Jewish Journal


October 31, 2012

Israel Philharmonic concert: Music, media and protesters


The Israel Philharmonic and Maestro Zubin Mehta gave an audience of more than 2,200 at Disney Hall an evening to remember.

At Tuesday evening’s (10/30) concert, the stirring renditions of the Star Spangled Banner and Hatikvah, the often mangled national anthems, opened the program of Schubert, Chopin and Brahms with an infusion of adrenalin.

Yuja Wang, the striking young Chinese pianist, was brilliant in Chopin’s Concerto No. 1 in E Minor, and the standing ovations –- by now a mandatory LA exercise in even the most mediocre performances – were fully merited.

However, for those who weren’t there and get their information from the Los Angeles Times, it was all about a handful of protesters who show up regularly at such events to vent their outrage at “Israeli Apartheid” and victimization of Palestinians.

On the day of the concert, the Culture Monster column at latimes.com predicted a “colorful outdoor demonstration” and “street theater protests” by an expected 35-50 activists to slam the “apartheid nation.”

In Wednesday’s Times, the event merited a four-column picture of two women protesters, holding large cut-out instruments, who, according to the caption, “sought to raise awareness about Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.”

On the ground, the actual scene was rather less colorful. When my wife and I arrived about 15 minutes before the concert, we saw somewhere between six to ten protesters, with one holding an “Israel Apartheid” placard.

The hundreds of concert goers streaming into the hall paid no noticeable attention to the small group, whose members however perked up and responded vigorously when one patron suggested they turn their humanitarian impulses toward the thousands of Muslims being killed in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Mali and so forth.

Now some readers will see The Times’ coverage as another example of the media’s anti-Israel bias, but I don’t buy that.

Indeed, I have spent a good deal of my life as a journalist arguing with pro-Israel “everybody-is-against-us” proponents, who are certain that the editors of the LA Times, New York Times, Washington Post, etc. spend their time figuring out how to put down the Jewish state.

My counter-argument is that what appears to the fervent advocate of any cause as malign media bias is mostly due to the working realities of journalism – time pressure, space limitation, occasional laziness or incompetence, but foremost, the drive for lively enough writing and photos to catch the busy reader’s attention, often at the sacrifice subtler or duller points.

After a lifetime of working on newspapers, wire services and magazines – mostly good, some mediocre – I believe that the large majority of journalists try to give readers a fair, factual account, be it about a traffic accident, civic corruption or a political speech.

There are exceptions, of course, especially among reporters working for the kind of glossy, celebrity-crazed magazine found at supermarket checkout stands or the run of radio and television bloviators.

More to the point is the following experience. Over the decades, there hasn’t been one LA Times foreign correspondent stationed in Israel, who hasn’t been damned by many of my fellow Jews as completely biased, if not outright anti-Semitic.

On occasions, I have talked to different directors of the Israel Government Press Office, who deal daily with foreign correspondents, and mentioned the back-home criticism of this or that Times reporter.

Usually I get a surprised look from the official and words like, “What, you don’t mean him? We don’t always like what he has to say, but he is one of the fairest reporters around.”

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