Candid video reveals NYT bureau chief Jodi Rudoren’s Zionist bubble

2 August 2014

In early July, New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren found herself under withering scrutiny for uncritically quoting slanderous and later discredited comments by Israeli police spokesperson Mickey Rosenfeld justifying the brutal beating of fifteen-year-old Tariq Abukhdeir. Rudoren took to Facebook to lash out at critics who accused her of “practicing stenography,” attacking them as “anti-Israel activists.”

The rhetoric she used to characterize supporters of Palestinian rights echoed that of pro-Israel lobbyists like Anti-Defamation League (ADL) National Director Abraham Foxman, who has produced annual blacklists of Palestine solidarity activists and demonized critics of Israeli human rights abuses as anti-Semites.

Incidentally, Rudoren enjoys a cozy, off-the-record relationship with Foxman that has not been divulged until now.

In a video (above) produced by her husband Gary Rudoren and posted on YouTube on 29 June, Jodi Rudoren appears in a stunning private encounter with Foxman. Though the circumstances of the meeting are unclear, she and Foxman are meeting for a friendly breakfast at the Jerusalem luxury hotel where Foxman stays.

A search of Rudoren’s archive reveals no record of the encounter — she has not quoted him or written about any of his trips to Israel.

The meeting opens with Rudoren turning to the camera to introduce her friend: “This is Abe Foxman, my personal defamation protector. He protects me from all defamation.”

“If only that were totally true,” Gary Rudoren responds.

Gary Rudoren goes on to flatter Foxman by telling him about his father’s role as the director of the ADL-B’nai Brith decades ago on the North Shore of Long Island.

“In the heyday!” Foxman exclaims, waxing nostalgic for a bygone era when the struggle against institutional anti-Semitism united Jewish Americans behind the ADL’s mission.

“When there were real hate crimes!” Jodi Rudoren adds.

“When we had something to be ‘anti’ about,” says her husband.

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Screenshot of “A Life in a Day” video shows Jodi Rudoren socializing with Abraham Foxman in luxury Jerusalem hotel.

Given that Foxman has dedicated his career to hyping the supposedly rising threat of anti-Semitism across the globe and inside the US, claiming this year that it is at its highest level since the Second World War, it is slightly unusual to witness this light-hearted banter in a semi-private setting about the phenomenon as a thing of the past.

While marketing the ADL as a civil rights organization, Foxman has cultivated a reputation for bigoted views. In an interview with the Israeli newspaper Haaretz last year, Foxman argued that the surveillance of all Muslim Americans was a “natural response,” then suggested that a majority of African Americans and Latinos were “infected” with anti-Semitic attitudes (“Even after Boston, there is more anti-Jewish than anti-Muslim sentiment in U.S., says ADL’s Foxman,” 28 April 2013).

“Should we follow the ethnic communities?” Foxman asked. “Should we be monitoring mosques? This isn’t Muslim-baiting — it’s driven by fear, by a desire for safety and security.”

During his breakfast with Rudoren, Foxman takes the opportunity to bemoan Arab influence in the United States. When Gary Rudoren mentions that his parents were married at the Essex House, a historic New York City hotel and celebration hall, Foxman grumbles, “Before the Arabs took it over,” referring to the purchase of the hotel by the Dubai Investment Group in 2006. (The property was sold to Strategy Hotels & Resorts in 2012.)

Shockingly, Rudoren echoes Foxman’s stereotyping language, asking him of the hotel, “Do the Arabs have it now?”

“Dubai bought it and they sold it,” he responds. “It’s got a lot of Jewish memories there.”

Dirty laundry

In a March 2014 interview in Hadassah Magazine, the official publication of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, conducted by Charley Levine, a settler and Israeli army spokesperson who operates a pro-Israel public relations firm, Jodi Rudoren explained that her motivation to apply for the Times job in Jerusalem stemmed from her first trip to Israel.

“I came to Israel as a teen with United Synagogue Youth and the memory of that, particularly of Jerusalem … and the layered history that you see in the Old City and elsewhere, were things that as a journalist I found incredibly compelling,” she told Levine. “I wanted to come here to cover this fascinating beat. Being Jewish certainly is central to that. I know a decent amount about Judaism, I speak Hebrew pretty well. I come knowledgeable about the Jewish American or Jewish Israeli side of this beat.”

Since Rudoren entered her position in Jerusalem, criticism of her work has accumulated, prompting her to complain, “Bloggers make all kinds of suppositions about my background, my personal life, my friends and associates, how I spend my free time, without any basis in fact.”

Rudoren added, “Some pro-Palestinians attack me based on the idea that I am kind of entrenched in the Israeli-Zionist-Jewish-American perspective. They complain that I live in West Jerusalem [and] spend quite a bit of time in my office there. I wish I spent much more time in the West Bank than I do, both reporting and living, because that impacts how you develop your sensibility about things.”

Eventually, Rudoren conceded, “I have an American world view … [which] takes Israel’s existence as a given. There are some places in the world that do not. The argument that Israel is an amoral, ahistorical experiment that will fall like apartheid and the Soviet Union is outside the American mainstream way of seeing things. America and the United Nations have embraced Israel as a modern state and I operate from this same assumption.”

The video produced by Gary Rudoren provides clear confirmation of the Israeli-centric outlook that colors Jodi Rudoren’s coverage. More importantly, it offers a sense of the insular, ethnocentric environment the Rudorens have embedded themselves in, presenting an almost absurd portrait of a couple of Jewish-American Brooklynites basking in the exclusively Jewish culture of West Jerusalem while casually shielding out the presence of Palestinians.

Indeed, the only time any Palestinian speaks in the nearly hour-long video is when Gary Rudoren sends his dirty clothes to a local laundromat.

“There are some very nice Arab guys that do a very good job with the cleaning,” he informs his viewers before handing a pile of laundry to an unidentified Palestinian man whom he greets in English.

The clueless American

An architect, comic sketch director and visual artist, Gary Rudoren recently appeared as a parody of a clueless Jewish-American tourist in an advertisement for The Event Aliya Expo, an Israeli-government supported fair promoting Jews-only immigration to Israel.

He created his most recent video project, featuring the Rudoren-Foxman breakfast, as a 60th anniversary present to his parents, entitling it, “A Life in the Day — The Rudorens of Jerusalem.”

During the lengthy video, he guides his parents through the daily life he, his wife and their two children enjoy in Jerusalem, introducing them to their friends, associates and favorite haunts. Though the video was made public on YouTube, it has been viewed less than 200 times at the time of this article’s publication, suggesting that it was intended as a semi-private spectacle for the consumption of close Rudoren friends and family.

As such, it provides a clear window into the insular lifestyle and oblivious outlook of a reporter whose assignment ostensibly requires intensive coverage of Palestinians living under a regime of occupation and institutional discrimination.

Gary Rudoren appears in the opening scene of his “Life in the Day” video documentary joking about the wacky world of navigating traffic in West Jerusalem. After successfully securing street parking through an automated Hebrew hotline, he remarks, “It’s gonna be a good day.”

Next, Gary Rudoren appears at a West Jerusalem cafe called Itzik’s. He explains to viewers that every Wednesday he meets local friends for “talking and kibitzing” — a word derived from Yiddish, meaning informal chatter.

Seated across from him is one of his and his wife’s closest friends, Susan Silverman, an American-Israeli rabbi and feminist activist who lives in the formerly Palestinian Jerusalem neighborhood of Baqaa. A noted supporter of the left-wing Zionist party Meretz, Silverman is the sister of the celebrity comedian Sarah Silverman.

Gary Rudoren describes how much he enjoys socializing with all the people he meets at Itzik’s who are “flying in and buzzing in from the States.” He then proceeds to the Ben Yehuda Pedestrian mall, a favorite gathering place for Jewish American tourists and religious nationalist settlers.

There, he meets Jeremy Wimpfheimer, a pro-Israel public relations consultant who works for Levine’s Lone Star Communications. During Israel’s 2012 national election campaign, Wimpfheimer worked as a consultant for Naftali Bennett, the hardline right-wing Jewish Home Party chairman who has boasted, “I’ve killed lots of Arabs in my life and there’s no problem with that.”

“I’ll see ya tomorrow night,” Rudoren tells Wimpfheimer, alluding to an unspecified gathering.

Later in his video, viewers meet the Rudorens’ Israeli-American rabbi and pass by their favorite restaurant in Jerusalem’s German Colony, The Roma, which he calls “Anglo friendly.” The world that the Rudorens have chosen to immerse themselves in appears to be entirely Jewish, and comprised almost exclusively of English-speaking Americans who made the pilgrimage to Israel out of Zionist conviction.

As he putters around West Jerusalem in a small car, weaving his way through the city’s notoriously congested traffic, Gary Rudoren muses, “There are no real rules in Jerusalem.”

Such a statement might come as a surprise to the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who live under a harsh regime of institutional discrimination inside the Jerusalem municipality, who are at constant risk of losing their residency rights, and bear the brunt of the notoriously racist practices of the Israeli police that enforce this regime.

The Rudorens’ blinkered reality comes into especially sharp focus when Gary Rudoren affords viewers a tour of their home.

“Lucky to have a place like this”

In 1984, The New York Times purchased a stately and bucolic home in the heart of Jerusalem’s Qatamon neighborhood. Since then, when Thomas Friedman occupied the home, every successive Jerusalem bureau chief of the paper has lived in the residence. Today, it is the home of the Rudorens and their two children.

“We’re very lucky to have a place like this,” Gary Rudoren remarks in his “Life in the Day” video.

He offers viewers a tour of the home, showing them the windowsill where he places ritual candles each Friday night, the patio where his family enjoys barbecues and the framed Woody Allen poster that decorates one of the house’s walls.

“We’re very lucky,” he reiterates, “it’s kind of a big open space.”

The property is, in fact, the former residence of Hassan Karmi, a famed BBC Arabic broadcaster and writer. Karmi was forced to flee from his property in 1948 when Israeli forces expelled him and his neighbors from Qatamon in the campaign of organized ethnic cleansing that turned more than 750,000 Palestinians into refugees. The Karmi home was among some ten thousand taken over by Jewish Israelis the following year.

In 2005, then-New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief Steven Erlanger discovered that he was living literally atop the Karmi family’s home.

He promptly invited Ghada Karmi, the London-based daughter of Hassan and widely-published author, to visit the house, which had been modified by then with the addition of two extra floors.

When The Electronic Intifada’s Ali Abunimah queried The New York Times about the property in 2010, he received a response from David E. McCraw, then-Vice President and Assistant General Counsel for the paper, who wrote that the Times “purchased in the 1980s a portion of the building that had been constructed above it in the late 1970s.” The purchase, he said, was made from “a Canadian family that had bought them from the original builders of the apartment.”

Qatamon and areas around Jerusalem’s German Colony became a haven for Jewish Anglos when thousands of them flocked to the city in the 1970s to fulfill their post-1967 fascination with the Zionist project. Many moved into lavishly renovated homes built on the foundations of “abandoned” Palestinian property. Among them is Bernard Avishai, a Canadian-born economist and liberal Zionist commentator who has acknowledged the importance of the Palestinian right of return without explicitly supporting the concept.

Avishai, who spends his summers at his second home in New Hampshire, told me during a 2012 interview that he lives atop the first floor of the house of a Palestinian family expelled in 1948. He said he would be willing to return his home to its original owner if their identity could be determined and “in the event of a comprehensive peace package.”

Another resident of South Jerusalem, the St. Louis-born author Gershom Gorenberg, has taken a harder line than Avishai. Gorenberg, a liberal Zionist academic who spends much of his time teaching at American universities, has denigrated what he called “the overdone nationalism” of diaspora Palestinians seeking to return to their confiscated property, countering their claims by invoking the vague concept of “Jewish rights to national self-determination.”

Deepening the Times’ geographic bias

Gorenberg’s wife, Myra Noveck, works directly with Jodi Rudoren as senior researcher at the Times’ Jerusalem bureau. She is joined by deputy editor Isabel Kershner, another Jewish Israeli who is married to Hirsh Goodman, a writer and former consultant for the Israeli military-linked Institute for National Security Studies. Rudoren’s predecessor as bureau chief was Ethan Bronner, at the time the father of an Israeli soldier who hired Charlie Levine’s Lone Star PR to book paid lectures for him.

During Gary Rudoren’s video tour of his life in Jerusalem, he visits his wife at the Times office. There he meets two more Jewish Israeli employees of the paper, Irit and Edie, the bureau manager. Palestinians are nowhere to be found.

Appearing at her desk, Jodi Rudoren promises to send a book she had just reviewed to her parents-in-law: Like Dreamers, a reverential history of the Israeli troops who conquered and occupied East Jerusalem in 1967, by the right-wing Israeli-American writer Yossi Klein Halevi.

In her review, Rudoren describes Halevi’s work as “meticulous, sensitive, detailed reporting” that provides a “nuanced understanding of what was gained and lost as a communitarian farming society transformed itself into an entrepreneurial high-tech haven.” At no point in her discussion of the legacy of the 1967 War did she mention the occupation of Palestinian land.

In the final minutes of the “Life in the Day” video, Gary takes the Rudorens’ two children off to “meet mommy at the tachanah.” This is the old Jerusalem railway station on the main line that before the Nakba, the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine, operated south and west to Jaffa and reached as far as El Arish in Egypt.

For decades the station lay derelict, but today it has been turned into an entertainment hub for yuppies, with restaurants, a New Orleans-style pub, shops and a stage for bands.

“It’s this great new place in Jerusalem,” Gary Rudoren says, “This is one of our favorite places to be.”

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“A Life in a Day” video shows Gary Rudoren applauding along with Israeli soldiers in Jerusalem.

Exiled Palestinian and columnist Hasan Abu Nimah recalls the station from his childhood in the 1940s. “I used to take the train from my village Battir to Jerusalem often with an older member of my family but later on alone,” he recalled in an email to The Electronic Intifada.

“The stone building was typical of Palestinian architecture,” Abu Nimah writes. “As many of my Battir village folks were railway workers, I often felt at home at the station. If I was lucky and found a worker from Battir, he would show me around the off-limits areas. I can never forget the smell of the oil-saturated sleepers. The train ride was exciting too, the noise of the steam engine and the loud whistle it used to blow at each junction.”

But apart from the fun it provided to a child, the railway and the Jerusalem station were vital connections for people in Battir and other towns and villages with their most important city, Jerusalem.

In October 1946, the Zionist terrorist group Irgun, commanded by future Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, attacked the station with guns and a bomb, killing a Palestinian policeman and a British sapper.

This and other attacks on the railway, including the looting of trains, made Abu Nimah’s journeys from Battir ever rarer until finally the train service stopped in 1947.

“I hope the station will wait for Palestine to be liberated,” Abu Nimah says, “and life will be reconstructed as it was before 1947.”

As they sit and order pizza at the restaurant, and their kids enjoy magic tricks, the Rudorens offer no sign that they are even faintly aware of the history of the “tachanah,” nor who has been banished from it, nor the fact that today millions of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank can no longer freely enter Jerusalem due to the system of walls and discriminatory regulations erected by Israel.

Out of sight, out of mind

Almost a decade ago, the Times’ then-Public Editor Daniel Okrent answered mounting criticism of his paper’s overwhelmingly Israeli-centric coverage. “The Times, like virtually every American news organization, maintains its bureau in West Jerusalem. Its reporters and their families shop in the same markets, walk the same streets and sit in the same cafes that have long been at risk of terrorist attack,” he wrote (“The Hottest Button: How The Times Covers Israel and Palestine,” 24 April 2005).

Alluding to an article by Michael Brown for The Electronic Intifada, criticizing the Jerusalem bureau’s insular culture, Okrent wrote, “Some advocates of the Palestinian cause call this ‘structural geographic bias.’”

Okrent concluded that Brown was essentially right: the paper’s coverage had been badly compromised by the limited political and cultural horizons of its Jerusalem staff. He went on to recommend that the Times add correspondents based in Ramallah and Gaza to balance the Jerusalem bureau’s Jewish Israeli perspective with a view from within Palestinian society.

That never happened. Instead, the Times hired Rudoren to retrench its presence in the ethnically-cleansed and exclusively Jewish world of West Jerusalem, settling her on grounds that represent the ongoing legacy of Palestinian dispossession.

As Israel drives those Palestinians out of sight, the Rudorens appear to have placed them comfortably out of mind.

Max Blumenthal is an award winning journalist and bestselling author. His latest book is Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel (2013, Nation Books).