On Helen Thomas

See update below. Update II.

Anti-Semitism is a quick and painful accusation whenever it comes to criticizing Israel’s politics. The State of Israel has to comply, of course, with international law. Previous (Gaza 2008/09) and recent activities (raiding the Gaza Flotilla on May 31) have to be condemned in any case. Criticism has nothing to do with anti-Semitism.

I have to admit, though, that I feel sympathy (and pity) with 89-year-old Helen Thomas, whose parents were Lebanese, the doyenne of the White House Press Corps, a legend of political (main stream) journalism, after she had failed to respond deliberately when asked by Rabbi David Nesenoff, what she thinks about Israel.

On May 27, she gave the following interview in front of the White House on the occasion of the Jewish Heritage Celebration Day:

Nesenoff: Any comments on Israel?

Thomas: Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine. (laughs)

Nesenoff: Oooh. Any better comments on Israel?

Thomas: (still laughing) Remember, these people are occupied and it’s their land. It’s not Germany, it’s not Poland …

Nesenoff: So where should they go, what should they do?

Thomas: They go home.

Nesenoff: Where’s the home?

Thomas: Poland. Germany.

Nesenoff: So you’re saying the Jews go back to Poland and Germany?

Thomas: And America and everywhere else. Why push people out of there who have lived there for centuries? See?

What did she mean? Poland and Germany? Jewish populations have been eradicated by the Nazis from these countries during World War II. As Juan Cole recently wrote, there is currently a growing Jewish community in particular in Germany, even larger than during the Nazi regime. She may have pointed to the fact that Israel is inhabited by immigrant Jews, not Jews who had lived in the ‘holy land’ for millennia. She may have just been overwhelmed by ambiguous feelings. At the end of the interview she points to her Arabic background.

Helen Thomas is not an anti-Semite. Her verbal derailment led to coercive retirement from Hearst Corp, though.

Update June 11, 2010: See also the points raised by Alison Weir on America’s bigotry at counterpunch.com.

Update II, June 17, 2010: Today, Mark LeVine on Al Jazeera builds a bridge between brave  Helen Thomas and Senator Charles Schumer’s scandalous remarks on Gaza and how Israel could strangulate it (“They don’t believe in the Torah, in David”) he made during a brief talk to the Orthodox Union, a well-known politically conservative Jewish educational, outreach and social service organisation.  You may find the video here.

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