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Coverage of Israel is full of holes ...

Rabbi ABRAHAM COOPER is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

An occasional column in which we invite outside critics to take their best shot at the Los Angeles Times.

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I LOOK TO the Los Angeles Times for authoritative coverage on developments in Sacramento, Mexico City and Chavez Ravine. But not the Middle East. This has nothing to do with the quality of Times correspondents there. Rather, when it comes to local Jews’ relationship with Israel, The Times just doesn’t get it.

Consider the paper’s coverage of the huge pro-Israel rally in the early days of the Hezbollah-Israeli war. The story glossed over an extraordinary development in the Jewish community: Whether progressive Peace Now activists or Haredi religious Chassidim, Jews have put aside their political and religious differences to rush to the aid of Israelis.

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Yes, the story quoted John Fischel, president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, as saying that Israel’s “duress” has “mobilized support throughout the [Jewish] community across geographical and ideological lines.” Several others also noted Jewish unity on this issue. But doesn’t this development warrant a story in itself? Especially in a city with the second-highest concentration of Jews in the United States?

Instead, we got dueling rallies of Jews and Muslims, interfaith dissent over Israel’s response to Hezbollah’s aggression and the appearances of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa at the pro-Israel rally.

Nor have you read anything about local Jews’ humanitarian outreach to frontline Israeli communities in northern Israel and adjacent to Gaza. In 72 hours, using the bully pulpit, phones and the Internet, four rabbis (I among them) from Sinai Temple and the Simon Wiesenthal Center raised $1.7 million. Then they, along with supporters, flew to Israel to seek out charities struggling to ameliorate the devastating conditions in the communities of Safed, Kiryat Shemona, Haifa and Nahariya.

As remarkable are the stories of Jews with an L.A. connection living in Israel and working to help Israelis affected by the war. We met Sara Zeltzreman, who for 24 years has volunteered at the Tel Hashomer rehab center, which is financially supported by L.A. Jewry; Cheri Drori, a Beverly Hills-born grandmother who, along with her rabbi husband, ministers to their flock in the overcrowded bomb shelters in Kiryat Shemona; and Neal Duchin, a graduate of Yeshiva University of Los Angeles who helped coordinate the absorption of about 5,000 displaced Israelis in his town of Beit Shemesh without any prodding or funding from the Israeli government.

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You didn’t read about these courageous people in The Times. But they are just three Jews -- some with strong links to Los Angeles -- who are providing humanitarian relief to Israelis in what amounts to a war zone.

One more thing about The Times’ coverage of the pro-Israel rally. The front-page article and downsized photo of the rally was overshadowed by a photograph of a wounded Lebanese civilian -- another innocent victim of the conflict. Perhaps the photo’s front-page prominence was in keeping with the adage: “If it bleeds, it leads.” Certainly, there’s gore enough on all sides in Israel’s two-front war against Hezbollah and Hamas.

But what’s troubling about The Times’ photos of the war is not so much their graphic nature. It’s who is regularly doing the bleeding.

Over the last four weeks, the front-page images have been overwhelmingly those of Lebanese civilians caught in the crossfire of war, not Israeli civilians targeted by Hezbollah rockets. At least 1 million Israelis have been forced to live in bomb shelters or flee their homes, but there have been no front-page photographs of either.

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Which brings me to a July 19 editorial in The Times.

Of course, editorials are opinion, but that doesn’t mean they can play fast and loose with reality. According to this editorial, Israel wasn’t solely reacting to Hezbollah’s cross-border raid July 12, which resulted in the deaths of eight Israeli soldiers and the kidnapping of two others. Instead, it was acting out some grand preemptive strategy against Iran, Hezbollah’s benefactor. This despite the fact that the government of Ehud Olmert desperately wanted peace to cover future Israeli withdrawals from the West Bank. Even so, if Israel were carrying out a grand strategy to thwart Iranian ambitions, why didn’t it take on Syria, Iran’s closest ally in the Mideast and chief conduit of Hezbollah’s missiles (never mentioned in Times editorials)?

On Sabbath morning, July 29, a Times front-page headline trumpeted: “Israel Rejects Peace Offer.” A subhead added, " Hezbollah Signs On ...” Our household wasn’t a subscriber on Aug. 2, when the For the Record correction said that “no formal offer had been presented to the Israeli government so none had been rejected.” Because when the July 30 Times editorial declared that “Israel’s license to wage war is nearing its expiration date,” my wife called the paper and canceled our subscription.


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