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. 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 Fleischer 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.
You can watch my interviews with Helen Thomas here.