Last night at Columbia University there was quite a conversation about identity politics and journalism led by two former New York Times Jerusalem bureau chiefs. It was fascinating because their interrogation of identity only went one way: about Arab identity and how that affects an Arab’s journalism– specifically, Diaa Hadid, the new West Bank correspondent for the Times.
The fact that both former Times bureau chiefs, now powerful editors, are Jewish with Zionist backgrounds and work/ed for a Jewish-owned newspaper that has often made it a point to support Israel — that wasn’t up for discussion. In fact, when the moderator asked the two editors if they are Zionists, they scrambled wildly to avoid the question.
The two speakers were Jodi Rudoren, a deputy international editor at the Times and former Jerusalem bureau chief, and Ethan Bronner, a Bloomberg editor who is also a former Times Jerusalem bureau chief. The subject was “Covering Jerusalem,” and the venue was the Institute for Israel and Jewish Studies at Columbia.
Rudoren spoke at length about Times correspondent Diaa Hadid’s Arab-ness — when she was questioned twice about her. Hadid was hired as the Times‘s Ramallah correspondent last year. She is an Australian of Lebanese and Egyptian ancestry. Rudoren said that Hadid is stopped for hours at Israeli checkpoints and harassed because she is Arab:
One thing Diaa does face that really we don’t and that has partly to do with her living in Ramallah and I’m sorry to say is partly to do with her parentage is that she has a lot of hassles at checkpoints that we have not dealt with because she goes to a lot of smaller, lower profile checkpoints that foreign journalists don’t generally do. Again, she’s traveling more within the West Bank, as opposed to in and out of . . . Jerusalem. So she has had numerous times of being delayed for hours and sometimes in her view harassed, and she has [unintelligible] complaint about it.
Rudoren said Hadid’s Israeli Government Press Office card and her association with the New York Times don’t cut any ice at these checkpoints because “they’re not on the radar.”
I wonder why the Times doesn’t write about this racial profiling and harassment. If Rudoren is so “sorry” this is the case, then why doesn’t the Times expose it?
A questioner asked Rudoren why Hadid was allowed to work for the New York Times when she had contributed pieces to the Electronic Intifada. Rudoren answered at length:
Diaa didn’t work for the Electronic Intifada, she did have a couple of pieces published there. She did however work for a Palestinian activist organization, which I would say is — well I won’t go into it. [laughter]
But anyway, that was a job that she kind of took straight out of college in her early 20s. She went to work for a Palestinian cause as an activist. And during that time she had some pieces published on the Electronic Intifada. And then she left those jobs and went to work for the Associated Press. She worked in Jerusalem for a number of years and then in Beirut for a number of years. And I think by the time we hired her had worked for the AP for a total of seven years as compared to something like two years. I don’t know how long actually she worked for the Palestinian organization, but it was not very long.
So we were quite rigorous in questioning. It was quite unusual for us to hire somebody who had been an activist on one side of the conflict. And what she said was that while working as an activist, she grew frustrated telling only one side of the story. And she decided that she wanted to become a journalist because she had a yearning to tell the multi-dimensional facets of this story and other stories.
And given that she was about 22 or 23 when she worked for those places . . . we decided that that explanation fit kind of a lot with how we think about journalism. And the years when she worked for the AP where we could read her stories and her coverage and speak with people that she worked with, and on balance we thought this was a good person to hire.
Hiring a fluent and native Arab speaker to live in Ramallah and cover Palestinians is not as — who has never worked as an advocate or written advocacy journalism is not as easy as you might think. And we felt like, it did take us a long time to hire Diaa, and we went through a lot of discussions on this very issue and we decided it was worth it.
Well, some folks are transparent and some aren’t. Jewishness was never an issue in the entire conversation. It only came up when Bronner mentioned that Times correspondent Isabel Kershner is Jewish.
The fact that Bronner’s son, and Kershner’s and David Brooks’s too, served in the Israeli army while they worked for the Times — gosh, how rigorous was their questioning by the editors? Again, the matter wasn’t addressed.
Moderator Jordan Hirsch did ask the two editors if they would describe themselves as Zionists, and they fell over one another disagreeing about the definition of Zionism.
Bronner: I wouldn’t describe myself that way.
Rudoren: I wouldn’t either, but it’s not because I’m not a Zionist. I wouldn’t participate in that label. I said early on that the only ist I am is a journalist.
Bronner: On the Zionist question, I certainly accept the existence of the Jewish state in what was Palestine, so in that sense — but it’s like saying, ‘Do you consider yourself a capitalist?’ You know, I participate in the system, but it’s not how I define myself.
Rudoren: But also there’s a bigger problem. What’s a Zionist? You can’t say — I feel that people are pretty clear on what a journalist is. But the definition that you just laid out of the Jewish state being — is absolutely not an accepted term of what being a Zionist is —
Hirsch also asked, In 50 years will Israel exist?
Rudoren later corrected that horrifying statement to say that she was actually more comfortable on the “Depends” answer on a 100-year basis.
This disingenuous conversation is why I assert Rudoren is a Zionist (who wrote chiefly about the Israeli Jewish experience as a reporter over there, who first went out to Israel with United Synagogue Youth as a teen and who seems to only talk to Jewish groups, from Hadassah to the American Jewish Committee to the JCC), she just doesn’t want to talk about it. According to her ist evasion, she also wouldn’t say she’s a feminist — but she and her husband invented a new last name when they got married because she was opposed to the “patriarchy,” saying, “I didn’t want my family founded on that principle.”
So the real standard here is, I have opinions but you can’t know about them. On the other hand, our Arab reporter is going to get the third degree, and I’ll tell you all about that.