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In Defense of Helen Thomas

Earlier today, I came across a You Tube video that was posted by a "friend"  on Facebook. The fellow who posted it is a blogger, and he made the point that Thomas should not be allowed to practice journalism because of a two minute clip that was evidently taken from a much longer interview that seemed to indicate Thomas's belief that the Palestinians are the rightful inhabitants of Israel, and that Israel should "go back to Germany."

Both the subject line, and the general tone of the post was inflammatory, and hysterical. The blogger cried out against Helen Thomas's "bias" at the same time he posted a video from a site claiming to be "Rabbi.org." Is there not bias there?

Further, there was the suggestion Helen Thomas favors deporting Jews back io Germany with the attendant innuendo of extermination as if that's all the Germans should be remembered for is gas chambers. Apart from the obvious anachronism, it struck me as egregiously unfair, so I posted a comment suggesting that the blogger consider:

1) Helen Thomas will turn 90 years old in exactly two months from today
2) Ms. Thomas is of Lebanese descent.
3) She was among John F. Kennedy's most beloved reporters, and is a widely respected journalist who has been in the newspaper business for 60 years.

I got a nasty comment in response, so I responded by saying only that the blogger who posted this inflammatory video clip ought to consider going after prominent columnists like Robert Fisk, and others who have consistently sided with Palestinians and suggested Israel was an occupying force with no right to the land. It never occurred to this blogger that maybe, just maybe, Ms. Thomas is still not over the Israeli bombing of Beirut, a town which may have a family history to her.

This was a short video, and not a written article in a newspaper. I merely suggested the blogger go after those who call themselves journalists and make their opinions known in print, and who are widely publsihed and widely regarded instead of an older woman who can't, or won't fight back.

So, let me be perfectly clear. There are some who will seize upon this crisis to create hostility among people who they should count their friends. There are some who will intentionally clip others' words, as if they were clipping coupons, thereby devaluing both the context and the substance. There are some who aren't happy unless they impose their own miserable mindset on the rest of the world.

Things are not black and white. I have no investment in Israel, Palestine, or Hamas. My only investment is in truth and justice, and it is flat out unfair, false, and unjust to call out a 90 year old female writer for saying things that many others have been saying for months with impunity both in the American alternative press, and the European one.

I'm old enough to remember when Vanessa Redgrave was blacklisted for her statement the night of the Academy Awards. I thought it was wrong for her to be met with such universal condemnation then, and I think it's wrong now. People should, and must be allowed to express their opinions---off the time clock---whether they're housewives, Hollywood actors, and mainstream reporters.

Guess I'm naive enough to think we have a First Amendment, and sometimes it might even work.

Those who insist on seeing the world only in black and white will soon be color blind.

Comments
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I had not been aware of this

I had not been aware of this story, Jayne. This issue is so painful and complex! There are at least two sides. And I agree that Helen Thomas, at age 90, is not such a significant player that she should be singled out for attack. And I do wonder about some anti-femiale bias at play. However, I was quite startled by her suggestion that the Jews "go back to Germany." Did she really say this? Even allowing for her age (90) and her Lebanese background, it is shockingly ignorant. There are other ways to make the point about returning to one's country of origin. (Not a point I agree with!  But if she wanted to make this argument, why phrase it in a way that is so inflammatory and just plain wrong?)People far less sophisticated than Thomas know that the majority of Jews who died in the Holocaust lived in Eastern Europe, not Germany. So "go back to Germany" is either ignorant or blatantly anti-semitic (an allusion to Hitler's Final Solution.) I'd read previously that the majority of Jewish Holocaust victims came from Poland. I knew that that far fewer came from Germany, but I wondered about the numbers. A few moments of research confirmed this. In fact, I was surprised at the magnitude of the difference. Here are are a few figures, from a wikepedia entry, for numbers of Jews killed in the Holocaust, by country: 3,000,000 Poland 900,000 Ukraine 200,000 Germany and Austria http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Holocaust Probably the best defense of Helen Thomas is that, at age 90, she is no longer cognitively intact. For that reason, maybe she should be cut a little slack, as long as she is not in a position of power or influence.

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Okay, I looked up the

Okay, I looked up the video. Thomas was interviewed after a White House Jewish Heritage event. She was asked for a comment about Israel and said that the Jews should "Get the hell out of Israel" and were occupying Palestinian land. She said they should "go back to "Poland--and Germany." She also added "America."

It was off the cuff. Someone shoved a mic in her face. It was not a pointed "Go back to Germany!" She did list Poland first. She was expressing, perhaps clumsily, a position that many others have taken.

She has now apologized.

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Blair

Hi, Blair,

Many thanks for your comment, and for putting Thomas's remark in context.

Sam Stein wrote a good report, as always, on yesterday's Huffington Post that I recommend. He quotes Ari Fleischer as calling for Thomas to be fired. Whether we agreement with her or not, Ms. Thomas is protected under the First Amendment and, frankly, whatever work she continues to do is, at this point, a public service. She doesn't need the job, or the money.

What gets me is how many pundits, journalists, writers for topnotch celebrated papers like "The Nation" openly take the same position as Helen Thomas does--maybe not using such inflammatory language. Take Robert Fisk, for example. He's been called an anti-Semite, yet I've never heard anyone demand he be fired for anything he's written, and there are others, many others, more on the other side of the pond than this one.

I guess, in the end, it's easier for guys like Ari Fleischer to pick on 90 year old grandmothers than men who are closer to their own size, and then they talk about a war on terror.

No one should have to worry about being fired for expressing a viewpoint that may be seen as heretical to others. Remember, too, that Thomas did not write these opinions in a newspaper column, but made them in an off the cuff interview after an event as you sugggest.

We should thank Helen Thomas for her more than 60 years of service to this country, and for being the only one with the chutzpah to ask a sitting president why the hell we're still in Afghanistan.

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Blair

Hi, Blair,

Many thanks for your comment, and for putting Thomas's remark in context.

Sam Stein wrote a good report, as always, on yesterday's Huffington Post that I recommend. He quotes Ari Fleischer as calling for Thomas to be fired. Whether we agreement with her or not, Ms. Thomas is protected under the First Amendment and, frankly, whatever work she continues to do is, at this point, a public service. She doesn't need the job, or the money.

What gets me is how many pundits, journalists, writers for topnotch celebrated papers like "The Nation" openly take the same position as Helen Thomas does--maybe not using such inflammatory language. Take Robert Fisk, for example. He's been called an anti-Semite, yet I've never heard anyone demand he be fired for anything he's written, and there are others, many others, more on the other side of the pond than this one.

I guess, in the end, it's easier for guys like Ari Fleischer to pick on 90 year old grandmothers than men who are closer to their own size, and then they talk about a war on terror.

No one should have to worry about being fired for expressing a viewpoint that may be seen as heretical to others. Remember, too, that Thomas did not write these opinions in a newspaper column, but made them in an off the cuff interview after an event as you sugggest.

We should thank Helen Thomas for her more than 60 years of service to this country, and for being the only one with the chutzpah to ask a sitting president why the hell we're still in Afghanistan.

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btw

This is not, in any way, to impugn Robert Fisk or The Nation. I have the highest regard for both the writer and the magazine, and think it's time to stop browbeating anyone who presents a controversial argument, or appears to be biased in favor of Palestine.

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btw

This is not, in any way, to impugn Robert Fisk or The Nation. I have the highest regard for both the writer and the magazine, and think it's time to stop browbeating anyone who presents a controversial argument, or appears to be biased in favor of Palestine.

Comment Bubble Tip

btw

This is not, in any way, to impugn Robert Fisk or The Nation. I have the highest regard for both the writer and the magazine, and think it's time to stop browbeating anyone who presents a controversial argument, or appears to be biased in favor of Palestine.

Comment Bubble Tip

And just to be clear,

And just to be clear, myself: I in no way think there was any kind of reasonable "back" for the Jews who survived the Holocaust to return to. And let's face it, the victorious Allies, including the United States, had not exactly opened their doors. My feeling is the only possible answer, at this point, is a two state solution of some kind.

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two state solution

I couldn't agree more, Blair, but can't help thinking about Korea. Has a two state solution worked there? As long as Israel, and the Palestinians are still officially at war, there can't live side by side without what can only be called a cease fire not a solution.

Ultimately, Israelis, Palestinians, and Hamas must work out a solution to their own problems with guidance from the international community. The United States no more has a right to enforce a peace agreement, genuine or fabricated, than England or France would have had a right to enforce a peace agreement when the U.S. was embroiled in a Civil War.

And, you're quite right, at the end of the Second World War, Jews liberated from the camps were no more welcome in this country than anywhere else. Remember, it was intellectuals, too, in Poland, Austria, and Germany who worked with Hitler not just the soldiers on the front lines.

No matter how visceral our response to Israel, we must never allow that kind of virulent anti-Semitism to take hold ever again. Israel's actions now are enabling it, unfortunately, and making it possible for those who were closet anti-Semites to openly abjur what they call "Zionists." Not all Jews in Israel are Zionists. That's like saying all Americans are teabaggers.

Comment Bubble Tip

two state solution

I couldn't agree more, Blair, but can't help thinking about Korea. Has a two state solution worked there? As long as Israel, and the Palestinians are still officially at war, there can't live side by side without what can only be called a cease fire not a solution.

Ultimately, Israelis, Palestinians, and Hamas must work out a solution to their own problems with guidance from the international community. The United States no more has a right to enforce a peace agreement, genuine or fabricated, than England or France would have had a right to enforce a peace agreement when the U.S. was embroiled in a Civil War.

And, you're quite right, at the end of the Second World War, Jews liberated from the camps were no more welcome in this country than anywhere else. Remember, it was intellectuals, too, in Poland, Austria, and Germany who worked with Hitler not just the soldiers on the front lines.

No matter how visceral our response to Israel, we must never allow that kind of virulent anti-Semitism to take hold ever again. Israel's actions now are enabling it, unfortunately, and making it possible for those who were closet anti-Semites to openly abjur what they call "Zionists." Not all Jews in Israel are Zionists. That's like saying all Americans are teabaggers.