Robert Cherry
Author: Jewish and Christian Views on Bodily Pleasures

Jodi Rudoren: Mouthpiece for Palestinian Nationalists

       In recent months, the New York Times has legitimized the BDS movement.  It provided a forum for its leader, Omar Barghouti, and highlighted observant Jews who actively support its goals.  In her article, “West Bank Boycott,” Rudoren had a chance to distinguish the selective boycott of Israeli production and institutions in the West Bank from the BDS boycott.  Instead, she merged the two by giving substantial space to Barghouti without ever asking him why he opposes the more selective boycott.  By contrast, she could have pointed out that the selective boycott is supported by many leftwing Zionists because it allows them to promote a two-state solution while condemning Israeli West Bank policies.

Rudoren is not a mouthpiece for nationalists simply because she gives them a platform.  The BDS movement relies critically on the belief that Israeli Arabs are just as brutalized as Palestinians in the West Bank and that these two groups think of themselves as one people who should live in one state.    As a result, Palestinian nationalists attempt to undermine efforts by the Israeli government to integrate its Arab citizens into the nation’s educational and occupational mainstream.  Supporting her nationalist allies, Rudoren systematically ignores the intimidation tactics they use and ignores the positive achievements of government efforts to aid its Arab citizens.

When the national service controversy arose in 2012, Rudoren suggested that Israeli Arabs face pervasive discrimination: “citizens of a state whose defining philosophy is most alienating at best, often considered enemies within, with a list of complaints about discrimination, employment, education and housing.”  Rudoren gave voice to the Palestinian nationalist Hanin Zoabi’s who claimed, “All the country’s burdens are on my back.  Six million Jews living on my land.”  This quote is a lead-in to her interviews with members of Baladna, the youth group of Balad.  She quoted one member reason for opposing national service: “You’re going to serve a country that occupied your land and your grandparents died because of it.”

Rudoren ignored crucial factors.  First, to suggest pervasive discrimination, she once more neglected the occupational and educational improvements experienced by Israeli Arabs.  Second, chose not to mention Balad’s intimidation campaign.  When the government began implementation in 2008, a Knesset member from Balad stated, “Anyone who volunteers for national service will be treated like a leper and will be vomited out of Arab society.”

While she quoted Sammy Smooha who had just completed a research project on Arab attitudes towards alternative service, his results were not included.  Despite the active intimidation campaign, Smooha found that support was still high within the Israeli-Arab community and the vast majority of those who had participated had very positive assessments of their experience.

A year later, Rudoren reported on the Negev Bedouin situation when the controversial Prawer plan threatened to uproot thousands.  While the focus should have been on the fate of Bedouins living in the unrecognized villages, Rudoren painted a picture of unremitting government neglect in recognized towns: “crime is high and streets are strewn with garbage.”  She highlighted El Sayed, “a village of 5,000 officially recognized a decade ago, yet still without a sewage system, electric lines or the promised strip of shops and schools.”  And, of course, she quoted a member of the anti-government organization Adalah: “Whenever the State of Israel wants to develop the Negev, it’s always at the expense of the Bedouin.”

While there is certainly room to criticize the Prawer plan, and I have done so elsewhere, the narrative of unremitting neglect was false.  What Rudoren characterized as “promises [of] clinics, jobs, education and infrastructure” had already been substantially implemented.  A 2012 report commissioned by the OECD found that expenditures have already provided “new public transportation in ten Bedouin localities that previously had no public transport at all and an effort is currently underway to upgrade the level of service in localities where improvements are required.” The report also noted that the government has completed constructing sewage purification plants in the three largest recognized Bedouin towns while other localities use the purification plants of neighboring cities.    By 2011, there was a full complement of satellite clinics associated with Beer Sheva’s Soroka Medical Center, educational initiatives that dramatically increased the performance of Bedouin students, and occupational subsidies and employment centers that substantially increased Bedouin employment.  None of this, however, found its way into Rudoren’s report.

Nor did she discuss the remarkable turnaround in Hura.  With government assistance, Mayor Alnabari induced firms to set up Arabic call centers there. He also garnered foundation funding to set up the Women’s Catering Enterprise. Alnabari also convinced the government Ministry of Agriculture to fund a joint project with a nearby Jewish kibbutz to produce high value-added agricultural produce, using the latest technical facilities. These successes spurred other Arab mayors to work with government agencies but not in towns controlled by Balad.

In a more recent article on the lack of participation in city elections by the Palestinians living in East Jerusalem, Rudoren did briefly indicate that in the distant past there was intimidation but as the article’s title indicated, the main explanation given was a “Tradition of Not Voting …”  She also briefly mentioned that Mayor Nir Barkat has made substantial government investments: “$141 million for roads and infrastructure, $113 million to build 500 classrooms.” This information, however, was not related to Ruderon’s narrative.

Rudoren chose not to cite a Ha’aretz article, “A Surprising Process of ‘Israelization’ Is Taking Place among Palestinians in East Jerusalem,” which documented how Barkat’s efforts have transformed the attitudes of many residents.  They now shopped in West Jerusalem, were applying for Israeli citizenship, and found ways to prepare their children to qualify for the Israeli higher education system; and they were doing this despite active intimidation from Palestinian nationalists.

In all these cases, Rudoren has attempted to tailor her reports to the Palestinian nationalist narrative: Israel does little for its Arab citizens who continue to suffer persistent discrimination and are profoundly alienated from the state.  She ignores occupational and educational improvements, ignores nationalist intimidation tactics, and ignores the increasing integration of Arabs into Israeli society.  Rudoren ignores the dramatic transformation of Nazareth into a hi-tech center, employing many Israeli Arabs; the dramatic increase in the number of Arab teachers employed in Jewish schools; inclusion of Israel in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in recognition for its successful efforts to reduce Jewish-Arab disparities; and the growing cooperation between Arab mayors and government agencies.  After all, she must suppress this material if she is going to be the mouthpiece for Palestinian nationalists.


About the Author
Robert Cherry is a professor of economics at Brooklyn College. Author of Jewish and Christian Views on Bodily Pleasures: Their Origins and Relevance to Twentieth Century (Wipf & Stock, 2018); Increased Constructive Engagement amoAung Israeli Arabs, (Israel Studies, Jan 2014); Rethinking Poles and Jews (Rowman & Littlefield, 2007).