The New York Times’ incoming Jerusalem bureau chief, Jodi Rudoren, won’t say if she is a Zionist.
"I’m going to punt on that question," Rudoren, who is Jewish, told the Washington Free Beacon in an interview yesterday. "I’m not really interested in labels about who I am and what I think."
Rudoren, formerly the paper’s education editor, has come under fire in recent days for sending out a series of sympathetic tweets to some of Israel’s fiercest non-terrorist critics. Some pro-Israel observers are questioning Rudoren’s ability to remain neutral, as well as her qualifications, as she covers one of the Middle East’s most volatile and fraught conflicts.
Asked point-blank if she considers herself a Zionist, Rudoren demurred.
"I describe myself as a journalist. I don’t describe myself in political terms on any subject," she said. "I see my role in the world as an observer of what’s going on, so I don’t take on labels that have, sort of, ideological or just activist positions."
Rudoren added: "I don’t know that I’ve ever described myself as a Zionist in the past. I certainly think that right now in my job, and where Zionism is a subject of discussion, I don’t have any interest in being one or not being one. I’m not a Zionist or anti-Zionist."
At the center of the controversy is a tweet that Rudoren sent to Ali Abunimah, co-founder of Electronic Intifada, a website that contains a treasure trove of writings highly antagonistic toward the Jewish state. Abunimah relentlessly attacked Rudoren’s predecessor, Ethan Bronner, on the grounds that his son’s service in the Israel Defense Forces compromised his objectivity.
Oddly, Rudoren claimed in her original tweet that she had heard "good things" about Abunimah from her fellow Times’ colleague Kareem Fahim.
Now Rudoren is walking back that initial statement, maintaining she has never heard "good things" about Abunimah.
"I have not heard any specific good things," Rudoren said. "I haven’t heard anything. I’ve heard that he’s a person I should meet and talk to."
"It was just a, ‘Hey, let’s talk.’ That’s what it was," she explained.
Rudoren also took heat for praising Peter Beinart’s forthcoming The Crisis of Zionism, which she labeled as "terrific: provocative, readable, full of reporting and reflection."
Rudoren stood by her praise for Beinart’s book, arguing, "It’s a well made argument; it’s well-written and provocative."
On the issue of her journalistic objectivity, Rudoren said her tweets do not reveal an innate bias against Israel.
"People can say whatever they want. I think my fairness is what I have," Rudoren said. "You’ve just written something very critical of me and now I’m talking to you. I’m going to talk to all kinds of people."
Late yesterday, Rudoren promoted a message from a Twitter user whose profile reads: "I dabble in the art of Zionist-busting." The tweet linked to a website called, Palestine: Love in the Time of Apartheid.
"I don’t have an assessment yet," she said. "I’m not sure I’ll ever answer that question in the way you’ve just framed it."
In a range of interviews over the past day, Rudoren has repeatedly claimed that she is a neophyte in the realm of covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, some of her previous writings—filed in the Times under a different byline—call this claim into question.
In one 2001 article, Rudoren delved into the war of words that takes place between Jewish and Palestinian students at universities across the country. In another from 2005, she reported on efforts by Presbyterian Christians to remain on good terms with Jewish groups. A 2002 article chronicled issues of Jewish life and terrorism during the Second Intifada.
Discussing the 2001 article in a follow-up email, Roduren explained, "Well, I have written some about Jews in the US—and lots about Muslims and Arab-Americans in the aftermath of 9/11, particularly in Detroit/Dearborn area—though not in a focused, beat-oriented way."
"I think the story speaks for itself. I'd forgotten that it included a quote re apartheid. So, much has changed, much is the same."