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?