It’s good that Helen Thomas will no longer be in White House press briefings. Not because she sullied the reputation of the Washington press corps with a few undiplomatic remarks, but because those who lack her boldness and bluntness will no longer be able to use her presence to foster the illusion that American journalism still values courage.
When Thomas was asked during a White House Jewish Heritage Celebration on May 27 (before the Mavi Marmara massacre) whether she had any comments on Israel, she said without a pause: “Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine.”
“It’s their land,” Thomas asserted, referring to the Palestinians and baldly challenging the notion that Israel was founded on land that belongs to the Jews. When asked where the Jews should go, she said they should “go home” — to Germany, Poland, America or from wherever else they had emigrated to Israel.
As soon as the video of Thomas’ remarks was made public, Washington’s mechanisms of tribal discipline swiftly kicked into gear.
Her words were “unconscionably callous and vile,” said Andrew Sullivan. “Thomas deserved what she got,” said Dana Millbank. Both saw her departure as a loss, yet just as President Obama deemed her words “out of line,” no one in Washington was willing to go to the heart of what she said.
In 1948 three-quarters of a million Palestinians were driven out of their homes by Zionists in order to make room for the creation of a Jewish state. For that reason, Helen Thomas, an American of Lebanese descent, apparently believes — as do most people in the Middle East — that the Jewish claim to “own” the land on which Israel was created is a claim based on religious dogma rather than historical fact.
Those families who still possess the keys to homes they lost and the legal titles to land on which they were built, see the issue not as one of “disputed territories” but as one in which colonizers — like America’s settlers — grabbed land and then tried to disguise their acts of dispossession by invoking divine authority.
As Thomas has been dumped by her agent, forced to retire and is now ostracized by colleagues who disingenuously profess their admiration for her journalistic courage, Washington once again displays itself as a unique and rather pathetic satellite of Israel.
As the world condemns Israel’s latest act of unconscionable brutality, America’s media willingly turns its attention to the “unconscionable” words of an 89 year-old woman who had the audacity to say a few blunt words about the Jewish state. Oy veh!