The New York Times’ choice of its next Jerusalem bureau chief touched off a
fierce social-media debate on Tuesday, just hours after its announcement and
months before she is to arrive in Israel.
On Tuesday evening, the Times
announced on its Twitter feed that Jodi Rudoren, hitherto the paper’s education
editor, would replace veteran bureau chief Ethan Bronner in the capital. By
nightfall Rudoren’s had found herself in hot water, accused of pro- Palestinian
bias in arguably the world’s most sensitive journalistic posting.
the controversy has occurred on social media.
Within an hour of
confirming on Twitter that she would soon be arriving in Jerusalem, Rudoren
responded to a tweet from Ali Abunimah, the founder of the website Electronic
“Hey there. Would love to chat sometime,” she wrote to
Abunimah, adding that she had heard “good things” about him from a Cairo-based
New York Times
Abunimah, a Palestinian-American, is an
anti-Israel activist who has described Zionism as “one of the worst forms of
anti-Semitism in existence today.”
Rudoren also responded to a tweet from
Philip Weiss, founder of the blog Mondoweiss.
Weiss is a self-described
anti-Zionist whose site is dedicated almost entirely to content critical of
Israel and Zionism.
She then re-tweeted Times columnist Roger Cohen’s
favorable review of a forthcoming book, The Crisis of Zionism
, by author Peter Beinart.
“Book is terrific: provocative, readable, full of reporting and reflection,”
Rudoren wrote. Beinart is the author of a much-discussed 2010 essay in the New
York Review of Books
calling for an end to what he described as the false
equation of Israel criticism and anti-Zionism, and warning of eroding liberal
Jewish-American support for the Jewish state.
On Wednesday, Rudoren
retweeted two articles posted by Sami Kishawi, a Palestinian- American blogger
who says of himself on his Twitter profile, “I dabble in the art of
One of the articles, “Palestine: Love in the Time of
Apartheid,” was from Al Akhbar, the Lebanese pro-Hezbollah newspaper.
Twitter followers extended their congratulations on her new position, Rudoren
responded five times within two hours with the word shukran (Arabic for “thank
you”), but not once with its Hebrew equivalent – todah.
evening, Rudoren seemed to have realized she had misstepped.
all the new folos, and the advice re Tweeting. Plan to Tweet from all
sides of conflict. Welcome suggestions of other books,” she wrote, in apparent
reference to Beinart’s book.
Through the following morning her Twitter
account went silent. Subsequent tweets were either unrelated to the Israeli-Arab
conflict or heavily representative of pro- Israel views – she re-tweeted Deputy
Prime Minister Danny Ayalon’s salute to the late Holocaust survivor and partisan
activist Vitka Kovner, and an article from the Israeli press on Jewish-Americans
combatting charges of ethnic discrimination during “Israel Apartheid Week” on
university campuses nationwide.
Rudoren’s new position is particularly
sensitive given the circumstances in which her predecessor Ethan Bronner
departed. In 2010 the Times’ public editor Clark Hoyt suggested Bronner step
down due to what Hoyt described as a conflict of interest after the bureau
chief’s son had enlisted in the IDF (a fact revealed by Abunimah at Electronic
This week Bronner dismissed allegations that he had been
pushed aside. His term was up, he said, and was returning to the US to care for
his elderly parents.
In interviews with the news websites Politico
on Wednesday, Rudoren tried to control the damage. Her outreach to
Abunimah was meant as a private message, she said, adding that she intends to
talk to all parties involved in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. “I’m going to
talk to you and [prime ministerial adviser] Ron Dermer and settlers and
Palestinians and haredim [ultra-Orthodox] and Arab-Israelis and secular
Israelis,” she told Tablet, conceding that she may have been “a little naive”
about the sensitivity inherent in her new job.
Writing in The Atlantic
blogger Jeffrey Goldberg remained unconvinced. “All of this is fine, of course,
if she wasn’t stepping into the most sensitive job in journalism,” he
“Reaching out to Abunimah is normal, of course: He’s a player in
extremist circles, and someone she might wind-up covering. But it would have
been better if she had twinned this reach-out with one to a Kahanist or some
sort of radical settler rabbi, for balance,” Goldberg said.