Feb 20, 2012

Jodi Rudoren's tweets and the chill in the lobby

A Rachel Shabi article in the Guardian's Comment is Free section titled False accusations of antisemitism desensitize us to the real thing is worth the read. It discusses the targeting of New York Times Jerusalem reporter Jodi Rudoren for tweets that a number of concerned Zionists viewed as problematic.

Rachel Shabi:

Apparently, soon-to-be bureau chief Jodi Rudoren has been sending bad tweets to the wrong people and that's enough to have Israel's rightwing defenders denounce the journalist, within hours, as biased and "anti-Zionist".

She should not be tweeting "cutesy missives" to Electronic Intifada co-founder Ali Abunimah. She shouldn't be approving a forthcoming book titled The Crisis of Zionism by American writer Peter Beinart. In fact, the most benign critics suggest, she should not be tweeting at all – which, we can guess, would not be the case had she decided to post about, say, the dry weather and deluge of hummus that await her in Jerusalem.

Ali Abunimah is a prominent Israel critic who has presented an interesting argument in favor of a one-state solution. Rudoren was doing what journalists do - namely pursue leads and solicit opinion. Sounds as though her messages were upbeat or "cutesy" according to the displeased... how is that evil?

The Times came to Ms Rudoren's defence stating that the paper had "complete confidence in Jodi's fairness and integrity as a journalist..."

Some of the criticism has come from Atlantic blogger, Jeffrey Goldberg. He says that Abunimah "argues for Israel's destruction." This is a slur often directed at Ali Abunimah by Zionist critics. It would more accurate to say that Abunimah views Zionism as the problem, as in fact many Jews do - check out the views of Ben Ehrenreich on the topic.

Too often criticism of Israel is linked to the anti-Semitic shadow. If you communicate with people who are Israel critics you must by extension be somehow tainted. The reach of the Israel Lobby means that this type of intimidation succeeds all-too-often in damping down perfectly reasonable criticism of Israel.

Menachem Shalev, a former spokesman for the Israeli consulate in New York was disarmingly honest about the influence of the Lobby: "Of course, a lot of self-censorship goes on. Journalists, editors, and politicians are going to think twice about criticizing Israel if they know they are going to get thousands of calls in a matter of hours. The Jewish lobby is good at orchestrating pressure."

It's not just journalists who suffer consequences. The influence of the Lobby extends to the heart of US power. In March 2009, Charles W. Freeman, Jr. withdrew his candidacy for the chair of the National Intelligence Council. Freeman didn't pull his punches on the reasons why: "The libels on me and their easily traceable email trails show conclusively that there is a powerful lobby determined to prevent any view other than its own from being aired .... The tactics of the Israel Lobby plumb the depths of dishonor and indecency .... The aim of this Lobby is control of the policy process ...."

Rachel Shabi:

The [Rudoren] incident is part of a broader rash of pouncing-upon from rightwing pro-Israelis that has sucked the oxygen out of any conversation about the country – especially in the US.

Add Canada to that. It isn't always the better known right-wing pro-Israeli voices either doing the pouncing.  When reverberations of the Gaza war were still front and center a column in the Toronto Star by Rosie DiManno accused protesting Canadian students of a sort of uber version of anti-Semitism - something she dubbed "hyperbolic anti-Semitism."

DiManno's attack on Canadian students exercising their democratic rights came at a time when an increasing percentage of Israelis were showing sympathy for a virulent and racist brand of right-wing nationalism. Yet DiManno went after Canadian students protesting Israeli actions that were in contravention of international law rather than lambasting the drift toward political extremism in Israel.

On the other side of the coin, during the same heated time period concerned Canadian Jews stepped up to express their concern about attempts to suppress valid criticism of Israel. They made the comparison between spurious allegations of anti-Semitism and the anti-Communist terror of the 1950s.

One hundred and fifty Canadian Jews co-signed a statement that outlined their concerns. The statement was rejected as an op-ed by the Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail. 

It comes as no surprise at all that Rudoren was targeted for "offending" tweets.