New ‘NYT’ correspondent embraces goal of ‘sensitively portray[ing] both sides of conflict’

Israel/PalestineUS Politics
on 27 Comments

Like other Times-watchers, I’ve been studying the new Jerusalem bureau chief, Jodi Rudoren, to discern her point of view. And here she seems to express her ideals in a piece about attending the Jerusalem Film Festival, in which she enthuses/grieves for both sides, and is moved by the “heartbreaking chronicle of the years-long Bilin struggle, ‘Five Broken Cameras.’” 

Rudoren’s credo as a reporter seems evident in the second paragraph of this excerpt:

Overall, 45,000 tickets were distributed for 315 screenings over 10 days (the Israeli movies filled 11,000 seats at 55 showings), and the crowd was striking for its lack of religious Jews — rare in the capital — or Arabs of any kind. ..

Like so many of the political actors here, most of the films seemed unable to sensitively portray both sides of the perpetual conflicts, or uninterested in doing so. Two centered on Arabs — “Good Garbage,” a documentary about Palestinians who make their living scavenging from a dump in Hebron, and “Sharqiya,” a feature about Bedouins whose homes in the Negev have been demolished — offer one-dimensional caricatures of settlers and Israeli officials. “Rock the Casbah,” a feature about an Army unit in Gaza in 1989, is slightly more nuanced: the Palestinian teenagers who terrorize soldiers, killing one by dropping a washing machine on him from a rooftop, are hopeless thugs, but a family whose home is commandeered is presented sympathetically.

I loved 5 Broken Cameras too. But it’s impossible to watch that film without understanding that one side has the power, the other doesn’t. The hero of the film, the noble spirit Bassem Abu Rahmah, is killed by occupying soldiers.

Sometimes the two sides to a conflict are grossly imbalanced, and the less-powerful side, having lost again and again, may justly make a claim to the world’s sympathy. 

About Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.

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27 Responses

  1. ColinWright
    July 23, 2012, 3:07 pm

    “Like other Times-watchers, I’ve been studying the new Jerusalem bureau chief, Jodi Rudoren, to discern her point of view…

    She’d have a hard time not being an improvement over Ethan Bronner. Did he finally go away?

    Oh good…“In mid-2012, he became the Times ‘s national legal affairs correspondent, based in New York.” Hopefully he can’t do as much harm there. The worst bit is that he seems to have genuinely conceived of what he was doing as ‘reporting.’

  2. Kathleen
    July 23, 2012, 3:19 pm

    “I loved 5 Broken Cameras too. But it’s impossible to watch that film without understanding that one side has the power, the other doesn’t.” The deceased human rights activist Art Gish’s stance. Stand up on the side of those without the power…the ones with the bigger guns pointing at them.
    link to mideastchristians.virtualactivism.net Almost two years since he had his tractor accident.

    Too bad about Ruderon. But to be expected. The false moral equivalency angle. Has she written much about the ongoing expansion of illegal settlements

  3. bob
    July 23, 2012, 3:27 pm

    sensitively portray both sides of the perpetual conflicts

    This is a classic distortion.

    • ColinWright
      July 23, 2012, 6:28 pm

      Yeah. Definitely one of what are actually the several alternative last resorts of scoundrels. The ‘both sides’ argument.

      • Mooser
        July 23, 2012, 9:54 pm

        Not to mention “perpetual”.

  4. David Samel
    July 23, 2012, 3:49 pm

    I continue to think that Rudoren is a significant improvement over her predecessor, Ethan Bronner. But then she talks about “the Palestinian teenagers who terrorize soldiers, killing one by dropping a washing machine on him from a rooftop, are hopeless thugs, but a family whose home is commandeered is presented sympathetically.” Don’t you just hate it when Palestinian teenagers terrorize Israeli soldiers? After all, the IDF was in Gaza peacefully minding its own business when these kids (murderous hopeless thugs) come along with their washing machine and . . . And this is supposed to be counterbalanced by “sympathetically” portraying a Gaza family whose home is commandeered? How would anyone portray such a family unsympathetically?

    No sentence better demonstrates the illogic in trying to find equivalence between the two sides. Rudoren may be the best the Times will allow, and that’s a step in the right direction, but she’s not someone MW readers would place on a pedestal.

    • Kathleen
      July 23, 2012, 4:05 pm

      “but she’s not someone MW readers would place on a pedestal.” Or anyone else interested in facts and the truth.

    • Eleanor Kilroy
      July 23, 2012, 4:47 pm

      David Samel: ‘Don’t you just hate it when Palestinian teenagers terrorize Israeli soldiers? After all, the IDF was in Gaza peacefully minding its own business when these kids (murderous hopeless thugs) come along with their washing machine and’

      Haha

      Also, am I misreading this, or did the NYT correspondent just declare Jerusalem the capital of Israel?
      Re. Jerusalem Film Festival, ‘Overall, 45,000 tickets were distributed for 315 screenings over 10 days (the Israeli movies filled 11,000 seats at 55 showings), and the crowd was striking for its lack of religious Jews — rare in the capital — or Arabs of any kind. ..’

      • Real Jew
        July 24, 2012, 2:25 am

        ” Also, am I misreading this, or did the NYT correspondent just declare Jerusalem the capital of Israel?”

        Nope, there’s no misreading. Israel’s been doing that a lot lately too. Just recently they lodged a complaint with the London Olympic Committee because they didn’t list Jerusalem as the capital in the official portfolio of Olympic athletes. And of course they caved and changed it

  5. Les
    July 23, 2012, 4:09 pm

    I suspect the Times keeps Rudoren on a much shorter leash than the New Yorker’s publisher uses to keep Remnick under control. To hope that she will be not as bad is Bronner is only a hope at this stage.

    • ColinWright
      July 23, 2012, 4:37 pm

      “…To hope that she will be not as bad is Bronner is only a hope at this stage…”

      That’s true. Bronner seems to have perceived himself as ‘sensitive and balanced’ as well. Anyone remember that piece ‘Bullets in my in-box’?

      ‘I get criticized from both sides, so I’m balanced’ was the gist of it. Bronner really was the worst of all possible slime. Relentless Israel advocacy, disguised as ‘objective reporting.’

  6. David Doppler
    July 23, 2012, 4:26 pm

    I read her piece with the same question, was impressed with her observations and insights, but wonder how she will select what stories to cover. Does she go after the most important stories, or choose interesting ones on the edges where she can be observant and insightful, without having to incite a lot of passionate intensity directed at her choice of topics. Movies, art, culture, all say a lot about peoples and places, but need the context of the news of the day. Let’s see how she handles the real news. Can she do that without pulling her punches? Or is Mondoweiss still the only place to see the hard topics dissected?

  7. Kathleen
    July 23, 2012, 4:34 pm

    link to walt.foreignpolicy.com
    What’s going on in Israel?
    Posted By Stephen M. Walt Thursday, July 12, 2012
    “What is going on, in short, is slow-motion ethnic cleansing. Instead of driving Palestinians out by force — as was done in 1948 and 1967 — the goal is simply to make life increasingly untenable over time, so that they will gradually leave their ancestral homelands of their own accord.

    Finally, make sure you read up on the recent Levy Commission report — excerpted here. (A good place to start is Matt Duss’s summary here.) This commission, appointed by Prime Minister Netanyahu, has concluded that Israel’s presence in the West Bank isn’t really an “occupation,” so the 4th Geneva Convention regarding protection of the local population doesn’t apply. It sees no legal barrier to Israel transferring as many of its citizens as it wants into the territory, and it therefore recommends that the government retroactively authorize dozens of illegal settlements. Never mind that no other country in the world — including the United States — agrees with this dubious legal interpretation, and neither does the United Nations or any other recognized juridical body outside Israel.

    Needless to say, anyone who has visited the West Bank and seen the “matrix of control” imposed there will quickly understand that the Commission’s members were smoking something, and even a staunch defender of Israel like Jeffrey Goldberg had problems with the commission’s Alice-in-Wonderland line of argument. A wide array of commentators (including the New York Times editorial board and former U.S. ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer) have already denounced these claims, albeit in a typically qualified fashion. The Times’ expresses the hope that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will “drive U.S. concerns home” when she visits Israel this month. As if that’s going to do any good at this point.”

  8. Pamela Olson
    July 23, 2012, 8:29 pm

    My sense from Jodi’s Facebook page is that she genuinely thinks she’s trying, and in her way she is. But for her, it’s kind of a privileged person’s lark. The cake with “This Year in Jerusalem!” displayed prominently on her page tells a lot of the story.

    She doesn’t seem to understand much yet, just the platitudes and tourist views and passing sympathy for Palestinians that reminds me somewhat of Oprah Winfrey’s galling pity for Indian slum dwellers when she deigned to visit one family there on her recent “Oprah’s Next Chapter.”

    (Fair notice — I didn’t actually watch the episode, but I read about it here: link to firstpost.com )

    Perhaps Jodi will figure it out on some kind of genuine human and logical level — I hope so. Or maybe she’ll do what most foreign correspondents do and just keep writing approximately what people expect to hear, with brilliantly subtle distortions like the ones above, all the while feeling like a badass for wearing the “foreign correspondent” badge at all.

    We’ll see.

  9. RoHa
    July 23, 2012, 9:06 pm

    “offer one-dimensional caricatures of settlers….”

    I thought the settlers were one-dimensional caricatures.

  10. ColinWright
    July 23, 2012, 9:56 pm

    Actually, trying to read the tea leaves here, it sounds like Jodi will be a worthy successor to Ethan Bronner.

    “… “Rock the Casbah,” a feature about an Army unit in Gaza in 1989, is slightly more nuanced: the Palestinian teenagers who terrorize soldiers, killing one by dropping a washing machine on him from a rooftop, are hopeless thugs, but a family whose home is commandeered is presented sympathetically…”

    She’s ‘balanced.’ Those who attempt violent resistance are ‘thugs’ — but Palestinians are permitted to be helpless victims. So long as they remain in that position, they will elicit her sympathy.

    Couple with the reference to Jerusalem as Israel’s ‘capital’ and it doesn’t look good. Maybe her eyes will get opened — but my guess is that she was vetted pretty carefully before she was chosen for her position.

  11. American
    July 23, 2012, 11:10 pm

    “Something happens….then you make a choice and take a side”..
    Graham Green ‘The Quiet American’

    I/P is a situtation where there you have to take a side. Taking the ‘ sensitive middle road’ in this is how people fool themselves they are being moral about I/P.

    • Mooser
      July 24, 2012, 12:01 pm

      Ah yes, good old Graham Greene! All his wives and women and children were always waiting for him to take a side. He was quite a guy. And a brilliant apologist for Catholicism! Anyway, if you run out of ipecac, just read his love-letters.

  12. chris o
    July 24, 2012, 12:01 am

    I think she is very good. And anyway, I like her so that helps. And I love the New York Times, warts and all. She occupies an incredibly difficult place, perhaps the most difficult place, where truth meets power in the profession of journalism.

  13. ColinWright
    July 24, 2012, 12:54 am

    Well, she’s got a piece up on Israel’s latest foray into ethnic cleansing right now. I’m too cheap to subscribe to the NYT, so I can’t read it, but it’s there.

    However she sugarcoats it, at least she’s not pretending it’s not happening.

  14. Daniel Rich
    July 24, 2012, 1:50 am

    Q: Palestinian teenagers who terrorize soldiers …

    R: Lost interest after that idiotic quip. Not worth my time and/or energy [-> ignore-box].

  15. seethelight
    July 24, 2012, 9:54 am

    “Palestinian teenagers who terrorize soliders …”

    I literally spit out my morning coffee onto my laptap when I read that line. How does a supposedly smart woman write something so ignorant? Anyway, I’m sure those Palestinian teenagers, who are now adults, and if they are still alive, are probably the only two people to appreciate her description.

    “Something happens….then you make a choice and take a side…”
    American: thanks for that Grahame Green quote. That happened to me a long time ago, and I’ve never regretted it.

  16. BillM
    July 24, 2012, 11:05 am

    Speaking of the NYT’s ability to sensitively portray the issues, it has a doozy today. Discussing Israel’s plan to bulldozer eight villages and hundreds of homes, the NYT managed to sum up the issue with the title:

    Israel Seeks Army Use of West Bank Area

    The piece is by Ms. Rudoren. I know writers don’t control the titles their editors use, but come on. If there is any conceivable softer pedal of this, I can’t imagine (maybe “Israel minister signs boring paperwork you shouldn’t worry about”?).

    • Mooser
      July 24, 2012, 12:03 pm

      “However she sugarcoats it, at least she’s not pretending it’s not happening.”

      ROTFLMSJAO!

    • chris o
      July 24, 2012, 11:30 pm

      I thought it was a rather excellent article, full of information and no sugarcoating. She’s a good journalist. Who cares about a headline?

      You can read it here, I think the link works without subscription but am not sure.
      link to nytimes.com

  17. ColinWright
    July 25, 2012, 4:19 pm

    This I didn’t like:

    “…Area C, covering 61 percent of the West Bank, is home to about 350,000 Jewish settlers. The number of Palestinian settlers varies. The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics puts the number at 117,000; the Israeli government estimates there are 92,000, and the United Nations Officer for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says there are 150,000…”

    Note the elegant insertion of an equation between Palestinians and Jews as both being ‘settlers.’

    Apparently, an earlier version of this article also cited a figure of 50,000 Palestinians that was helpfully provided by a settler organization. Well, if there are 350,000 Jewish settlers and only 50,000 Palestinian settlers, it’s pretty clear who the area belongs to, wouldn’t you say?

    So we’re headed towards a ‘compromise’ where the Palestinians will get approximately a tenth of Palestine. This will be presented as the ‘fair’ solution. ‘Get’ of course is something of an oversimplification, as Israel’s security concerns and the water agreements will no doubt circumscribe Palestinian independence to a considerable degree — to put it politely.

    Whatever Rudoren may think she is promoting, this would appear to be what she is in fact promoting. I’d say this piece acknowledges the Jewish efforts to ‘cleanse’ Area C — and marks the beginning of the effort to legitimize them.

    The Palestinians are letting the Israelis write the rules of the game so that the Israelis win. It’s like playing a game of bridge where I always get dealt all the face cards and the aces.

  18. ColinWright
    July 25, 2012, 4:31 pm

    Also — somewhat ominously for ‘sensitively portray[ing] both sides of conflict,’ every single source quoted in the article is Israeli Jewish.

    One starts to suspect that Rudoren may not wish to speak to nasty Arabs. She was, though, as the correction implies, entirely willing to contact the settlers to get their view. She seems to be sensitive enough as far as that goes.

    However, hopefully I’m wrong. I look forward to her quotes from Hamas and Islamic Jihad sources.

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