Chronicles failure to cover rally angers Jews

Some, including Israeli Consul General Yossi Amrani, have even gone as far as to say that this oversight by the San Francisco Chronicle demonstrates the paper's bias against Israel.

In response, Chronicle readers' representative Dick Rogers said he was writing a column "about our Mideast coverage and it addresses what I consider to be the screw-up in our coverage of the demonstration."

And deputy readers' representative Yumi Wilson sent an e-mail Wednesday to Jewish community leaders who complained, admitting that the paper "blew it."

"As many readers pointed out, this rally, involving anywhere from 2,000 to more than 5,000 people, was an important and timely event happening in our own back yard. We have made it clear in the newsroom that we should have covered the event," she wrote.

At least six other newspapers, a wire service and seven TV news stations highlighted the Sunday "We Stand With Israel" rally, which filled Justin Herman Plaza in San Francisco to capacity with pro-Israel demonstrators.

"It's regretful, maybe even shameful, that the Chronicle deemed the voice of the Jewish community united behind Israel's security not newsworthy," said Amrani. "We can make an effort to bring our message to the forefront, but if they're not willing to report on it fairly, a conclusion must be drawn."

Rabbi Doug Kahn, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council in San Francisco, called the lack of coverage "outright alienation" and said the Chronicle should be "embarrassed that it chose not to do a story about this major community event."

While he appreciated Wilson's apology he said it "doesn't undo the harm of not covering the rally."

But Chronicle metro editor Wendy Miller said the paper is often forced to make "very draconian decisions about what we cover." Monday's paper, she said, was "particularly small" and there were many time-sensitive news items "we had to get in.

"It wasn't as if we weren't giving it due diligence — we were there."

In fact, Miller said that even though the Chronicle was short-staffed on Sunday, it had two reporters covering the rally at different times of the day, and well up until after 5 p.m. But "both times they were there," she said, "there weren't that many people."

As for the media reports and police estimates of between 5,000 to 7,000 attendees, "neither reporter saw those numbers," Miller said.

When covering demonstrations, "we have sort of taken the position that unless it furthers the argument in some way, or adds something new" it is not newsworthy, she added.

Amrani called it "amazing" that "more than 5,000 Jews supporting Israel isn't newsworthy." Yet, the Chronicle "will describe the Jewish community as not supportive of Israel" based on the viewpoint of "two or three people."

Miller said she did think the rally became newsworthy when the numbers swelled beyond 5,000, but unfortunately, those numbers "were not reported to us." And in retrospect, she said, she might have decided differently.

"While I would like to say we always make the right call, we don't," Miller added.

Amrani, however, dismissed the Chronicle's reasoning. He said he has long had a beef with the paper, particularly with what he deemed its negative language toward the "elected, democratic leaders" of Israel's government.

He said the omission of a mention of Sunday's rally "is beyond comprehension." As a result, the consulate this week canceled all four of its subscriptions to the paper.

Miller, however, does not consider the Chronicle biased. She added: "There doesn't seem to be a day when we're not accused by one side or the other. For the most part I think we're pretty much 50/50."

However, the rally was covered in the San Jose Mercury News, the Contra Costa Times, San Francisco Examiner and the Berkeley Daily Planet, as well as by the Bay City News wire service. The rally was also on television news stations including channels 2, 5 and 7.

During the two-hour rally, which began at 3 p.m., a number of Jewish community leaders rose to the microphone and implored the crowd to support Israel actively.

The speakers represented a number of the rally's organizers, including the three local federations, the Israeli Consulate, the JCRC, AIPAC-American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the Anti-Defamation League.

"In times of crisis this community knows what to do, but it has been awhile; we've gotten rusty," said Michael Jacobs, campaign chair for the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation. He encouraged attendees "to open their checkbooks" by contributing to the Israel emergency funds of the three federations.

Zach Bodner, AIPAC's regional director, applauded those who attended the rally but said more must be done. He urged people to show their support for Israel by contacting their elected officials and writing letters and op-ed pieces for area newspapers or calling radio talk shows He also encouraged participants to join local Israel support groups and to educate their children about the facts of Middle East history.

"You must be a pro-Israel ambassador in our community," he said. "That's the task of our generation."

An earlier San Francisco rally for the Russian emigre community attracted close to 2,500 people in Golden Gate Park. Rabbi Shimon Margolin, an organizer of the event, said it was "amazing to see the Russian community come out in such a big way."

Those in attendance at Justin Herman Plaza filled the space, lined the stairs leading up to the Embarcadero Center and even stood behind the stage. Many were holding Israeli and American flags and signs promoting peace in Israel as those driving by honked their horns in support.

Among the signs: "Let Israel Defend Itself" and "Suicide Bombers are Not Freedom Fighters." One poster contained huge photographs of Palestinian children holding hand grenades and read "Palestinians are Killing Their Own Kids."

The last time 2-year-old Yuval Grosskopf had held a flag in his hand was on the Fourth of July. For the rally his dad, Itmar, "substituted" the Israeli flag in its place.

"I hope it will some day have a lot of meaning for him," said the Israeli citizen who lives in San Jose.

A group of high-schoolers who are planning to go to Israel this summer on a trip led by the Jewish Federation of the Greater East Bay's Israel Center held a large white banner signed with their names in English and in Hebrew.

A member of the group, 16-year-old Abraham Goldstein said he wanted to go to Israel during this time of crisis. "It's part of my duty — I feel compelled to go."

Chris Emerson, who grew up Catholic, wore a T-shirt reading "Gentiles 4 Jews." He explained that he sees the Jewish people "as a microcosm of the very best.

"For a long period in history, the Jews have been fighting hard under hostile conditions. Yet, look what amazing successes they have accomplished in the land of Israel," he said.

Mike Summer, a Christian from Sacramento, also came out to show his support as he had at an earlier pro-Israel rally in Davis. He said he was most touched when speaker Gina Waldman of Tiburon uttered a heartfelt plea for Palestinian mothers to stop sending out their children as suicide bombers.

About 20 people from the Bay Area's Women in Black stood to the side of the rally to call for an end to the occupation in the territories. Their spokesperson, Marcia Freedman, a former Knesset member, said she felt those at the pro-Israel rally "were misled" into believing that the Israeli government wants peace, and they were demonstrating "a blind loyalty" to Israel.

Taking another point of view, Esther Fein-Harris of Richmond said she came to the rally because the time had come to take a vocal stand in support of Israel.

"My family was gassed silently in Auschwitz," she said. "I don't want to be silent as [innocent Israelis] are murdered by terrorists."

After the rally, Amrani, who has witnessed many pro-Palestinian rallies since arriving in San Francisco in 2000, called the pro-Israel rally emotionally moving.

"I had tears in my eyes when I saw the crowd raising their hands and applauding the state of Israel."