Jodi Rudoren: Not counting ‘todahs,’ ‘shukrans’

‘NYT’ new bureau chief rejects accusations of bias against Israel; "I’ve written various things about Jews, but not about the conflict.”

Jodi Rudoren 390 (photo credit: courtesy)
Jodi Rudoren 390
(photo credit: courtesy)
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 Jewish state.
“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 since then.”
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 their work.
“I knew some things about them, but not everything. I’ve reached out to many many people of different stripes,” she said.
“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 diet.”
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 biases.
“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 using shukran.”
Rudoren, 41, grew up in Newton, Massachusetts, and spent summers at Camp Yavneh, a Jewish camp in New Hampshire.
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 ago.
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 thing."
“Am I qualified? Absolutely,” she said. “I wasn’t even aware people were asking that question.”