This is funny in an elephant-in-the-room sort of way. The New York Times posted a video to its Facebook page on Tuesday of the next Jerusalem bureau chief, Peter Baker, getting a primer about his new assignment from former bureau chiefs Jodi Rudoren and James Bennet, both of whom are now big editors at the paper, and Rudoren and Bennet repeatedly describe the fishbowl pressures on a New York Times reporter in Jerusalem and the closeness between Israel and the United States– but never actually use the word Jewish in doing so. During 25 minutes of palaver, the word “Jewish” occurs just once, when Rudoren refers to the Jewish National Fund.
The omission is entertaining because gee, everyone knows that a lot of the pressure on the Times is from Jewish groups, and the Times is owned by Jews; but Rudoren, now a deputy international editor, and Bennet, the paper’s editorial page editor, can only talk about all the “Americans” who are invested in Israel. Watch the contortions:
Rudoren: I mean it’s very interesting how America and Washington are perceived there. I mean it’s such an important part of life there, whether it’s because there’s a huge amount of Americans there, there’s also so much American philanthropy. There’s American names on so many buildings.
Bennet: Americans on both sides.
Rudoren: Correct. I mean a huge amount of Palestinian-American money yeah, also involved in things. And the foreign policy relationship and aid relationship is the defining thing in a lot of ways… Because Israel is so connected with America culturally, policy wise, alliance-wise, it’s not a distant sense of how they perceive America.
It’s not as if everyone in the room isn’t thinking, Jewish. I’ve been in Israel and the settlements: the names on buildings are Jewish ones. Blooomberg, Adelson, and so on.
The story-behind-the-story is that Baker is not Jewish and his appointment breaks a string of Jewish bureau chiefs for the Jewish-owned newspaper, including Rudoren and Bennet (who is of Polish-Jewish descent, according to Wikipedia). Rudoren has exhibited frank ethnocentrism: she has repeatedly given speeches to Jewish-American groups, seemed to pitch a lot of her coverage to American Jewish readers, and once told Hadassah of her assignment: “I come knowledgeable about the Jewish American or Jewish Israeli side of this beat.”
But then Peter Baker asks about the America-Israel relationship, and Rudoren and Bennet tuck into euphemisms.
Can we expect these editors to address questions of the U.S. Jewish community’s influence over foreign policy honestly? Forget about it. This issue is just too loaded for them personally and institutionally to say one plain word about it in public. And yes, in fairness, a component of their inhibition is that Jew-baiting/anti-semitism charges have been swirling throughout the election campaign and the Times has been in the crosshairs.
But the result is that readers are turning elsewhere to learn about something they have a right to know. Why, just yesterday +972 wrote directly of a “Jewish American billionaire” pouring huge amounts of money into Israeli politics, and Jewish Insider reported that Jewish conservatives are boycotting the Republican convention because as one of them says, Trump “has gone out of his way to offend Republican donors, especially the Jewish ones at the RJC [Republican Jewish Coalition]. Why attend a party that celebrates the defeat of the donor class?” Jews are important.
Another omission: throughout the Facebook session, Rudoren uses the word “Israeli” instead of Jewish Israeli, which is unfair to the 20 percent of that society that is not Jewish. It is like speaking of “southerners'” attitudes in the Jim Crow era when you are only talking about the white ones. And she rationalizes Israeli racism. When Bennet says that people in Israel and Palestine are more “raw and candid” than folks here, Rudoren says:
And also blunt and racist in a way that’s just different from America… It’s blunter there, but it is also more rooted in experience. It’s not based on some stereotype. It’s based on, “Every Israeli I know has acted in this way.” Or, “My cousin was killed by a suicide bomber.” It’s not based on kind of an idea, it’s based on experience.
Thanks to Adam Horowitz.