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‘NYT’ music piece strikes false note on Mehta and Israeli politics

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Mehta receiving honory doctorate
Zubin Mehta (second from left) receiving an honorary doctorate in Tel Aviv, 2013.
Photo credit: Aurael Cohen, YNet

The New York Times ran a column in its music section the other day admiring the liberal anti-occupation politics of the legendary conductor Zubin Mehta and the openness of Israeli society for permitting such political expression. 

In “Political Views Test the Harmony:  Zubin Mehta, of the Israel Philharmonic, on That Nation’s Affairs” the writer Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim compares Mehta with the purportedly less-politically-outspoken conductors, the Venezuelan Gustavo Dudamel, and the Russian Valery Gergiev, comparing their respective nation’s intolerance for political criticism unfavorably to the Israeli reality.

But the reality is that in his over 50 years conducting the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO), Mehta has had very little to say about Israeli politics despite his protestations to the contrary to Fonseca-Wollheim.

‘I speak openly about a country that I see, from my private musician’s perspective, as going in the wrong direction, as far as the settlements, as far as internal economic policies. But they know I’m a friend. And being in a democracy, I express my opinions freely.’

The NY Times report concludes by highlighting the 77-year-old conductor’s laudable dream to integrate the IPO which has never had a Palestinian member since its founding in 1936.  However, the fact that Mehta has spent a lifetime as the leader of a segregated orchestra, apparently unable in 50 years to find one Palestinian musician to further his dream, hardly makes him an appropriate subject for such praise.

Zubin Mehta was born in India into a Zoroastrian ethnic background. He has Indian citizenship and permanent residence status in the United States. The conductor has never lived in Israel. He does not speak Hebrew, but has an Israeli 23-year-old  son from an extra-marital relationship, whom he publicly acknowledged in 1999.  Mehta has spent a significant part of his performing career in Europe, where he is currently the main conductor for the Valencia Opera House.

The question is:  do columns like “Political Views Test the Harmony” which inaccurately extol Israeli political openness and the progressive values of someone like Mehta happen because of the Jewish and Israeli formidable promotional machine that feeds media outlets like the NY Times?  Also, how much are the NY Times writers, because of their newspaper’s editorial policies, knowingly complicit in this deception?

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” However, the fact that Mehta has spent a lifetime as the leader of a segregated orchestra, apparently unable in 50 years to find one Palestinian musician to further his dream, hardly makes him an appropriate subject for such praise.” Come on. How many Palestinians in Israel have studied Western… Read more »

I read that article with great irritation, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Thanks, Ira, for doing so. I didn’t quite recognize the subtle praise of Israel’s open political climate. Mehta’s “activism” or “outspokenness,” at least as portrayed in the article, is quite lame; he vaguely believes… Read more »

Come on. How many Palestinians in Israel have studied Western classical music? Those Ay-rabs. They’re all watching Mohammed Assaf on Arab Idol, never heard of Mendelssohn Abbado. Here are a few Palestinian music students. http://ncm.birzeit.edu/en But somehow they don’t make it into the Israeli orchestra. It’s also notable that JVP… Read more »

“they know I’m a friend”
Duh. Fifty years fiddling over the ruins and killing fields.

@ David Samel,

Daniel Barenboim is a real mensch. Besides being a gifted performer, his staunch siding with justice has urned him a front row seat @ my fav top rated classical musicians list. Right next to Anna Sophie Mutter performing Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D Major Op. 61.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D3zsetUus98