In Helen Thomas case, the world sees a taboo being enforced

Israel/Palestine
on 56 Comments

Moving statement on Helen Thomas’s ejection by Ann El Khoury at Pulse:

[Thomas was] asked whether she has any comments about Israel, to which she replies: 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.” [Where should they go?] “They should go home, to Poland, Germany and America.”

Not surprisingly, the part about the occupation gets buried in the brouhaha. My reading was that because she said Palestine she referred to the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) — including East Jerusalem — and in that case the illegal settlers, for many of us, should indeed move back to Russia, Poland, Israel ‘proper’ (internationally recognized 1967 borders) and the US. Part of the problem is the ambiguity: was she referring to Palestine as the whole of Israel? She might have but I doubt hers was the maximalist position. Even those who still advocate a two state solution as tenable should give her the benefit of the doubt unless she indicates otherwise.

Now this gutsy, plucky character who for me embodied what the real spirit of US journalism is and should be, far more than stenographers-of-power Press Corps colleagues in their prime, meets an undignified end to her career, with ignoble reactions…

To the rest of the world this will just add to the perception of hypocrisy and double standards applied to people who speak up about the Israel government’s reprehensible actions. The shift of focus from the core of the issue of military occupation to an off-the-cuff remark — which I think just reflects her growing anger — will be noted. I penned a quick dissenting piece in her defense a few days ago and am glad to see a number of others (Real News’ Paul Jay, Jack Ross at Mondoweiss) whose pieces I recommend. Glenn Greenwald also has a good piece contrasting the condemnation-fest directed at Thomas with the “total non-reaction in the face of the incessant and ongoing anti-Arab bigotry of The New Republic‘s Marty Peretz, or to the demands of then-House Majority Leader Dick Armey that the Palestinians leave the West Bank and go back to where they came from, and similar statements from Mike Huckabee (still gainfully employed at Fox News).”

All this plays into the hands of the Israel-right-or-wrong lobby. I realize part of what she said is offensive to a number of people because of the ugly connotations of the phrase ‘go home’ which has been allowed to overshadow and deflect attention from the core issue in her remark. Yet I would hope a sense of proportion and perspective prevails. The implications for freedom of speech in the US and for breaking a taboo about Israel in mainstream discourse are far greater than any offense part of her comment may have caused.  The Press Corps will be all the poorer now and it will reinforce the Israeli-status quo bias as the only game in town.

In a storied career, she has been a rare critical voice in the mainstream media, particularly during the last Bush administration. As Paul Jay notes in his defense of Thomas, “Her apology was not enough to stop calls for her head from those who have wanted to shut Thomas up for years.”

Thank you for your service, Helen Thomas. May there be more like you to emerge in the media landscape. I hope you continue to speak up well after 90.

56 Responses

  1. Citizen
    June 8, 2010, 9:06 am

    Why not force Palin and Huckabee into retirement too?
    link to seminal.firedoglake.com

    Thomas is on record as questioning Ari back in the day why the US supports
    Israel’s brutalization of the Palestinians. Nothing happened. Now a rabbi sticks a mike in her face, she speaks again on the same subject, and is forced into retirement–why was that response, which happened before the Israeli assault on the Gaza boat, spread around now?

  2. Linda J
    June 8, 2010, 9:21 am

    Yesterday, the most popular comment in the NYTimes Mediacoder blog on Helen was this one:

    helen thomas simply stated, albeit crudely, what the vast majority of the world feels about israel and their illegal and immoral actions against the palestinian people.

    it makes her neither racist, bigoted nor anti-semitic.

    it makes her brave.

    link to mediadecoder.blogs.nytimes.com

  3. Avi
    June 8, 2010, 9:47 am

    Now this gutsy, plucky character who for me embodied what the real spirit of US journalism is and should be, far more than stenographers-of-power Press Corps colleagues in their prime, meets an undignified end to her career, with ignoble reactions…

    Thank you for your service, Helen Thomas. May there be more like you to emerge in the media landscape. I hope you continue to speak up well after 90.

    Hear, hear!

    • Susie Kneedler
      June 8, 2010, 10:43 am

      When is a “Sorry” not a “Sorry”?
      When it’s a “Lobby Furore.”

      More about the double standard: Steve Rosen spied for Israel against the U.S., even betraying secrets about the American government’s policy toward Iran. NPR’s “On the Media” offered Steve Rosen as the arbiter of how others must censor their criticism of Israel. Brooke Gladstone, the host, let stand Rosen’s thesis that Israel’s supposed welfare trumps any truth or journalistic integrity: link to mondoweiss.net, link to onthemedia.org.

      Gladstone defrauded listeners–covering for Rosen?–by omitting Rosen’s past federal espionage indictments. Why did Gladstone ask nothing about “dual loyalty”– if not “single”–to a foreign country? Steve Rosen, rather than say he was sorry as Thomas did, sued AIPAC for firing him, claiming that passing secret documents to Israel was officially part of his job.

      Helen Thomas answered a question about Israel with exasperation about the decades-long Occupation, and has since apologized for saying that Jewish people should “go home.” Helen Thomas has now been fired, and dropped from speaking engagements, after decades of worthy service holding Presidents to account.

      “On the Media” boasts that it “examines threats to the freedom of information and expression in America and abroad” link to onthemedia.org.
      So, how about truly examining the “imprisonment of information and expression” Israel in the U.S., “OtM”? Will you and NPR invite Thomas to explain her views, as well as consult her about what’s permissible to say on Palestine/Israel, as you did Rosen?

      • Psychopathic god
        June 8, 2010, 2:59 pm

        C Span Wash Journal had a “How much do you hate Helen Thomas” segment. The host pushed back against callers who supported Thomas.

        One caller said, “Why do we complain about Helen Thomas when someone who works for AIPAC spied on the US?”
        The host said the caller was wrong.
        Caller insisted: “I read it in Washington Post. …. Steve [sic] Weissman worked for AIPAC, spied on US for Israel.”
        Host was nonplussed, ended the call, rather abruptly.

        I suspect there is a zionist gatekeeper in the C Span organization. But in addition, participants in the Washington Bubble cannot form concepts that are critical of Israel; the mental tools, skills, networks, information sets are simply not available to them.

        Mainstream Protestants and Catholics (huge broad brush here, I know) are generally, “go along, get along, don’t make waves, CERTAINLY never say ANYTHING that might be perceived as shhhh, don’t say it…. antisemitic. Baby-faced, blue-eyed, Irish Catholic Steve Scully fits the mold to a T.
        It’s not just that it could be a career-ender, or a social relationship ender (see the video from SanFrancisco), it’s a habit of mind that ‘s deeply ingrained. Karin Friedemann calls the constellation of behaviors the “inner Jew” with which most American gentiles have been brainwashed.

    • Susie Kneedler
      June 8, 2010, 10:48 am

      Thanks, Phil and Avi.

      Keith Olbermann piled on last night, thanking Thomas for resigning before he put her on the “Worsts” list.

      Stephen Colbert, where are you? You got it right praising Thomas at the 2006 White House Correspondents’ Dinner and we were all grateful. If you’re really “America’s ballsiest pundit,” prove it now. Thanks.

  4. aflecht
    June 8, 2010, 9:54 am

    I think part of the problem is that her apology made it sound like she in fact endorsed the maximalist position, and therefore made it hard to defend her from the onslaught. If she actually meant for Israelis to get out of the Occupied Territories, why didn’t she say so in her apology? None of this implies that she should have been driven out and ludicrously called an anti-semite at every turn. I just don’t see any indication from her that she didn’t take the maximalist position.

  5. Shmuel
    June 8, 2010, 9:57 am

    Part of the problem is the ambiguity: was she referring to Palestine as the whole of Israel?

    Phil,

    I think you’re trying too hard to give her the benefit of the doubt. I don’t see any ambiguity in her remark. She didn’t say they should go back to “Israel proper”, or the green line, or the ’67 borders. She said Poland and Germany. The historical reference is clear. There is nothing wrong with referring to all of I/P as occupied. Good for her, for doing that. The problem starts when you advocate ethnic cleansing as a remedy for ethnic cleansing (as Donald put it).

    I’m willing to accept that she was angry and trying to be provocative, or that she was simply caught off-guard. I’m also willing to accept her explanation that this remark does not represent her real views on the subject. It goes without saying that the hypocrisy and the double standard are infuriating, and it hurts to see someone like Thomas treated this way. But she said what she said, and it wasn’t good.

    • Mooser
      June 8, 2010, 10:22 am

      I also extend my sympathy and concern to all those Jews killed, dispossessed or occupied and blockaded by Ms. Thomas’ words.
      Her words were like commandos rappelling down a rope (under covering fire) to board the relief ship of the Jewish community.

      • MRW
        June 8, 2010, 2:20 pm

        Fucking brilliant, Mooser.

      • eGuard
        June 8, 2010, 2:25 pm

        I copy, MRW.

    • Colin Murray
      June 8, 2010, 10:27 am

      I agree. We must strive to see reality for what it is, not what we wish it were. We should recognize what she said and ask what lies behind it.

      Phil said in an earlier post “Talk about why Helen Thomas is nursing 62-year-old pain.”

    • Chu
      June 8, 2010, 10:33 am

      It wasn’t a very smart comment, and why she is speaking to a rabbi with a video camera is another subject. If she gave a thoughtful answer to the camera, we would be talking about Israel killing american and turkish citizens in the dark of night. Not the tired subject of ‘what shade of gray’ is her antisemitism.

      • MRW
        June 8, 2010, 2:20 pm

        Anyone bothered to ask for the outtakes?

      • Psychopathic god
        June 8, 2010, 3:13 pm

        don’t need the outtakes, MRW, just compare the quoted material here, the quoted material in NYT, and the actual video.

        NO ONE quotes the little exclamations of the interviewer (whoa. What do you really think of Israel?) and his followup prodding question (after he figured he had a ‘live on’ — someone who had the temerity to answer the question that was SUPPOSED to be answered, “I love Israel,” with something entirely different.

        Listen carefully.

        I don’t think it matters that Helen Thomas was forced to resign.

        Humpty Dumpty’s zio egg has been cracked. Thomas cracked it. Good on her.

      • lysias
        June 8, 2010, 2:27 pm

        If it hadn’t been this distraction, surely they would have found another one.

    • robin
      June 8, 2010, 3:06 pm

      I totally agree, Shmuel. Although I would note that I don’t think these are Phil’s comments, but Khoury’s. Phil agrees with you on this.

      • Shmuel
        June 8, 2010, 3:15 pm

        You’re right, robin. It is El Khoury. Got confused.

  6. wondering jew
    June 8, 2010, 10:07 am

    Jack Ross’s piece was less than mediocre. (Stalin blocked the DP’s from going back to Poland! Do you believe that? Does he have any proof to back up such claims? This is what you publish on your blog?) And Phil you must be thick not to understand what she said. She didn’t say go back to Israel proper. She didn’t imply it. C’mon. Be a real judge here, an umpire and not Helen Thomas’s advocate. She didn’t even claim that for herself. You’re not being honest. If we can’t at least get honesty from you, then what are you worth?

    • Chu
      June 8, 2010, 10:24 am

      Are you now occupying Witty’s seat?
      That’s what it sounds like.

      • lareineblanche
        June 8, 2010, 2:27 pm

        No, WJ is much more coherent than Witty – which is not saying much – and sometimes comes up with a real argument.

    • Mooser
      June 8, 2010, 4:10 pm

      “If we can’t at least get honesty from you, then what are you worth?”

      Wondering Jew, I just want to warn you, I mentioned you to one of my correspondents, and he said “Wondering Jew, isn’t he the guy who comments on Mondoweiss all the time, another self-hater, isn’t he?”
      So why not run away now, before your name is forever conflated with this dishonest website? It’s your reputation which is sullied by your presence here, Wondering Jew. Does your poor sweet Mom know where you hang out? What if it rubs off on you?

    • wondering jew
      June 8, 2010, 9:14 pm

      Sorry, Phil. I didn’t read carefully enough to realize that these were Ann el Khoury’s words and not yours. That you find her inspiring is sad, but not dishonest.

    • braciole
      June 9, 2010, 7:24 am

      FWIW, w-j, I agree with you that Helen Thomas meant that Israeli Jews should return to where they or their parents came from and I for one agree with her! Anti-Semitism must be confronted everywhere it exists so that all Israeli Jews can safely return from whence they came. If they wish to remain in Palestine as individuals, that must be allowed but Israel, for a variety of reasons (failure to declare borders, in-built racism, past and current ethnic cleansing of the indigenous popluation and other war crimes, war-based relations with neighbouring countries, etc.) has given up the “right to exist” just as did Imperial Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, the Dutch, British and French Empires, etc.

  7. maximalistNarrative
    June 8, 2010, 10:07 am

    There is no moral defense of her horribly hurtful comments.

    • MRW
      June 8, 2010, 2:31 pm

      What was “hurtful” was killing aid workers in international waters execution style.

    • lareineblanche
      June 8, 2010, 8:12 pm

      maximalistNarrative, I clicked on your link, and landed on Pravd – I mean, Ha’aretz. I was horribly hurt by the fact that you misrepresent the year as Sivan 27, 5770 – willl you change that, please, or resign?

  8. braciole
    June 8, 2010, 10:23 am

    Not forgeting the <a href="link to talkingpointsmemo.com bigotry of liberals such as Josh Marshall:

    Yesterday I was at a family event and one close friend of ours who was understandably unhappy about this episode noted that his father lost his wife and children in Poland and barely managed to get out alive before settling in Palestine and starting a new family — of which this son was the first child.
    I didn’t need that example. I know the story pretty well. But, how to say it? Things didn’t work out that well in Poland. And there’s a dark comedy about all the folks in Europe now yelling at the Jews to “get out of Palestine” after their great grandparents were yelling at the Jews to “go to Palestine” and get out of … take your pick, Poland, Austria, Russia, Romania etc.
    Relatedly, I can’t help but notice that statements like these seem to come out of people very late in life. It’s like a pattern. Our internal censors atrophy deep in old age, though that only suggests that unspeakable views were earlier kept under wraps.
    This is a bloody history, filled with a lot of suffering by Jews and Arabs alike. The West Bank is full of people whose grandparents were kicked out of Jaffa and Haifa and other now-Israeli cities. And where do the Mizrahi Jews go? Should they go back to Iraq? Iran? Syria? And Egypt? Can they get their homes back? It’s a bloody history and there’s a way to solve it — along the Green Line. And people need to go back to living in the present not in history.

    Is Mr Marshall refering to all people? Somehow, I doubt it. So it is fine for Jews to use their history as justification for their actions, as Mr Marshall accepts for his friends descended from Polish Jews. But the inference is that Palestinians must ignore their history of ethnic cleansing by Zionists. Perhaps it is time for Josh Marshall to resign, but I’m not holding my breath.

    BTW, perhaps he should remember that many Jewish victims of the Nazi wanted to resettle in the United States both before and after the war but they were refused permission because of zionist lobbying and had to go to Palestine as a result.

    • braciole
      June 8, 2010, 10:28 am

      Anti-Palestinian bigotry of liberals such as Josh Marshall.

      Can we have a preview button please Phil.

    • sherbrsi
      June 8, 2010, 11:29 am

      Braciole,

      I doubt that statement will get him anywhere. It’s an accepted tenet of liberal Zionism, this hypocrisy of telling the Palestinians to “move on,” and the Jews to “Never Forget.” AFAIK Roger Cohen made a similar statement, and I’m sure there are many others.

      • lysias
        June 8, 2010, 11:37 am

        I understand Talleyrand said about the Bourbons that they forgot nothing and learned nothing during the first session of the Congress of Vienna (before Napoleon’s 100-day restoration).

        Anybody got a citation for the quote?

      • MHughes976
        June 8, 2010, 3:58 pm

        There’s a website called Les Mots Qui Restent, which gives the origin of this phrase to a French naval officer writing to the journalist Jacques Mallet du Pan in 1796 – both were royalists in exile – referring (maybe a bit unfairly) to the Declaration of Verona, in which the future Louis XVIII made himself seem too reactionary. Mallet’s correspondence was published in 1851.
        The French royalists had a massive sense of historical entitlement, something which isn’t good for compromise.
        I read somewhere that you can spot a royalist in Paris these days because they attend the Madeleine Church, wear green (plus, if female, a feathered hat) and sit bolt upright.

      • thankgodimatheist
        June 9, 2010, 2:38 am

        ” Ils n’ont rien appris, ni rien oublié.”
        Talleyrand
        link to devoir-de-philosophie.com

      • thankgodimatheist
        June 9, 2010, 5:11 am

        “wear green”
        What they actually wear is the greenish loden, a traditional Austrian hunting coat . Very ‘bon chic bon genre’, the French equivalent of the British ‘Sloane Rangers’ look and to a certain degree the American preppy’s . The shoes are always either J.M Weston or Church’s..
        How do I know?..It’s a long story…

      • demize
        June 9, 2010, 12:45 pm

        At least they weren’t wearing deer-stalkers like some Casuals were at one point, now that was rediculous.

    • MRW
      June 8, 2010, 2:32 pm

      Does Josh Marshall make that argument about Netanyahu Pere?

    • demize
      June 8, 2010, 3:25 pm

      I read that, typical establisment Liberal bullshit.

    • wondering jew
      June 8, 2010, 7:29 pm

      braciole- The claim that Jews who wanted to flee to the United States before WWII were refused permission because of zionist lobbying is nonsense. Certainly the zionists wanted the US to refuse them permission, but the US permission was refused because of the US congress, the US people and the depression.

      • braciole
        June 9, 2010, 6:57 am

        I can quite vividly recall reading a piece several months ago where an American Zionist was reported as having claimed that he had influenced a congressman to oppose Jewish immigration prior to the war. The reason it is quite vivid is that I had always thought that American objections to Jewish immigration was due to the anti-Semitism among many of the officials concerned with immigration policy. Perhaps he really did influence the congressman or perhaps he was just bullshitting but one must always believe everything a Zionist claims otherwise one is an anti-Semite. As to whether or not a single congressman could have that much influence, recent history suggests he can. Sorry, there I go, living in the past again.

  9. lysias
    June 8, 2010, 11:24 am

    Joe Biden and his wife arrived in Sharm El Sheikh at the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt yesterday. The itinerary for their week-long trip includes Egypt, Kenya, and South Africa, but not — apparently — Israel. On Board: The Vice President and Second Lady in Egypt.

    I wonder if Egypt will continue to leave its border with Gaza open.

    • potsherd
      June 8, 2010, 12:43 pm

      They’ve announced it will be open indefinitely. But not fully open. They still aren’t allowing concrete etc in, or a delegation from the Muslim Brotherhood.

    • demize
      June 8, 2010, 3:27 pm

      It would be pleasant if any of those locations would keep him.

  10. Formerly T-Bear
    June 8, 2010, 11:45 am

    History and the world were a lot different when Helen Thomas learned it and the recalled facts are much different for her as well. To pass judgment upon the Lady set at today’s standards is perversely anachronistic, Helen was obviously speaking from anamnesis that most no longer share, and fueled by honest outrage at the inhumanity exhibited. The world has less integrity than Helen Thomas, and nary a foot to stand on to level criticism in her direction. If anything, Helen Thomas’ remarks were righteously drawn. On this, the world needs to listen, stifle its ill-considered opinions, and Respect an Elder.

    One last remark, what shabby treatment Helen Thomas ended her service, only adds to the light being shown upon the atrocities and wrongs being perpetrated upon a weak, proud, and honorable peoples. In that, Helen goes in a blaze of glory.

  11. Debonnaire
    June 8, 2010, 11:51 am

    This must be the same Josh Marshall who looked like a frightened nebbish when he was on a panel with Martin Bormann a.k.a. Richard Perle. There’s the so-called “Greatest Generation”. Then there’s the Josh Marshall Generation who bends over, shakes, and bawls like a child in the face of Zionazi Evil. However unfortunate her remark- Helen Thomas always stood for the right things. And, deserved a lot better than to be lynched by cowardly hypocritical PC police Jews complicit in Israel’s crimes.

  12. traintosiberia
    June 8, 2010, 12:35 pm

    Who lost the job for allowing the mass distribution of the videos “Obsession:Radical Isalm war against the West”through the famed news paper like WSJ and N Y Times.?

    Did he lose the job who called Palestinian “Lemmings” and did he who called muslim and Palestinian as crocodiles?

    • MRW
      June 8, 2010, 2:36 pm

      Ari Fleischer is on the Board of Directors of the Republican Jewish Coalition who, with Danny Ayalon’s letter as Knesset member for Yisrael Beitenu, distributed the Obsession DVD in all major papers up and down the eastern seaboard. Source: jewsonfirst.org

      They are also behind the Obama is a Muslim smear.

  13. hayate
    June 8, 2010, 2:42 pm

    Good to see somebody standing up for Thomas. The double standard in the usa because of zionist pressure/control is abominable. One can say what they want about Muslims, and the racism in the mainstream, zionist controlled media is rampant, but one word of criticism of israel and you’re out and treated as the devil incarnate. These people, zionists, are creating their own backlash, and the more they do this crap, the larger the backlash will be.

    • Mooser
      June 8, 2010, 4:22 pm

      And, as Wondering Jew so willingly and ingenuously shows, any Zionists isupporter is able to question both the honesty, morality and facts of any person on earth, and that in the most accusatory, self-righteous terms. As Wondering Jew says “If we can’t at least get honesty from you, then what are you worth?”

      Dentists in Israel must make a fortune replacing front teeth.

      • hayate
        June 8, 2010, 8:57 pm

        Usually one or two posts is all I need to figure out who is a sayanim/hasbarat, after that ignore their arguments as they’re strawmen, anyway. Leaves more time to read what the humans on a site write. ;D

  14. DICKERSON3870
    June 8, 2010, 4:08 pm

    RE: “…I would hope a sense of proportion and perspective prevails.” Weiss
    MY COMMENT: A sense of proportion and perspective? How un-American! Go back to Baltimore, Weiss! Where is that anyway, France?

  15. MHughes976
    June 8, 2010, 5:07 pm

    Modern Europe could not have existed without the Jewish contribution based on the ability to look on Christian developments and achievements with a sceptical, not necessarily an unfriendly, eye. The combined effect of the anti-Semitic backlash and of the Zionist response to anti-Semitism deprived the modern Euro world of a part of itself to which a debt of gratitude was owed and replaced it with this unnatural, inauthentic relationship with a colony. From the Israeli side Laor’s ‘Myths of Liberal Zionism’ reminds us of how strong the connection between the Israeli intellectual class and its Euro counterpart, particularly its French counterpart, still is. I learned a lot from Laor, but the importance of the French connection is something I particularly hadn’t appreciated.
    None of that means that the post-war decision by many Jews (and many non-Jews) that the Zionists had proved their point is not very understandable, though I still think (recognising that they had faced pressures I can hardly imagine) it was a mistake. I can’t read Helen Thomas’ mind, but if she was speaking from a point of view don’t think that there was anything inhumane or anti-Semitic or crassly ill-informed about it.
    That said, I still very much wish she’d said ‘Share Palestine with the Palestinians’ rather than ‘Get the hell out’. She may of course share, perhaps subconsciously, the Zionist belief that ‘it’s us or them’, that acceptance of Palestinian rights means that the Jews will become a rapidly diminishing minority, gettting out as quickly as may be. I think I’ve heard Benny Morris make this point.

  16. tommy
    June 8, 2010, 8:43 pm

    The Americans in Palestine and the Americans serving in the IDF should be indicted and tried for the same crimes that sent John Walker Lindh to federal prison for twenty years. They need to come home for their justice.

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