,” Cohen says, when he was arrested.
While out on bail, he began to study Torah. After he had done his time, he enrolled in a yeshiva. After which, “I decided to come here. On a one-way ticket.”
He’s never looked back.
Since making aliyah, Cohen has become more conservative in his political views.
“I was always very liberal in terms of America stuff,” he says.
The closest attention he paid to politics in the U.S, was if someone running for office promised to legalize marijuana. Any candidate that wanted to legalize weed, “I would have voted for in a second,” he said.
Now, his head is in more serious issues. Like Torah. Survival. And encouraging others to make aliyah. And hosting Jews News.
Cohen believes that in a way, his new-found activism was shaped during his childhood, when the TWA flight his aunt was on was hijacked by Hezbollah terrorists. She survived the attack and became observant.
“That kind of framed my family’s life,” he says. “And our views on Israel.”
So in a way, the transition wasn’t as difficult as it seems.
Since arriving in Israel, Cohen has become “extremely right wing.” Which, he says, “is the only thing you can really be if you claim to be a Jew.”
The two-state solution to which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu subscribes actually runs contrary to being pro-Israel, he argues. Because too many Arabs want Israelis dead.
“If it’s just 1 percent, that’s 20 million Muslims waking up each morning wanting to kill Jews,” Cohen argues.
That’s his pragmatic argument. Religiously, he believes the land where Shiloh stands, was given to the Jews by God. And the Jews, he says, have claim to the land, “until someone can disprove the Torah and tell me God was wrong.”
Of course, when he says it on his show, it comes out less dry and strident. Which may explain why he decided he wanted to perform in front of a camera, rather than write his thoughts.
“I’m finding that this way, even people who disagree with me, say they enjoy my shows,” Cohen says.
What’s even more important, he says, they keep coming back for more. Which means, he can brag to his mother on her next “call” that he must be doing something right.
Gary Baumgarten is editor of The Jewish Reporter.