Helen Thomas is an American news reporter, member of the White House Press Corps and author She was the first female officer of the National Press Club and the first female member and president of the White House Correspondents Association. Her latest book, co-authored with Craig Crawford is Listen Up, Mr President: Everything you Always Wanted Your President To Know and Do.
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IN DEFENSE OF HELEN THOMAS - On apologizing to apologists
by Paul Jay June 07, 2010
Helen Thomas was the dean of the White House Press corp. She has a fifty-year history of tough-minded journalism and is one of the very, very few journalists in the mainstream press who has had the guts to question US policy towards Israel. On Monday she was pressured into resigning, "effective immediately".
On Friday she was asked by a guy who stuck a video camera in her face, for any comments on Israel and she said, "Tell them to get the get the hell out of Palestine. Remember, these people [the Palestinians] are occupied and it's their land. It's not Germany, it's not Poland." She was asked where they should go and she answered, "They should go home, to Poland, Germany and America". The video has been making its way around the Internet.
This was said days after the Israeli attack on the aid flotilla that killed at least nine activists as their boat sailed in international waters. [NOTE: When I originally wrote this article, I was mistaken about the sequence of events. The video was shot on May 27th, a few days before the Israeli attack. It was released on the Internet on Friday. Of course it was after the Israeli war on Gaza and the blockade].
She later apologized in a short statement on her website ""I deeply regret my comments I made last week regarding the Israelis and the Palestinians. They do not reflect my heart-felt belief that peace will come to the Middle East only when all parties recognize the need for mutual respect and tolerance. May that day come soon."
Her apology was not enough to stop calls for her head from those who have wanted to shut Thomas up for years.
Ari Fleischer, President George W. Bush's press secretary, led the call in an e-mail Friday to the Huffington Post saying Thomas' comments amount to "religious cleansing."
"She should lose her job over this," Fleischer wrote. "As someone who is Jewish, and as someone who worked with her and used to like her, I find this appalling."
Perhaps Fleishcher should also add that he is someone who knows something about apologies . . . being the leading apologist for the Bush administration as their war led to the deaths of at least one million Iraqis.
But Lanny Davis, former special counsel to and White House spokesman for President Bill Clinton, went even further than Fleischer. He issued a statement on Sunday saying Thomas, "has showed herself to be an anti-Semitic bigot."
Now, Davis should know something about apologies and apologists as well. TheHill.com reported that Davis led a lobbying effort against deposed Honduran President Manuel Zelaya on behalf of Honduran business leaders. This is in defense of a regime that came to power in an illegal coup and is killing journalists and activists. Hmmm . . . defending those that kill activists . . .
Davis went on, "Her [Thomas] statement that Jews in Israel should leave Israel and go back to Poland or Germany is an ancient and well-known anti-Semitic stereotype of the Alien Jew not belonging in the 'land of Israel' -- one that began 2,600 years with the first tragic and violent diaspora of the Jews at the hands of the Romans," said Davis.
Thomas was not talking about Jews that lived in the region from Roman times. If she had been given more of a chance to explain herself, rather than the 30-second sound bite traveling around the web, she might have made it clear that she also wasn't referring to the thousands of Jews who lived in Palestine prior to 1948.
What Thomas clearly did say she was talking about was Jews that had come from Germany, Poland and America. Now it's likely that most of the Jewish refugees that came to Palestine from Europe just after the War, did so not because they "belong to the land of Israel", but due to fact that the American, Canadian and British governments wouldn't drop their anti-Jewish quotas even after the horrors of the genocide were fully exposed (let's talk about some real anti-Semites).
I don't know of any opinion polls taken at the time, but if those refugees had a real choice to go to some impoverished potentially war-filled land in the Middle East or join the Jewish community in New York, I know what I would have chosen.
The American Zionist organizations at the time did not fight for a more open immigration policy to allow Jews into America; they lobbied furiously for the Jewish refugees to go to Palestine as part of a move towards the founding of a Jewish state.
As is well known, this state was created in the process of expelling thousands of Palestinians from their lands, people who had nothing to do with the European genocide against the Jews. You cannot say the same about the Anglo-American countries that for much of the '30s were quite happy to equip Hitler with cars and machinery. Quite content to shut their mouths as Hitler began an ethnic cleansing that would end in barbaric genocide.
As far as the American Jews that went to live in Israel after 1948, it's difficult to believe they went to escape persecution, as many of the Jews from other places that went to Israel, in fact did. So, one can understand a certain specific resentment against American Jews who decided that it was ok, at someone else's expense, to work out their identity crisis and pick up some free airline tickets to boot.
Lanny Davis statement continued, "If she had asked all blacks to go back to Africa, what would White House Correspondents Association position be as to whether she deserved White House press room credentials -- much less a privileged honorary seat?"
Our defender of illegal coups knows very well this is not analogous. The obvious comparison is asking all European Americans to "get the hell out", and leave the land to its rightful owners, Native Americans. One could argue Mexican Americans might have an argument to stay in certain parts of the country.
The European migration to America isn't such a stretch if one thinks about it. Colonialism makes use of people fleeing religious persecution to populate their new possession . . .
At any rate, we all know what's going on here. The hyper-pro-Israel lobby, in both parties, hasn't much liked the fact that Helen Thomas dares to speak up and question that most sacred of topics, and right from the front row of the White House Press Gallery. Heck, she had the gall to ask President Obama about Israel's "secret" nuclear weapons. She even asked the current White House spokesman why the US had not condemned the Israeli attacks on the aid flotilla. No wonder they want her the hell out.
Do I think all Jews (that came after 1948) should get out of Palestine? Well, no more or less than Europeans should get out of North America, or the Portuguese should get out of Brazil, or the British should get the hell out of Australia. There does come a point where such things are simply not possible.
There's really no need anyway, there's plenty of land and resources. The only issue is, are the rights of the people who owned the land before colonization going to be respected now; is there proper compensation; do they have the right to self-determination and so on.
In the case of the Palestinians, what Israel needs to do has been made very clear in UN resolutions and in the demands of the Palestinians. In spite of the illegal blockade of Gaza, almost no one, including the Hamas representative I interviewed a few weeks ago, says the Jews have to get out. Ok there are some that say it, people get very angry after 62 years in a refugee camp, but what most Palestinians want is to live as equals with Jews in a truly democratic state.
It's way past time that we can discuss Israel and Palestine without the McCarthyite witch hunt atmosphere that has ruled for sixty years.
I said in my last blog, not all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitism - but some is.
Helen Thomas' isn't.
BEYOND THE PALE - The murder of Furkan Dogan
by Paul Jay June 04, 2010
Not all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitism.
But some is.
All one has to do is read some of the comments on this blog that were not published, to know that Judenhass ("Jew-hatred") is alive and well.
It cannot be overestimated how thousands of years of hatred and Nazi genocide weighs with a nightmarish grip on the psyche of Jews around the world.
The narrative that led to the foundation of Israel was built on the reality of the European onslaught against its Jewish population. Many of the early immigrants that fled to Israel were victims who had nowhere else to go.
Without doubt there are forces within Israel and outside of it that use this history to pursue economic and political power. They brandish 'Judenhass' as an ideological weapon to suppress opposition. That being said, this fact does not diminish Jews' anguished memory of suffering from monumental barbarism.
It's not hard to understand why so many Western Jews feel attached to a place they think of as their mythical home. For Jews that live outside of Israel, as secular as their countries might appear, as assimilated and successful as a Jew gets - the West is still more or less a Christian world and Jews (and Muslims and people of other non-Christian faiths) still feel outsiders. But most Jews know the hatred they were subjected to over the centuries, although dressed in religious or mystical garb, had economic roots.
While one cannot minimize the extent to which the German population either supported or looked away when heinous crimes were committed, any decent history of the period makes clear it was the German elites that helped create Hitler and he made them rich. He expropriated Jewish property and plundered the countries of Europe. Whether it was Jews or Slavs, racist ideology made it "acceptable". We dehumanize those we want to exploit or kill. We call them animals, vermin, rats, and parasites. We are human and you are, well, less human.
It cannot be denied that there is a tradition of 'Judenhass' in the Arab world as well (although never on the scale of Europe). There are horrible racist books in some Arab classrooms and there are television shows that reek of hatred. While there are members of Hamas that see the issue in political terms and are not racists, I met Hamas members that would like to see all Jews leave the region.
Yet during my recent visit to Palestinian refugee camps in Beirut and the West Bank, I often heard, "it's not the Jews, the enemy is the occupation." Most Palestinians are aware of the Jewish activists who put their bodies and lives on the line in solidarity with their struggle. I heard strong critiques of tactics that target Israeli civilians. There is a growing civil rights movement amongst Palestinians whose objective is to live equally with Jews in one state. Many people see the struggle against elites, including their own.
Of course, in the West Bank, one can find vicious angry words against "the Jews". But I have never experienced anything like the hatred and profound systemic and mainstream racism that I found in Israel. I can only imagine this must be what it used to be like in the American South or in the early '30s in Germany. From a foreign minister who can openly talk about expelling citizens of his own country based on their ethnic origin; to the widespread acceptance of civilian deaths in Gaza and Lebanon - far too many Israeli Jews have internalized the language of 'Palestinian hatred'. I guess decades of occupation and war does that to a people.
When a Jew can pick up the paper and read that Furkan Dogan, a 19-year-old Turkish-American on a ship loaded with food was shot at close range by an Israeli commando four times in the head and once in the chest and believe this boy was an al Qaeda terrorist and so it's all justified (a claim the Israeli army had to withdraw); that it's ok to turn Gaza into a ghetto where the object is to make the population's life miserable so to better bring down a political enemy; that illegal settlements and the occupation of another people's land is justified because 'they're terrorists who hate us' which makes them less human than we are - then the process of dehumanizing 'the other' has gone far beyond the pale.