By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
The New York Times coverage of Israel is something that, it seems, is always causing supporters of Israel to cancel their subscriptions. Its Jerusalem bureau chief, Jody Rudoren, has been singled by the Jerusalem Post, CAMERA, and Jonathan Tobin in Commentary Magazine for describing Palestinian rock-throwing as “a hobby”, giving short shrift to thousands of casualties of Palestinian terrorism, and describing the U.S. perception of settlement building as “illegal.” [The United States does not view them a priori as “illegal” – the U.S. just disapproves of them. Yet, of late, Ms. Rudoren has been penning some pro-Israel articles. This week she wrote an article on incitement reproduced below.
Adolf Hitler is quoted on the websites of Palestinian Authority schools. A young girl appears on Palestinian television, describing Jews as “barbaric monkeys, wretched pigs” and the “murderers of Muhammad,” the Islamic prophet. Maps on the Facebook page of the Palestinian presidential guards do not show Israel. President Mahmoud Abbas himself embraced as “heroes” released Palestinian prisoners who killed Israelis.
Rabbi Yair Hoffman interviewed the New York Times bureau chief for this week’s paper.
YH: Thank you for agreeing to this interview with the Five Towns Jewish Times. So briefly, can you describe for our readers what it is like to be bureau chief for the New York Times in Israel?
JR: That’s really not a question I can answer in brief. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Also thrilling, fascinating, frustrating and fun.
YH: What is your Jewish background?
JR: I grew up as the only public-school family in an Orthodox synagogue in Newton, Mass., keeping kosher at home but eating everything out. I went to Hebrew high school and Jewish summer camps. I was regional president and international vice president of United Synagogue Youth. In my adulthood, I have been a member of Conservative and Reform synagogues, but I do not attend frequently.
YH: How fluent is your Hebrew? Arabic?
JR: I have decent conversational Hebrew and virtually no Arabic.
YH: Who are your journalistic heroes – or heroines?
JR: I’d have to give it much more thought
YH: Admitting error in coverage or statements. How often does this happen and should it be happening more often?
JR: The Times corrects every error of fact we know about. I don’t keep track of how often it happens. Too often.
YH: Is there a feeling that you have that the Israeli government perceives some negativity toward the NY Times because of a perceived anti-Israel bias or do you think that there is complete professionalism on their part?
JR: I don’t know what they perceive, but my dealings with them are professional. I think they understand much better than many readers that there is a division between our newsroom and our opinion sections.
YH: What about censorship in Israel? Do you feel it? Are there any aspects of it that you feel ARE necessary or is it just completely annoying? Do you feel that social media is now making the censors completely irrelevant?
JR: It has not affected me
YH: You recently highlighted the idea that stopping the incitement that is rampant in Palestinian culture is a key component to any peace agreement. Many people in the pro-Israel community were pleased with the reporting and somewhat surprised to be frank. Is there a story behind the story?
JR: It was a straightforward news story about the Israeli campaign to highlight incitement at this moment in the peace talks
YH: In the past, most pro-Israel Jews have seen the New York Times coverage of Israel as rather biased against Israel, with entire organizations pointing out how terrorists are not called terrorists, uneven reporting, and the almost constant characterizing an immoral act as having been a reaction to Israel’s oppressiveness. Recently, the NYT did apologize for their coverage of the stabbing of the 18 year old IDF soldier who was sleeping. Do you think that the NYT is trying to make their focus a bit more even? Or do you disagree with the assessment altogether?
JR: I disagree with the assessment. Advocates on the other side have the opposite view. It is reflective of the bias of the readers, not the paper.
YH: Which papers in Israel do you see most eye to eye with?
JR: I do not view things that way.
YH: How do the Palestinians look at you, being Jewish and all?
JR: It has almost never come up.
YH: What is your take on the new Kerry initiative? With all the rooms rented by the team it looks like they are putting a lot of effort into it. Do you think that Kerry is bringing something to the table that is different now?
JR: I think our coverage speaks for itself.
YH: How does the average Israeli who knows what your job is, look at you?
JR: With a surprising and somewhat bizarre level of interest! Though I am not sure I know what an “average Israeli” is.
YH: The word “Apartheid” is often used to describe things in Israel for the Arabs; yet there are huge and substantial differences between the two, yet they are never reported. The freedoms Israeli Arabs have often do not even exist in Arab countries. Do you think that the NYT will start pointing this out more?
JR: Stay tuned.
YH: What do you think is Israel’s biggest internal challenge in the coming months?
JR: Too big a question. The internal politics around the peace process are very challenging. The ongoing challenges for integrating Arabs and Haredim into the workforce are enormous. The internal conflicts over the role Judaism plays in public life continue.
YH: Thanks so much for your time.