Let me offer a ridiculous fantasy. The NY Times hires an Arab-American as its Jerusalem Bureau Chief. The reporter’s spouse produces and publicly posts a video in which the reporter is seen having a personal, non-professional meal with a high official of a prominent Arab-American organization, an individual who has repeatedly expressed strong pro-Palestinian, even pro-Hamas, opinions. The reporter introduces the spouse to the official in a very familiar manner (“You remember so-and-so”) and the two exchange a warm handshake. In the course of the conversation, the spouse says that his parents used to visit the old Sands Hotel in Las Vegas in the 1950’s, and the Arab-American official adds, apropos of nothing, “That’s before the Jews took it over,” referring to the purchase of the hotel by Jewish businessman Sheldon Adelson decades later. Rather than take offense at the remark, the Arab-American reporter joins in its spirit, saying, “And the Jews still own the place.”
This scenario is absurd only because of the ethnic identities involved. In fact, it happened in real life with those identities reversed. Gary Rudoren, the husband of NY Times Jerusalem Bureau Chief Jodi Rudoren, created a video to honor his parents’ 60th anniversary and posted it on youtube. Gary is in high spirits as he takes his parents on a virtual tour of his and Jodi’s daily life in Jerusalem. At about 14:25, the scene shifts to a luxury hotel, where Gary enters a suite to find his wife chatting amiably with Abraham Foxman, Executive Director of the Anti-Defamation League, a perch from which he has been enthusiastically defending and promoting all things Israeli, including of course its military aggression, for decades. Jodi politely performs the unnecessary introduction – “You remember Abe” – and Gary warmly shakes Foxman’s hand. When Gary tells Foxman the purpose of the video, he sends a congratulatory message to the elder Rudermans.
Jodi Rudoren’s cozy familiarity with Foxman may raise eyebrows, especially since it is not well known, but reporters surely have personal relationships with opinionated newsmakers and theoretically at least are supposed to rise above such friendships in their professional capacity. But the real shocker comes when Gary tells Foxman that his parents were married at the Essex House hotel in New York City, and Foxman responds, “Before the Arabs took it over.” The Arabs? The hotel was purchased in 2006 by the Dubai Investment Group, which sold it (at a considerable loss) in 2012 to Strategic Hotels & Resorts. Was the hotel owned during those six years by “the Arabs”? For someone who has spent decades in the public eye as a supposed anti-discrimination crusader, this is an unexpectedly clumsy gaffe. Merely the fact that Foxman saw fit to comment that the Ruderman’s 1954 wedding was “before the Arabs took it over,” an event that occurred 52 years later (!), underscores the unease Foxman feels about “Arab” influence in the U.S.
It would have been embarrassing as well had Jodi Rudoren remained silent rather than point out to her good friend that one should not indulge in such ethnic generalizations, whether intended as disparaging or not (and this surely had more than a whiff of discontent over the influence of “the Arabs” in Western society). But Rudoren did not gently chide Foxman nor even remain silent; she actually joined in the same kind of soft bigotry, asking: “The Arabs have it now?” Foxman, apparently up to date on “Arab” holdings in the U.S., knew off the top of his head that “Dubai” had bought the property, and renamed it “Jumeirah Essex House” (Foxman’s version, pronounced “Jumeriah,” was close) before selling it.
Max Blumenthal has an article on Electronic Intifada that offers a lengthy, sometimes amusing, analysis of the hour-long Rudoren video. He also discusses the fascinating banter between the Rudorens and Foxman about the old days when anti-Semitism was truly a big problem, implying that the situation is much better now. Contrast this with Foxman’s public alarm about the present world-wide scourge of bigotry against Jews, coupled with an urgent appeal for donations to the ADL to fight the good fight.
This casual exchange about “the Arabs” that none of the participants deemed unusual offers a revealing window into the world view of the Times’s Jerusalem Bureau Chief. Rudoren is clearly immersed in a clannish us (Jews) v. them (Arabs) mindset that colors her reporting. It explains why she finds Israeli Jews to be more traumatized by their sacrifices than Palestinians who have a “ho-hum attitude” (her words!) toward their far greater losses. It explains why Rudoren routinely cites the polling of Israeli Jews only without discussing the preferences of the 20 – 25% of the citizenry that is not Jewish, and why she does the same in an article about Israeli reactions to the death of Ariel Sharon. It explains why she did puff pieces on settler leader Dani Dayan and young Jews who immigrate to Israel to join the IDF.
More generally, this brief but rather shocking exchange about “the Arabs” owning the Essex House reveals why the Times coverage in general is so much more attuned to Israeli Jewish sensibilities than Palestinian ones (see Patrick Connors’s excellent analysis on Mondoweiss from a few days ago.) Why does this always seem to be the same controversy at the Times? The previous Jerusalem Bureau Chief, Ethan Bronner, had a son in the IDF. Isabel Kershner, who has been reporting for the Times from Jerusalem since 2007, is married to Hirsh Goodman, a prominent somewhat liberal but thoroughly Zionist writer. Why do we always have to trust that Times reporters who are not only Jewish but have very close, sometimes familial, pro-Israel connections, will be able to put aside such connections when reporting? It simply is inconceivable that an Arab-American journalist with a close relative or friend who was an outspoken pro-Palestinian activist would ever be offered the post of Jerusalem Bureau Chief.
To return to my hypothetical, would an Arab-American reporter keep an assignment on the Israel/Palestine beat after a video surfaced in which he/she gratuitously referred to a hotel as being owned by “the Jews”? Yet this apparently does not even have the potential to be a speed bump on Jodi Rudoren’s career path.