Barely a day went by before Jodi Rudoren, the spanking new Jerusalem bureau chief for the New York Times (NYT), got her first lesson in how quickly advocates for Israel could raise a media firestorm. Rudoren's offense is writing "cozy" Twitter messages to the likes of Ali Abunimah, Mondoweiss and Peter Beinart.
Adam Kredo of the Washington Free Beacon (whose inaccurate reporting on Iran I wrote about here) fired the first shot with an article decrying Rudoren for playing "Twitter footsie" with some of "Israel’s most extreme non-terrorist critics." Yesterday, Rudoren sent the Electronic Intifada's Ali Abunimah a Twitter message after Abunimah criticized past NYT coverage of Palestine and the fact that she "will get to move into this lovely property stolen from Palestinians in 1948." Rudoren wrote: "@AliAbunimah Hey there. Would love to chat sometime. About things other than the house. My friend Kareem Fahim says good things." This message got her into trouble, which is revealing in and of itself.
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
Commentary, the Jerusalem Post's Shmuel Rosner, and William Daroff of the Jewish Federations of North America have also joined in on the fun. And although Goldberg tweeted that there's "nothing wrong with quoting Abunimah, if he's identified as someone who seeks Israel's elimination," more reactionary elements of the Israel lobby disagree. Josh Block, the former AIPAC spokesman behind the recent smear campaign against the Center for American Progress, told Kredo:
These are not people you engage like this, especially your first day as Jerusalem Bureau Chief for the paper of record. You really don’t even want to be seen in public with them—it’s just a mistake.
For now, Rudoren's tweets stand on their own, and it will be interesting to see how she covers the region. But the firestorm itself tells us some important things.
One lesson is that, as Max Blumenthal said at the BDS conference at UPenn, those in solidarity with Palestinians "operate in a racist environment." The hysterical reaction to a nice message to Abunimah reveals the racism at the heart of U.S. media on this issue. Palestinians should not be heard, the message is, especially from one who advocates for one-state with equal rights for all. AIPAC's Block thinks you shouldn't be "seen in public" with them. Good for Rudoren for not sinking to that level.
The second lesson is that ardent advocates for Israel are trying to suppress a discourse and worldview anathema to them. The furious tweets and articles directed at Rudoren are meant to intimidate her into thinking about the conflict through an Israeli prism. Any open discourse on this issue is a danger.
My last point is a question: does the appointment of Rudoren indicate that the goalposts have moved on opening up an honest conversation about Israel in this country? There is no recent coverage from Jerusalem by Rudoren to definitively point to. The fact that she's open to Beinart and Abunimah, though, could be indicative of a person willing to stand the heat and really report on occupied Palestine. We'll see.
Rudoren's latest message on Twitter was a response of sorts: "Thanks for all the new folos, and the advice re Tweeting. Plan to Tweet from all sides of conflict. Welcome suggestions of other books."