Jodi Rudoren knew her new post was a sensitive one, but she had no idea how
closely her words would be watched, the incoming Jerusalem bureau chief for The
New York Times said on Thursday.
“I was a little surprised. I was aware
of the level of scrutiny surrounding this position and the level of intensity of
the debate on the issues,” she told The Jerusalem Post by phone from New York.
“Yesterday someone tweeted that the New York Times’ Jerusalem bureau chief
shouldn’t tweet. I hope that’s not true.”
Rudoren, the Times’ education
editor for the past year, has come under fire from pro-Israel activists for
social media postings they describe as revealing an underlying bias against the
“There are people who are very upset about the tweets, and
others have defended my right to talk to certain sources,” she said. “The notion
that reaching out to Ali Abunimah is some big sin – I think people have moved on
Rudoren said she had heard of Abunimah and Philip Weiss –
founders of the Electronic Intifada and Mondoweiss websites, respectively –
before reaching out to them on Twitter, but was not aware of the specifics of
“I knew some things about them, but not
everything. I’ve reached out to many many people of different stripes,”
“One of the people I followed before reaching out to Abunimah
was David Ha’ivri,” she added, referring to the Israeli settler activist. “I
don’t want to have people keeping score – I’m trying to find a balanced Twitter
Rudoren dismissed criticism that her repeated use of the Arabic
“shukran” – instead of the Hebrew “todah” – to thank well-wishing Twitter
followers was indicative of bias.
“It was certainly not some kind of
purposeful thing. The New York Times announced my new job, people tweeted
congratulations to me and I responded,” she said, adding that – as with her
outreach to Abunimah – she had believed the postings were private messages not
visible to the public.
“I was not counting my todahs and shukrans,” said
Rudoren, who speaks functional Hebrew but not Arabic.
“The Arabic thing
is the newest to me. I’m Jewish and have been in Jewish and Hebrew settings my
whole life. That doesn’t say anything about my feelings on issues or
“If anything it’s the opposite – it’s being aware that my
background until now is in the todah variety and not the shukran, and this job
is about looking at both. I’ve e-mailed Israelis with todah and lately have been
Rudoren, 41, grew up in Newton, Massachusetts, and spent
summers at Camp Yavneh, a Jewish camp in New
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in history from Yale
University, she embarked on a journalism career that included stints as the
Times’ deputy metro editor and Chicago bureau chief – a post she held for five
years – before being appointed education reporter less than a year
Much of her reporting was done under her maiden name, Jodi Wilgoren
(Rudoren is an amalgam of that name and her husband’s – Ruderman). She and her
husband live in Brooklyn with their two young children, and will arrive in
Jerusalem in late April for a three-to-four-year stay.
On Thursday, the
conservative website Washington Free Beacon asked Rudoren whether she describes
herself as a Zionist.
In response, she tweeted, “What I told @freebeacon
re whether I’m a Zionist was simple: the only ‘ist’ I use to describe self is
‘journalist.’” Speaking to the Post, the veteran journalist conceded she has
little to no experience covering the Middle East: “I’ve never reported from the
region. I’ve written plenty of stories about religion, particularly about Jewish
and Muslims Americans. After 9/11 I wrote quite a bit about Muslims in
Detroit. I’ve written various things about Jews in my career, but not
about the conflict.”
Still, Rudoren insisted there should be no doubt she
is qualified for her new position. “I’ve been a reporter since I was 13, and
professionally for 20 years. I’ve covered politics, religion,
immigration, breaking news,” she said. "I’ve done stories on more and less controversial subjects; I’ve been an editor for the last five years; I’ve run a small department and helped run a large department; I’ve been an innovator in Web and print – it’s a surprising question to me."
“Are you asking if only people with a lot of
expertise in the region should cover the Middle East? Some people have that
opinion, but I don’t, and its not how the New York Times works. Broadly speaking
it’s a paper that believes in generalism, and bringing in fresh eyes and
insights,” she said.
She added that her predecessor Ethan Bronner “is not
the same – it was his third tour as a Jerusalem correspondent – but the paper
doesn’t always make its decisions the same way. Having a mix is a good
“Am I qualified? Absolutely,” she said. “I wasn’t even aware
people were asking that question.”