‘NYT’ J’lem bureau chief pick sparks uproar

Rudoren’s Twitter outreach to anti-Israel activists leaves critics questioning her impartiality.

By OREN KESSLER
February 17, 2012 02:25
3 minute read.
Jodi Rudoren

Jodi Rudoren 390. (photo credit: courtesy)

 
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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.

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Much of 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 Intifada.

“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 colleague.

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 Zionist-busting.”

One of the articles, “Palestine: Love in the Time of Apartheid,” was from Al Akhbar, the Lebanese pro-Hezbollah newspaper.

As 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.

By Wednesday evening, Rudoren seemed to have realized she had misstepped.

“Thanks for 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 Intifada).

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 and Tablet 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 wrote.

“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.

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