The fact that writing about Helen Thomas just a few days after she resigned feels like old news, tells you something about what's wrong with the media and our country today.
After a journalism career spanning almost seventy years, Thomas was taken down in less than two minutes. Which is the running time of the video where she made the remarks that forced her to resign her job, lose her book collaborator, her lecture agent and have a high school cancel a graduation speech she was scheduled to deliver.
Most people are also unaware that the person who conducted the video interview in late May, was not a reputable journalist like Helen Thomas, but a right-wing Long Island Rabbi with a website, which apparently is all you need to get press credentials to The White House for a Jewish Heritage event. Rabbi David Nesenoff uploaded the video to his website under the caption "Helen Thomas Tells Jews To Go Back To Germany". Which isn't a nice thing for her to say. Except she didn't say it.
Let's take a quick break to give you an unedited transcript of their exchange:
RABBI DAVID NESENOFF: Any advice for these young people over here for starting out in the press corps?
HELEN THOMAS: Go for it. You'll never be unhappy. You'll always keep people informed. And you'll always keep learning. The greatest thing of the profession is never stop learning.
RABBI DAVID NESENOFF: Today they're covering the Jewish Heritage Month. Any--
HELEN THOMAS: Are they going to meet the President?
RABBI DAVID NESENOFF: Yeah, and any comments on Israel? We're asking everybody today. Any comments on Israel?
HELEN THOMAS: Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine.
RABBI DAVID NESENOFF: Ooh, any better comments than that?
UNIDENTIFIED: Helen is blunt.
HELEN THOMAS: Remember, these people are occupied, and it's their land. It's not Germany, and it's not Poland.
RABBI DAVID NESENOFF: So where should they go? What should they do?
HELEN THOMAS: They could go home.
RABBI DAVID NESENOFF: Where is their home?
HELEN THOMAS: Poland, Germany--
RABBI DAVID NESENOFF: So the Jews--you're saying Jews should go back to Poland and Germany?
HELEN THOMAS: --and America and everywhere else. Why push people out of there who have lived there for centuries? See?
RABBI DAVID NESENOFF: Now, are you familiar with the history of that region and what took place?
HELEN THOMAS: Very much. I'm of Arab background.
RABBI DAVID NESENOFF: I see.
(At that point, Nesenoff asks Helen if she speaks Arabic, and she says she does not. Nesenoff says a few words to her in Arabic. And then Thomas ended the interview with this.)
HELEN THOMAS: Go for journalism. You'll never regret it.
Helen Thomas issued a statement saying, "I deeply regret my comments I made last week regarding the Israelis and the Palestinians. They do not reflect my heartfelt 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," she wrote.
However crass, undiplomatic and imprecise her language, it is clear that Thomas was merely advocating the same two state solution that Jews like myself and a majority of Americans, Israelis and Palestinians support. And an end to an occupation that is considered illegal by international law. Whether the land really belongs to Palestinians or Israelis, no one will ever know. I'm pretty sure they didn't save the receipts. Thomas clearly means "Israeli" settlers in the West Bank, as the people who should go somewhere else. And while of course she should have listed "Israel" as the first place they could go, the notion of Israeli and other Jews also living in 2010 Germany and Poland is simply not the same as what she has been recklessly accused of saying. Sending Jews back to the Germany and Poland of the Nazi years.
What does Rabbi Nesenoff think about who the land belongs to? This is what he writes on his website RabbiLive.com.
"So after the Holocaust in the late 1940s it was a natural for the Jews to go back there -- to their land and reclaim it again. And with the world feeling really guilty right after the Holocaust it made it that much easier to get the land back and kick out hundreds of thousands of Arabs who were living there and dwelling peacefully with their families and loved ones. But it was ours first as it was promised to us by G-d in the Torah so we have a claim to it."
People have a right to disagree with Helen Thomas. But to all those who delight in her excommunication, they should also see Helen Thomas in action on March 21, 2006, at age 85, the first time President Bush directly called on her in three years:
"I'd like to ask you, Mr. President, your decision to invade Iraq has caused the deaths of thousands of Americans and Iraqis, wounds of Americans and Iraqis for a lifetime. Every reason given, publicly at least, has turned out not to be true. My question is: Why did you really want to go to war? From the moment you stepped into the White House, from your Cabinet...your Cabinet officers, intelligence people, and so forth...what was your real reason? You have said it wasn't oil...quest for oil, it hasn't been Israel, or anything else. What was it?"
Contrast those powerful, insightful words from an American journalism treasure to those of Howard Stern.
"Maybe you should go home," "Maybe you should go back to where you came from. Maybe you should go to Lebanon now that we don't need you anymore as a reporter. You big fat cow. I like that she thinks she's from America so she's where she is. She's where she's supposed to be. She should go back to Lebanon. I don't know why she's here. She's occupying America with her big, fat ass." Hopefully the planet will be rid of her soon. Maybe she'll stroke out or something. That would be nice."
After reading Stern's venom, you might want to take a shower. Better yet, here's another Helen Thomas gem from a recent interview in Vice Magazine:
"In the run-up to the Iraq War, no one asked for proof of weapons of mass destruction. It was very, very clear that President Bush wanted to go to war at any cost. And he would not go back to the UN and allow them three more months to look and see if it was really true. We went to war on lies.That's the reason we're so easily led down the garden path--nobody's asking "why?" The question "why?" should always be there. What is the reason this other government or these people would do this to us? But I had the impression that throughout the whole country, truth took a holiday. There's been very little search for truth, except for a few people who have spoken out."
On June 3, Rabbi Nemeroff posted an edited version of the Helen Thomas interview (1:03 minutes) on You Tube. It has received 1,582,238 hits. On June 7, after Thomas resigned, the unedited version(1:58 minutes)was posted. To date, it has 61,746 hits.