Jodi Rudoren, the Jerusalem bureau chief for the New York Times, is often criticized as anti-Israel and hostile in particular to conservative Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In the wake of a tighter-than-expected reelection campaign and Netanyahu's controversial speech to Congress, in which he warned of the dangers of a nuclear Iran, the Times truly "doubled down" on its hostility, accusing the Prime Minister of being power-hungry and appealing to racism.
His opponents, both in Israel and the Times' news pages, have long lamented Netanyahu's refusal to negotiate with the Palestinians and to make peace with President Obama, as well as his approval of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The Times clearly smelled blood in the water as voting began in Israel.
In a lead story that appeared in Tuesday's edition, before the polls opened, Rudoren used some opinionated flair to describe Netanyahu's "panicky" policy shift in "Netanyahu Says No To Statehood For Palestinians – Tactic On Eve Of Vote – Israeli Prime Minister's Position Is Seen as a Right-Wing Push."
Under pressure on the eve of a surprisingly close election, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel on Monday doubled down on his appeal to right-wing voters, declaring definitively that if he was returned to office he would never establish a Palestinian state.
The statement reversed Mr. Netanyahu’s endorsement of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a 2009 speech at Bar Ilan University, and fulfilled many world leaders’ suspicions that he was never really serious about peace negotiations. If he manages to eke out a fourth term, the new stance would further fray Mr. Netanyahu’s ruinous relationship with the Obama administration and heighten tension with European countries already frustrated with the stalled peace process.
"I think that anyone who is going to establish a Palestinian state today and evacuate lands is giving attack grounds to the radical Islam against the state of Israel,” he said in a video interview published on NRG, an Israeli news site that leans to the right. “There is a real threat here that a left-wing government will join the international community and follow its orders.”
Mr. Netanyahu’s chief challenger, Isaac Herzog of the center-left Zionist Union, backs the two-state solution and has promised to try to restart talks with the Palestinians, though he has warned an agreement may not be possible. He has, however, made Mr. Netanyahu’s alienation of allies, especially Washington, a prime campaign point, and said Israel’s international isolation is itself a security threat.
With his conservative Likud Party trailing the Zionist Union in the last pre-election polls, Mr. Netanyahu has ratcheted up his statements in a panicky blitz of interviews and campaign stops in recent days. He accuses rivals of colluding with Arabs and moneyed antagonists in a global conspiracy to oust him. He has also belatedly begun to address the pocketbook questions that polls suggest will drive most people’s votes.
But in many corners, these efforts and the Palestinian flip-flop only underscore a longstanding critique: that Mr. Netanyahu, 65, who led Israel for three years in the 1990s and returned to the premiership in 2009, places staying in power above all else.
Suddenly, the man crowned “King Bibi” -- whose hard-line stance against the Iranian nuclear program and continued construction in West Bank settlements hurt him in some foreign capitals but resonated in an increasingly defensive and religious Israel -- is being asked whether he would retire if he were not re-elected.
But Ido Nitai, 21, a bar manager, voted for Mr. Netanyahu last time, and now is shopping for someone -- anyone -- else.
“If I wanted to keep the country in the same situation it is in today then I would vote for Bibi,” he said, “but I want to see a change here.”
My NewsBusters colleague Kyle Drennen also caught Rudoren on (naturally) MSNBC on Tuesday, laying out a similar line under questioning by host Andrea Mitchell: "....he's been out there the last few days on just a huge campaign blitz, interviewing everywhere and saying really controversial things. This morning he posted on his Facebook a video saying that Arabs were flocking to the polls and he called on right-wing supporters to come out and block them. And the left came and said that that was a racist remark, sort of comparing it to suppressing African-American votes in the United States. So it's been a very provocative and ugly last few days as he tries to catch up to the so-called Zionist Union and the Zionist Union tries to build on its momentum to expand its lead."
So how did Netanyahu do, after all the vitriol directed at him by the left-wing media? Surprisingly well, according to early results. Rudoren had to issue a bitter follow-up story Tuesday night with the glum headline: "Israeli Balloting Appears to Keep Netanyahu Ahead." Although reading the first paragraph, you would have thought Netanyahu had lost.
After a bruising campaign focused on his failings, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel seemed to emerge from Tuesday’s elections in the best position to form a new government, though he offended many voters and alienated allies in the process.
Several paragraphs later, Rudoren bitterly flipped the race card.
But it remained to be seen how his divisive -- some said racist -- campaign tactics would affect his ability to govern a fractured Israel.
Rudoren's colleague Isabel Kershner contributed her own bile in a late Tuesday article suggesting that the winner Netanyahu had somehow still lost:
Benjamin Netanyahu was acting as if he were poised to return to power. But there was a cloud over his apparent turnaround, the result of an increasingly shrill campaign that raised questions about his ability to heal Israel’s internal wounds or better its standing in the world.