Los Angeles Times only cites one side when reporting on the mayor's Jerusalem stance


As some of us know, the editors of The Los Angeles Times lack a religion reporter, although it seems like they have other beats covered pretty well.

So when I see a piece on religion, I’m often curious to know what inexperienced staff writer they’ve assigned to the job this time.

This piece — “Garcetti said he backs U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem. Now religious groups want an apology” — focuses on the mayor’s visit to Jerusalem, along with his support of President Donald Trump’s move of the U.S. embassy to the Israeli capital. The emphasis, obviously, is on all the flak he got.

Oddly, only Jews who disagreed with him where interviewed for this news story. That’s a journalism problem, right there.

A year after the Trump administration moved the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti waded into the still simmering political controversy, drawing criticism from L.A. religious groups.

“I support the embassy being here,” Garcetti told The Times during his trip to Israel last week with the U.S. Conference of Mayors. “Israel shouldn’t be the only country in the world that can’t determine where its capital will be, but there is usually a process to these things rather than what seems like an overnight, one-sided, partisan move.”

The “one-sided partisan move” was a referral to Trump’s June 1, 2017, embassy decision.

In response, local offices of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Jewish Voice for Peace and the Episcopal Peace Fellowship’s Palestine Israel Network, among others on the political left on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, called on Garcetti to retract his statement of support. The groups also sent the mayor a letter on Sunday.

Political left is correct. The reporter couldn’t have picked a more predictable and partisan crowd. And how much of their respective faith communities do they represent?

The article includes quotes from CAIR and Jewish Voice for Peace representatives and then:

It’s unclear how Garcetti, who is Jewish, came to his opinion about the embassy.

Maybe he figures countries have a right to choose where their capital should be and other countries have a right to respect that decision? There are Jewish leaders who take that stance. This is a controversial issue, with voices speaking out on both sides.

Jaime Regalado, professor emeritus of political science at Cal State L.A., said he was puzzled. Supporting both a two-state solution and moving the embassy to Jerusalem is a contradiction, he said.

“I don’t know how this is defensible for him at the same time he calls himself as progressive,” Regalado said. “He basically finds himself on the side of the Trump administration. What audience he was playing to, I just don’t get it.”

The decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem received lots of reaction two years ago, but, since then, only Guatemala has followed suit. This recent Haaretz article supposes that only countries with large evangelical Protestant populations are interested in making this move.

So what was up with Garcetti, who is clearly not an evangelical Protestant?

We don’t know, except to find out at the end of the piece that the Israel trip was paid for by the American Jewish Committee. We sort of hear from them.

Dan Schnur, a professor of political communications at UC Berkeley and the former Los Angeles director for the American Jewish Committee, said Garcetti’s position reflects what had been Democratic orthodoxy before Trump's presidency.

“He’s assuming that having the embassy in Jerusalem will become mainstream Democratic opinion again after Trump has left office and he’s probably right,” Schnur said. “Very few mainstream Democratic politicians are going to support Trump on the move of the embassy, but even fewer are going to call for the embassy to be moved back to Tel Aviv once Trump is gone.”

The photo atop this post was provided by the AJC and shows the reason why Garcetti was in town — to be part of a group of visiting American mayors.

But how about a group that was not talked with for this piece: Conservative Jews? I don’t see any interviewed here, so I’m guessing the reporter had zero conservative Jews listed in her files — something a religion-beat reporter would have on hand.

It’s no secret there are differences between liberal and conservative Jews and this New York Times piece refers to the chasm of opinion between American and Israeli Jews.

Garcetti’s views on the U.S. embassy didn’t make it into this Jerusalem Post piece when he was interviewed there. In fact, he sidesteps the question. He does admit that Democrats are less than enthralled with Israel these days.

Reading this Jewish Journal piece, one learns that while he’s definitely not Orthodox (he attends a synagogue with a female rabbi), he is ardently pro-Israel. That is also made clear in this 2014 Haaretz piece that comes with the headline: “Meet LA’s mayor: A proud Jews who stands up for Israel.” It says:

In many ways, Garcetti embodies the new Los Angeles Jew: He is the product of intermarriage and intermarried himself; he identifies as a Jew but not with the traditional Jewish institutions. Instead of joining one of the veteran Los Angeles Conservative or Reform congregations with impressive edifices, he is a member of IKAR, which describes itself as a non-denominational, “progressive, egalitarian Jewish community dedicated to reanimating Jewish life through imaginative engagement with ritual and spiritual practice and a deep commitment to social justice,” led by high-profile Rabbi Sharon Brous.

So it seems clear that Garcetti is an interesting mix, to say the least, and that his embrace of Jerusalem as the place where the U.S. embassy ought to be isn’t all that surprising in light of some of these interviews.

But back to the journalism issue: I am curious why the reporter didn’t engage a more complete segment of the Jewish population for opinions. It would have enhanced the piece and helped readers understand this debate.

Could it be the writer simply didn’t know there are diverging opinions on Israel among American Jews?

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