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Thank you for your service, Helen Thomas

Veteran US press corp reporter Helen Thomas has announced her resignation in the wake of recent off-the-cuff comments she made to a roving rabbi with a camcorder. Add me to the list of those who are far more saddened by the overblown fallout surrounding her remarks than about the remark itself, only part of which was inflammatory. To recap, in the video clip she is 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. George W. Bush’s press secretary Ari Fleischer claimed her comments amount to “religious cleansing”, and others’ reactions have been worse, most notably from those who themselves could be considered apologists for past administrations. After being dropped from a number of things such as a speaker’s bureau, the Board of the White House Correspondent’s Association is to convene a “special meeting” on Thursday “to decide on the seating issue” because “the incident … revive(s) the issue of whether it is appropriate for an opinion columnist to have a front row seat in the WH briefing room.” (!)

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.

Cross-posted at PULSE

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13 comments on “Thank you for your service, Helen Thomas

  1. Duder
    8 June, 2010

    A truly sad day for journalism and the United States. Can we now officially dispense with the myth that actual journalism exists in the States?

  2. Marie V
    8 June, 2010

    A very sad sad sad day for the USA and for Pres Obama
    and for the rest of the world not voicing their opinion…shame!!!

  3. Dean
    8 June, 2010

    She might have but I doubt hers was the maximalist position and I am willing to give her the benefit of the doubt unless she indicates otherwise.

    Thanks, Ann. I didn’t know there was a formal term for my position, which I’ve held since I started paying attention to the US role in all this. I’ll take special pride in being a maximalist from now on! :D

    Why would she need the benefit of any doubt? You make it sound as if a thinking person would be an instant anathema to even entertain such a possibility. Good thinking requires a look at all possibilities in my way of thinking. No possibility is out of bounds until I find the reason behind it.

    What she said sounded pretty clear to me. I heard her to mean everything that was stolen from Arabs except those parcels where Jews can produce deeds from the Ottoman era. The net present value of the property of Palestinians seized in the ethnic cleansing of 1948. You know – a standard title search. Anyone who buys a house these days has to pay for one.

    Rewarding Jews for stealing Palestine by bloody murder and then not mentioning that fact in polite society would seem to prolong their eventual reunion with reality. Is it a kindness to allow deluded people to keep their delusions?

    Let them keep the spoils, but for Pete’s sake don’t re-write history because some Jews don’t like to hear the truth.

    Helen certainly exercised poor judgment to say what she was thinking out loud in that context here in Washington, but I have no problem with what she was thinking. I think about that all the time.

    Palestinians are expected to live in exile to make room for Jews “returning” from Europe, and Jews want Palestinians to re-write their textbooks?

    Sorry but the emperor is not wearing any clothes.

    I better press submit quick. I think I hear sirens. Maybe they’re coming for me too.

  4. Robin Yassin-Kassab
    8 June, 2010

    I agree with Dean. Even if Helen Thomas was adopting a maximalist position, I think she’s entitled to. Israeli Jews will have the right to live in occupied and ethnically-cleansed Palestine (which is all of it, from the river to the sea) when the refugees return home and apartheid ends. Until then, the colonists remain colonists.

  5. Ann
    8 June, 2010

    Dean and Robin, I appreciate that. I’ve amended that sentence to refer more specifically to two staters.

  6. Dean
    8 June, 2010

    Fair use to cross pollinate this quote @PhilWeiss.

    But the more important point is that the cries of “historical ignorance” by the Zionists only reflect their own. It was the Zionists, with a mighty assist from Stalin, who stood in the way of the surviving Jews of Europe being able to return to the only homes they ever knew. The anti-Zionists of that time, most notably the great Lessing Rosenwald, passionately and rightly argued that the suggestion that the Jews should not simply cast down their buckets but be transferred en masse to Palestine was an insult to all that the war against Hitler had been fought to achieve. Along with his friends in the Reform rabbinate, Rosenwald had also not been shy about calling out the proposition that there existed a Jewish “nation” for what it was – a fundamental and dangerous concession to the doctrine of Hitler. Indeed, per Helen Thomas, there could be no happier consequence of the fall of Zionism than the rebirth of Judaism in Poland that we have already seen in Germany.

    Jack Ross is author of a forthcoming book on the American Council for Judaism and Rabbi Elmer Berger.

  7. Pingback: In Helen Thomas case, the world sees a taboo being enforced

  8. rykart
    8 June, 2010

    No person of conscience has the slightest sympathy for Israelis.

    They OUGHT to be expelled or done away with, before they cause a nuclear conflagration.

    They are not members of the world community and their rights are zero.

  9. Mark
    8 June, 2010

    And who gets to determine this status? What happens if I decide that YOU ought to be expelled or done away with? Where does that line of reasoning end?

    Your thinking is no different from Hitler’s.

  10. Hi_people
    8 June, 2010

    His thinking is wrong, but Israel does violate international law day in and day out.
    The mainstream media is yet again tabooing anything against Israel. If a Muslim speaks out, he/she’s a terrorist, if an American speaks out, he/she’s a fanatic, and if a journalist speaks out she’s forced to resign… what a disgrace! What happened to freedom of the press and freedom of speech?
    There is a HUGE difference between anti-Israel, anti-Jewish, and anti-Semite. Arabs are Semites. Israel does not represent Jews in any way. These comments are anti-ISRAEL, not anti-Jewish or anti-Semite (how can she be racist against her own people?), and rightfully so because of Israel’s crimes that no one dare lift a finger against.
    The hijacked media did this to send a message so no one else would ever speak up ever again about all the mass murdering Israel does… invading ships in international waters, setting up illegal blockades, settlements, bombing random houses, 8,000 civilian prisoners to one military prisoner, no food, water, et cetera, and censoring the media. Thanks a lot, Obama, for bringing “peace” to the Middle East.

  11. Pingback: The Progressive Mind » In Helen Thomas case, the world sees a taboo being enforced

  12. Pingback: Thank you for your service, Helen Thomas « band annie’s Weblog

  13. Michael Thompson
    9 June, 2010

    Well done Helen Thomas for her anti-colonialist and frank views……..she certainly needed to add no apology……

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This entry was posted on 8 June, 2010 by in Israel, Media, Palestine and tagged .

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