Times Kvetches over Israel Election

The New York Times had a problem reporting Israel's election campaign -- a liberal, secular paper having to cover a Jewish state with a more conservative and religious bent. It's been, to say the least, very frustrating for Jodi Rudoren, the Times' Jerusalem bureau chief, who turns her pre-election analysis into one big, long kvetch. ("Israeli Campaign Turned Its Back on Most Pressing Issues" Jan. 20) Such chutzpah for Israel to depart from The Times/Rudoren agenda.

Rudoren's biggest worry is a rising "national-religious sector" with a new batch of politicians wearing -- horror of horrors -- "signature knitted skullcaps."

She acknowledges that Prime Minister Netanyahu is headed for reelection on Tuesday, but doesn't like the prospect. Not one bit. Bibi will win, she writes, "despite a gaping deficit, despite a stalemated peace process, despite a political partner (Avigdor Lieberman) indicted on fraud changes, and even though Netanyahu waged a war with Gaza with mixed results."

Rudoren obviously would prefer a different leader for Israel -- and, boy, does it show. Throughout the article, she laments the collapse of the center-left in Israeli politics, her types of people, with a concomitant rise of religious Zionism.

So she finds several academic and journalistic mavens who share her dark outlook and provide her with quotes such as "Israel a society in despair," with "indifferent and yawning voters" heading to the polls, faced with unappetizing candidates who "lack urgency and passion." It all comes down to ending up with a "new captain of the Titanic." (Nice quote, but it doesn't square with her forecast that the old captain will win. Still, when you're desperate, accuracy often takes a hit.)

Rudoren admits that Naftali Bennett, leader of the new Jewish Home party, who would annex 60 percent of the West Bank and keep Jerusalem as Israel's united capital, has been the "darling" of the campaign. But she's not one of his fans, no siree -- he wears a "knitted skullcap," you see. And while Bennett's party is an "echo of Israel's secular pioneers" those earlier kibbutzniks didn't wear "kippas, yarmulkas" on their heads.
There's something about skullcaps that the New York Times just finds indigestible.

The scary thing, Rudoren warns, is that there will be a big turnover of members in the 120-seat Knesset -- 40 to 50 newcomers -- but, oy veh, 40 "will be Orthodox" -- no fewer than one third of the Parliament wearing those subversive kippas.

So, Times logic reaches an inescapable conclusion -- get ready for a Knesset "populated by many extremists."
Each wearing a skullcap, no doubt. It's really excruciating to have someone with Rudoren's enlightened virtues assigned to cover the horrors of the Israeli beat. Perhaps, the Times could mitigate her woes by granting her special combat pay.

Leo Rennert is the former Washington bureau chief for McClatchy newspapers.

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