CST Blog

More Thoughts on Helen Thomas

14 June 2010

This is a cross post from the Z-Word Blog and the Jewish Chronicle, by Winston Pickett:

For media watchers familiar with the White House Press Corps, the saga of Helen Thomas is has served up a pungent lesson on how antisemitic ideas can pollute and ultimately force a 58-year career to crash, burn and splutter to an inglorious conclusion.

Thomas, the 89-year-old White House columnist for Hearst newspapers, was caught on a homemade video last week declaring that Jews should “get the hell out of Palestine” and “go back home to live in Germany and Poland”. On Monday she announced her retirement following a barrage of criticism including that of President Barack Obama, who called her remarks “offensive” and “out of line.”

The episode brought to an end a high-profile career that had begun as a correspondent for UPI in 1960 with the presidency of John F. Kennedy and has covered every occupant of the Oval Office ever since. Lauded as a trailblazer, Thomas is credited with having broken several glass ceilings as a Lebanese-American and first female officer of the National Press Club as well as of White House Correspondents’ Association.

Open about her anti-Israel views, Thomas had been wincingly tolerated for her baited questions at White House press briefings. Last week, she declared Israel’s military response to the Mavi Marmara as a ‘massacre’ and an ‘international crime’.   During the 2006 Lebanon War she peppered Bush Press Secretary Tony Snow with so many tendentious and factually erroneous questions that Snow had to cut her off for ‘hectoring’.

What ultimately did Helen Thomas in, however, was off-the-cuff response caught on-camera by Rabbi David Nesenoff, a Reform rabbi from Long Island. Nesenoff, who runs RabbiLIVE.com, had just emerged from the Jewish American Heritage Month reception at the White House with his son Adam and a friend. In the video clip Nesenoff is audibly taken aback by the laughter-laced glibness of Thomas’ blurt that Jews should ‘get the hell out of Palestine’.

One has to ask just what element it was that proved fatal for Thomas’s career. For some critics it was the airbrushing of the Nazi era and that Jewish survivors of Hitler’s Europe who did try to ‘return home’ to Germany and Poland either languished in Displaced Persons Camps or were massacred when they got there.

For Europeans - and particularly the left wing British press - Thomas’s words may have been ‘controversial’ and ‘anti-establishment’ but she was also the victim of a campaign by which she was ‘demonized marginalised and finally excluded from public debate.’

A more compelling answer is that her words gave a glimpse into the same hate-filled worldview that enabled Thomas - in an interview earlier this year - to claim that “Zionists have vast power” and ultimately control American foreign policy.

In polite society - and in the public discourse about the media coverage we often steer clear of using the word ‘anti-Semitic’. It somehow suggests knowledge of ‘motivation’ - or divination into a person’s heart. While intuitively self-evident, the link between public words and inner thoughts is too often wrapped in obfuscation and denial.

But what Helen Thomas did in her dotage (old age has its advantages) was to say what she really feels. And what she really feels is that Jews are an occupying power - that they usurped the land and that they should go back to their countries of origin, ignorant that Jews live around our world.

This was and still is an anti-Semitic motif, particularly in context of post-WWII. It feeds directly into the pan-Arabist narrative perpetrated by the Muslim Brotherhood, Al Qaeda, Hamas, Khomeinism and the host of totalitarian Islamic ideologies that portray the Jews and Israel as illegitimate, infidels, no better than the Nazis and warranting wholesale extirpation.

Helen Thomas’s words provided a smoking gun. Suddenly watchers of a YouTube video gone viral were able catch a glimpse of her inner world.  In a nanosecond decades of nasty comments, remonstrations with White House press secretaries and ‘hard-hitting’ questions alleging bias in America’s foreign policy towards Israel were exposed for what they are: pure, unencumbered bias. With her impromptu comments to a father with his son and his friend, all flushed with celebrating what it means to be a Jewish American, Helen Thomas spoke hateful words with laughter and exposed herself for the bigot she is.

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