In selecting and filing stories about the conflict, New York Times reporters have to be as politically sensitive as former members of the old Soviet Writers Union: they have to send the right signals to powerful groups that monitor their every move.
That semi-official role helps explain the long profile of a rightwing Israeli lawyer published by Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren two days ago. The headline lets you know that Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, 40, who pursues cases against attackers and critics of Israel in international fora is something of a loose cannon: “Crusading for Israel in a Way Some Say Is Misguided.”
But Darshan-Leitner’s organization, Shurat HaDin, has an annual budget of $2.5 million, and several friends are quoted. The takeaway of the article is, Sure, this woman sounds a little extreme, but who could be against what she’s doing to these heinous terrorists?
And because the piece is effectively done, and long, the woman is kind of interesting. Darshan-Leitner is the daughter of a retired dressmaker and teacher from Iran. The piece ends with a loving detail.
For Orthodox Jews like Ms. Darshan-Leitner, challah is one of three commandments required for women. It is a ritual process in which a piece is removed and burned, and a blessing recited.
“It’s a time that God is listening, so you can say a personal prayer or personal wish,” she explained. She thinks of sick people, she said, and also “about my cases.”
The piece is a sop to Israel supporters; the Times is signalling, We’re pro Israel here. It’s a repeat of the “worldly and pragmatic” settler portrait Rudoren gave us 3 years– loving detail about an extremist.
When will the Times find a Jewish woman who works for the human rights organization B’Tselem and makes challah, and profile her, and tell us how she got to be a leftist? Or tell us how Haneen Zoabi got to be such a compelling political leader in Israel?
We expect equal treatment. We’re not saying don’t write about Darshan-Leitner, but humanize the other side, too. Tell us what foods they prepare.
Donald Johnson adds:
The portrait brings out Darshan-Leitner’s kookiness (suing Jimmy Carter for defrauding customers with his Palestine: Peace not Apartheid book). But I wonder why Rudoren doesn’t do profiles of people who work for, say the Palestinian Center for Human Rights? Obviously this story is meant in some way to balance or make you forget about the Palestinians going to the International Criminal Court, but rather than write a series of serious stories about people who genuinely do favor using the courts to achieve justice, the NYT seems to be trying to discredit any attempt at using the courts as a partisan exercise. There is at least the possibility that the ICC could do an impartial investigation of the crimes of both sides, which is the opposite of what Darshan-Leitner wants.
The New York Times still feels more pressure from the right than it does from the left. Algemeiner reported on Jodi Rudoren complaining last fall about the heat from pro-Israel critics:
Jodi Rudoren, the New York Times bureau chief in Israel, has launched an unprecedented attack on pro-Israeli critics of her journalism, declaring that there “is a very active and very noisy group of advocates who has decided that tearing apart coverage of the conflict is a good tool of advocacy.”…
Rudoren reserved special opprobrium for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA,) a media watchdog that has regularly uncovered factual errors and editorial bias in her reporting…
Rudoren sharply criticized Jewish politics and culture magazine Tablet for running an article on August 28 by Richard Block, a leading Reform rabbi, entitled “Why I’m Unsubscribing from the New York Times.”
It’s hard for a reporter to deal with such pressure. The Times must stand behind its reporters four square when facing the Israel lobby, instead of leaving them out there alone to take all the heat.