Controversy has been stirring over a tweet that Jodi Rudoren, the incoming New York Times bureau chief in Jerusalem, sent to anti-Israel activist Ali Abunimah this week:
As Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic notes, Abunimah "is a player in extremist circles." That's a fair assessment. The Chicago-based Abunimah is a vehement opponent of the peace process and of Israel's right to exist. He once disrupted a speech by Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert at the University of Chicago, as fellow anti-Israel activists chanted pro-Hitler slogans outside the event. He pushes the false Israel-apartheid analogy, and once penned a satirical "letter from Nelson Mandela" that fooled willing dupes such as former president Jimmy Carter. (The context of Rudoren's tweet to Abunimah was his charge that the New York Times occupies a building in West Jerusalem "stolen" from Palestinians in 1948--the first of many futile attempts by the Arab world to destroy the State of Israel and expel or exterminate its Jewish population.)
To his credit, Abunimah is one of the few former associates of Barack Obama who is willing to go on record about the President's radical past, including his antipathy towards Israel:
Over the years since I first saw Obama speak I met him about half a dozen times, often at Palestinian and Arab-American community events in Chicago including a May 1998 community fundraiser at which Edward Said was the keynote speaker. In 2000, when Obama unsuccessfully ran for Congress I heard him speak at a campaign fundraiser hosted by a University of Chicago professor. On that occasion and others Obama was forthright in his criticism of US policy and his call for an even-handed approach to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
That might make him a credible source on radical movements in Chicago, but not on current events in the Middle East. There's no reason for Rudoren to reach out to him in this context unless she is eager to placate his views, or unless she sees her job as that of a referee in debates over the Middle East rather than as a chronicler of facts for the "newspaper of record."
The latter point is important. Rudoren does seem to browse opinions from all sides of the conflict--at least, all sides in the American debate over that conflict--so perhaps it is, as she says, too early to judge her bias. What is not too early to judge is the role that theTimes has attempted to play in the conflict, both on its news and editorial pages--that of a diplomatic and political force, nudging Israel towards compromise and urging the U.S. government to apply greater pressure on its ally.
Rudoren's interest in opinions far removed from the conflict, and her outreach to an avowed anti-Israel activist in the Midwest, suggests she intends to continue in that vein. That's not to say her contributions won't be interesting or valuable--but they won't beobjective, in the sense that the Times advertises itself to readers, if her driving goal is to mediate between the parties rather than reporting on them.