How Helen Thomas blew herself up

In my latest for the Guardian, I take a look at Helen Thomas’ descent into garden-variety anti-Semitism — a descent that was many years in the making.

99 thoughts on “How Helen Thomas blew herself up

  1. BP Myers

    It was disingenuous then, and it is disingenuous now, to question why Iraq would bomb Israel after the United States attacked them.

    Israel is either our “staunchest ally” or they are not, and in war, it is not unusual for an ally to be attacked.

    And though I consider myself a vehement supporter of Israel and their right to exist, I often ask myself what they’ve ever done for us.

  2. Steve Stein

    Points well taken on Thomas.

    I’m still waiting for the howls of outrage over Pat Buchanan’s casual anti-semitism, which has continued in a constant trickle for decades. His latest – “too many Jews on the Supreme Court” has been met with deafening silence. He’s still welcome on talk shows and in polite company.

    And where’s the outrage over Mike Huckabee’s declaration that the *Palestinians* should get out of Palestine?

    Oh, right. They’re conservatives, so no outrage will attend. Your liberal media – still not liberal.

  3. Christian Avard

    So what I want to know Dan is why is Helen Thomas fair game, but not someone like Marty Peretz? I’ve heard him say more incendiary remarks about Arabs than Helen Thomas ever will. Glenn Greenwald documents Peretz’s “incessant” and “ongoing” anti-Arab bigotry here and here. What about Mike Huckabee?

    I think Greenwald also put it aptly here.

    The central issue… is not the perception that she’s guilty of bigotry, but the wrong kind of bigotry.

    Give me a good reason how you’re not applying double-standards for Thomas vs. Peretz and Huckabee. It’s obvious you’re a Zionist Dan and nothing is more anti-Semitic than Zionism.

    Q: What do you feel is the most acceptable problem to the Palestine problem?

    A: The abandonment wholly by the Jews of terrorism and other forms of violence.” – Mahatma Ghandi, June 1, 1947

  4. Christian Avard

    If readers want to see the other side of the Helen Thomas controversy, I suggest reading Paul Jay’s In Defense of Helen Thomas – On Apologizing to Apologists, Jack Ross’ piece at Mondoweiss and Ann El Khoury, a colleague of mine at PULSE. Glenn Greenwald’s Our hard-core, adversarial press corps is also a piece worth checking out.

    “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.- Ann El Khoury, PULSE

    1. Dan Kennedy

      @Christian: The “other side” of anti-Semitism. I love it! “Help! Help! I’m trapped in my own paradigm.”

  5. Bob Gardner

    Thanks for your acknowledgement that it is hate speech to demand that one ethnic group or another should be excluded from Israel or Palestine, and that such hate speech shouldn’t be part of our discourse.
    As overdue as your acknowledgement was it is still appreciated.

  6. Christian Avard

    Before this turns into a pissing match, let me give you some examples.

    “We must expel Arabs and take their places.” Ben-Gurion in a letter to his son, 1937

    “We must use terror, assassination, intimidation, land confiscation, and the cutting of all social services to rid the Galilee of its Arab population.” – David Ben-Gurion, May 1948, to the General Staff. From Ben-Gurion, A Biography, by Michael Ben-Zohar, Delacorte, New York 1978:

    “‘Disappearing the Arabs lay at the heart of the Zionist dream, and was also a necessary condition of its realization,” Tom Segev, Israeli journalist and historian

    “If there are other inhabitants there, they must be transfered to some other place. We must take over their land,” Menahem Ussishkin, chairman of the JNF, member of the Jewish Agency, 1930

    “[The Palestinians] are beasts walking on two legs.” – Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, speech to the Knesset, quoted in Amnon Kapeliouk, “Begin and the ‘Beasts,”‘ New Statesman, June 25,1982

    “The ‘sole way’ for Jews to deal with Arabs in Palestine was through ‘total avoidance of all attempts to arrive at a settlement’-which Jabotinsky euphemistically termed the ‘iron wall’ approach. Not coincidentally, a picture of Jabotinsky graces Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s desk.” – Ze’ev Jabotinsky, 1923 Source: The Village Voice, “Death Wish in the Holy Land,” Dec. 12, 2001.

    “We shall reduce the Arab population to a community of woodcutters and waiters.” – Yitzhak Rabin, New York Times, 23 October 1979

    “There is no such thing as a Palestinian,” – Golda Meir

    My favorite:

    “The Intifada is the Palestinian’s people’s war of national liberation. We [Israel] enthusiastically chose to become a colonialist society, ignoring international treaties, expropriating lands, transferring settlers from Israel to the Occupied Territories, engaging in theft and funding justification for all these activities.. we [Israel] established an apartheid regime.” – Michael Ben-Yair, Attorney General of Israel, 1993-1996 (in Ha’aretz)

    Of course there’s Plan Dalet and The Nakba. That’s not self-defense. That’s systematic ethnic cleansing, which you don’t seem to have a problem with.

    Is that proof for you now?

    I’ll end it there.

  7. BP Myers

    @Christian Avard says: What I want to know Dan is why is Helen Thomas fair game, but not someone like Marty Peretz?

    Should Marty Peretz get a front-row seat at White House press conferences and the worldwide platform that provides, as opposed to running a magazine read by a thousand people or so, I suspect it would come up.

    And most thinking folks recognize Huckabee is simply a religious nut who can’t wait for the Rapture, but needs an intact Israel for that to happen.

  8. Christian Avard

    BP Myers: The point is they’re not held accountable for their words. Marty Peretz escapes unscathed and Huckabee continues to work at FOX, a station that claims to be “fair and balanced.”

    You’re OK with Helen Thomas losing her job? Explain to me why that’s not a double standard? Not to mention Thomas is a woman and it is more likely a woman will be fired over comments like hers than say, David Gregory, Chuck Todd, or some other coward in the White House press corps.

    Again, Greenwald says it right. People are going after her because she’s guilty of the wrong kind of bigotry. In America, Israel is off limits.

  9. BP Myers

    @Christian: Got to your second quote, which has only ever been cited in that one place and has never been confirmed by any of the “General Staff” that must have been there to hear it, and stopped reading.

    At any rate, history has decided that Israel has a “right to exist,” just as history decided that America has a right to exist.

    Israel has already been kinder to its indigenous peoples than America ever was.

  10. Christian Avard

    Oh, really BP?

    Maybe you should read this, courtesy of a friend of mine, which speaks volumes.

    Pretending that no one lived in Palestine before the British “gave” it to the European Jews is as reprehensible as what the Zionists feel over Helen’s recent remark.

    Prior to the arrival of European Zionists, Jews and Arabs; Hebrews, Muslims and Christians, lived in peace side-by-side in the land known as Palestine. The bulk of the modern-day trouble in the Holy Land began in May 1948. Arabs were disarmed by the withdrawing British while World Jewish movements were arming and financing the incoming European Zionists. If the Zionists came in peace, why did they need to have guns? Perhaps they knew that someone wasn’t going to be happy having their house, olive grove and land taken away from them.

    Obviously, Thomas’ comment applies to those right-wing Israelis who refuse to seek a nice, peaceful way to further usurp Palestinian land. If U.S. Zionists are so hell-bent on protecting and perpetrating the narrow-minded notion that God’s Chosen People are only Jewish, then they should take a slice of Texas and give it to the Israelis to come here and live “in peace.”
    This fear of offending Jewish sensitivity and the risk of being labeled anti-semitic for being critical of zionism is irrational. As a former Zionist whose eyes have been opened to the plight of the Palestinians since Ottoman rule, British occupation and Zionist domination, I say: Forget the tit-for-tat discussion.

  11. BP Myers

    @Christian Avard says: The point is they’re not held accountable for their words. Marty Peretz escapes unscathed and Huckabee continues to work at FOX, a station that claims to be “fair and balanced.”

    They are certainly held accountable, and the day they say something their bosses or their readers find offensive, they’ll be gone too.

    But who reads The New Republic or watches Huckabee who doesn’t already agree with them?

    I’d further point out that Helen Thomas resigned.

    1. Dan Kennedy

      @Christian: Don’t you realize that anyone with a couple hours of free time on his hands could come up with a long list of blood-curdling quotes from Arab leaders about Jews?

  12. BP Myers

    @Christian Avard says: Oh, really BP?

    Oh really what?

    Not sure how you got from my acknowledging indigenous people in Palestine prior to an Israeli state to “pretending that nobody lived there.”

    Still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest . . .

  13. Christian Avard

    @ Dan, quotes are one thing. Having a devised program in place to remove Palestinians from the Mideast is another. You’re shifting the blame away from the real problem. I realize there are many Arabs who say dumb things about Israel. You’re right, we can find a lot of quotes. But truth be told, there are racist Palestinians and racist Israelis. But even that is besides the point. The real problem is that an enforced Jewish superiority is intrinsic to the very fabric of a Zionist state. Ethnic and religious exclusivity are written into Israeli laws and expressed “every time the bulldozer blade cuts into a Palestinian home” according to Ben White, author of “Israeli Apartheid.” It’s much deeper than you think.

    @ BP *** They are certainly held accountable, and the day they say something their bosses or their readers find offensive, they’ll be gone too.***

    But Peretz and Huckabee already said something incredibly offensive and they’re still at their jobs. If their bosses don’t think their comments are offensive, then what does that tell you about their bosses? It’s not a matter of who reads The New Republic or who watches Fox News. Their bosses should know the difference what is considered racist and/or anti-semitic. I think they gave both of them a pass, as is Dan.

    @ BP *** Not sure how you got from my acknowledging indigenous people in Palestine prior to an Israeli state to “pretending that nobody lived there.” ***

    You didn’t. All you said was “Israel has the right to exist.” As an apartheid state? Really? Because that’s what it is. Even Bishop Desmond Tutu thinks that. How do you feel to be on the opposite side of Tutu? He must not know anything about apartheid. After all, he lived it. You probably think he’s just as senile as Thomas.

    @ BP ***Israel has already been kinder to its indigenous peoples than America ever was. ***

    How much do you want me to pay you to go tell that to all of those living in refugee camps? That was one of the most absurd statements I’ve ever heard.

    @ BP *** I’d further point out that Helen Thomas resigned.***

    My hunch is they said if you don’t take this resignation, we’ll fire you. That happens a lot, yoy know.

    Former Senator James Abourzek, of South Dakota, gave Thomas’ quotes some much needed context on Democracy Now! today.

    [It was] an offhanded remark. I mean, the guy caught her unawares. She probably hadn’t thought that much more about it. But I understand what she really meant: they’re taking the place of Palestinians who cannot return to Palestine, their home. That’s basically what she was trying to say. And I don’t think she ought to be hammered because of that. Look, she lost her job. She lost her position in the Press Club. She lost her position in the White House press corps. That’s punishment over-the-top for what she was really intending to say there.

    1. Dan Kennedy

      @Christian: Good grief, let me explain it to you. Marty Peretz owns the goddamn magazine. There is no one to fire him. Mike Huckabee is a hate-spewing nutbag. He also doesn’t have a front-row seat in the White House press room. He plays bass on Fox News on Saturday nights, when no one is watching. No one cares what he says.

  14. Bob Gardner

    @Dan,
    What part don’t you understand?
    1) it is hate speech to demand that one ethnic group or another should be excluded from Israel or Palestine,
    2) such hate speech shouldn’t be part of our discourse.

    I thought that was the plain sense of what you were saying.
    If I was wrong and you were being artful, please dumb it down for me.

    1. Dan Kennedy

      “As overdue as your acknowledgement was it is still appreciated.”

      @Bob: That’s the part I didn’t get. Still don’t. I genuinely don’t know what you’re referring to. Some past statement I made?

  15. Christian Avard

    @ Dan: OK, I thought he was editor and publisher. But that’s still not the point. I think you’re still applying double standards for them. Just because he’s the owner and Huckabee is a nut bag doesn’t cut it. They are public figures, just like Thomas, and they deserve the same amount of pressure and/or scrutiny. They aren’t.

  16. Neil Sagan

    Kennedy wants to show the justice of Helen Thomas’ ouster.

    He too is a journalist and wants the rules journalists must play by to be fair and reasonable so he delves into Thomas’ history, finds evidence of her antisemitism, and concludes she deserved to be fired … because she hates Jews.

    Here’s the exchange Helen Thomas had with the interviewer:

    Q: Any comments on Israel? We’re asking everyone today.
    A: Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine.

    Q: Any better comments?
    A: Remember, these people are occupied, and its their land, not German and not Poland’s

    Q: So where should they go?
    A: They should go home. Poland. Germany.

    Q: They should just go back to Poland and Germany?
    A:And America and everywhere else.

    What’s is clear to me is that Thomas is standing up for the land rights of Palestinians, rights that were superseded by land rights assigned to the state of Israel by colonial empire Great Britain in 1948. To most of us, that is a settled question but to people in the middle east it is the source of great conflict and regrettably, a significant threat to US national security.

    I detect no antisemitism in Thomas’ words, anti-ZIONISM yes but antisemitism no. And even if I did, I don’t see how she deserves to lose her livelihood for saying that she thinks the Jewish people should stop occupying Palestine, whether she means all of Palestine or the west bank that is currently (under international law) Palestinian land settled and occupied by Israel.

    Ari Fleischer, who runs his own PR business for clients in politics, professional sports etc, is the one who amplified the issue and first called for Thomas’ ouster.

    Watch the CNN Video and ask yourself, is Ari speaking for himself or representing the interests of a client? We know BP is spending millions to manage it financial liabilities in the PR battle over the spill in the gulf. Is Ari Fleischer representing AIPAC or the State of Israel in its PR battle for American hearts and minds in the wake of the Mediterranean blockade and PR disaster of the IDF commandeering an aid flotilla and killing nine civilians including a US citizen (with 4 shots to the head)? I don’t know if Ari is acting in his capacity as a paid flack regarding his demand for Helen Thomas’ ouster but I do know that’s what he does for a living-represent his clients’ public relations interests.

    Ari: “She has crossed all lines, all boundaries, its just horrific”

    Really Ari? Horrific?

    Ari: “This is a type of discrimination, it’s a call for religious cleansing, that all Jews should get out of Israel”

    Here Ari doubles down on hyperbole and introduces violence into the debate. “Religious cleansing” is ethnically-motivated violence, ranging from murder to rape. Helen calls for repatriation of Jews to their homelands in the context of having peace in the middle east, as unreasonable and insensitive as that approach would be. Ari raises the specter of violence in the conversation where it did not occur in what Helen Thomas said. Why does he want her words to strike the public as more inflammatory than they were on their own merit?

    It’s more inflammatory hyperbole from Ari. She did not call for genocide, she called for Jews to leave Palestine. Her’s is an anti-zionist position, not an antisemitic position.

    Ari: “Hearst should not continue to employ her.”

    Helen Thomas’ public apology.

    “I deeply regret my comments I made last week regarding the Israelis and the Palestinians.”

    She said the comments “do not reflect” her “heart-felt belief that peace will come to the Middle East only when all parties recognize the need for mutual respect and tolerance.

    “May that day come soon,” she added.

    Jews lived in Palestine before 1948 and Palestinians did not exclude them.

    The state of Israel does exclude Muslims as citizens. One must be a Jew to be a citizen.

    Ari is quick to call Thomas discriminatory but slow to recognize that Israel discriminates against everyone except Jews. While Israel is a democracy it is not an open democracy like ours. It discriminates who it will have as a citizen based on religion. Israel is built on a piece of land that 62 years ago was Palestine and that colonial power Great Britain assigned to Zionists.

    What bothers me most about what happened to Helen Thomas is how quickly normally reasonable journalists and opinion writers were to throw her under the bus when the accusation of antisemitism was leveled.

    Dan wasn’t quick about it but he came to the wrong conclusion nonetheless.

  17. BP Myers

    @Christian said: That was one of the most absurd statements I’ve ever heard.

    The truth often sounds absurd.

    @Christain said: You didn’t. All you said was “Israel has the right to exist.”

    Hmm. You first say my statement that “Israel has already been kinder to its indigenous people than America ever was” was one of the most absurd statements you ever heard, then go on to say that I didn’t acknowledge there were indigenous people in what became the Israeli state.

    Think you need to read what people post in its entirety.

    @Christian said: My hunch is they said if you don’t take this resignation, we’ll fire you.

    Your hunch notwithstanding, she resigned.

    1. Dan Kennedy

      @BP: And can we stop kidding ourselves about Thomas’ “job”? She was an 89-year-old hood ornament for Hearst. No one carried her column. I did a LexisNexis search last night and could find only two bylines at small papers during the past year. Her sole function was to perform at news conferences. And her sole value to Hearst was to serve as a goodwill ambassador for the company — a role she clearly could no longer fill.

      Until today I was not aware that one shouldn’t criticize someone for expressing racial, ethnic or religious hatred without also criticizing everyone else who had also said offensive things. I imagine my Guardian column would have been a little longer than my editors wanted — I’m thinking maybe a 25-volume compendium as compared to my usual 600 to 900 words. But at least I’ve been set straight.

  18. Neil Sagan

    According to Dan Kennedy, only journalists with a front row seat in the WH briefing room should be held accountable for allegedly racists statements. All others must comply with a different standard becuase 1) they have small audiences, 2) are known nut jobs or 3) own the publication.

    It would be nice if Dan would recognize that using a standard as a principle to evaluate inherent justice in Thomas’ ouster implies that testing that standard in other situations lends merit or demerit to the original analysis. In fact I think Dan does recognize this.

  19. Steve Stein

    @Neil: “The state of Israel does exclude Muslims as citizens. One must be a Jew to be a citizen.

    This is not true. The population of Israel is about 20% Arab Muslim. The legislature of Israel has several Arab Muslim members.

    Muslims are exempt from conscription in Israel, but are in all other senses citizens of the state.

  20. BP Myers

    @Dan: Agreed. Thought @thejoelstein captured it perfectly with his tweet:

    Helen Thomas retires…. from what? Sitting through White House press conferences? Has anyone ever read a Helen Thomas story?

    There is no doubt people are held to different standards depending on the platform. Last I checked, Pat Robertson still hosted the 700 Club every day.

    But folks like Neal and Christian ARE holding these folks accountable for what they say, by reminding people about it.

    And the fact is, to her credit, Helen Thomas held herself accountable by resigning. It was the honorable thing to do.

    1. Dan Kennedy

      @BP: Ah, Pat Robertson … a pro-Israel, anti-Semitic, homophobic loon. They just don’t make them like that anymore. Have you ever seen the kid host? Smarmy and unctuous. Give me the father any day. I enjoy watching him try to keep the smoldering anger under control.

  21. Christian Avard

    @ Dan: Just to clarify what I said earlier, while it’s true Peretz owns The New Republic and Huckabee is a “nut-job” analyst on Fox, they still deserve scrutiny because they are public figures making public comments and presenting information that’s “supposed” to be in the public interest.

    @ BP, truth to whom? Again, how much do you want me to pay you to go into the refugee camps and make those same remarks you made here?

    *** You first say my statement that “Israel has already been kinder to its indigenous people than America ever was” was one of the most absurd statements you ever heard, then go on to say that I didn’t acknowledge there were indigenous people in what became the Israeli state. ***

    OK, I get it. Now let me clarify. “‘Jews’ have been kinder to its indigenous people than America ever was.” The state of Israel is a different story. The Israelis that treat Palestinians justly today belong to groups such as Rabbis for Human Rights, B’Tselem, Jews for Justice for Palestinians, the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions, Yesh-Gvul, Ta’ayush, the Refusniks (those who refuse to serve in the IDF) and other Jewish anti-occupation groups. Why aren’t you supporting these groups? They need all the support they can get.

  22. Neil Sagan

    “to assert, as Thomas did, that Israeli commandos landed on the deck of the Mavi Marmara with the express intent of shedding Muslim blood is to deny Israel’s very legitimacy as a state.”

    Why the hyperbole Dan? And why are we not to consider the legitimacy of the Israeli state? It 61 years old and it was assigned by colonial power Great Britain. Was that their right? I accept the formation of Israel as settled but that does not mean people who do not are wrong to say so they don’t. It’s not the difference of opinion we abhor, it the use of violence as a means to an end that we reject as progressives.

    The people who challenge the legitimacy of the Israeli state do not necessarily hate the Jews, they just hate the loss of their land and inherent injustice. At least acknowledge that there are people who were alive whose land was taken.

    I agree, it’s a serious accusation (express intent of shedding Muslim blood) and one that should be made with evidence not causally, but is a non-rigorous accusation about intent just reason to call for someone’s outster? What if its true? Do you have evidence to the contrary?

    What do we know about the incident? We know that Israeli commandos landed on the deck with the express intent to commandeer the aid flotilla, hold the passengers captive, and use lethal force to accomplish these goals.

    An American citizen was shot four times in the head at close range. Was he a lethal threat or just collateral damage in meeting their objective on the high seas? Was he armed with a lead pipe?

    I think that Helen Thomas’ language, comments she made in May, were seized upon in a PR gambit to change to news from he PR disaster in the Mediterranean to the antisemitism of Helen Thomas and to set an example of what happens to people in the US when they speak out against Israel. My only evidence is that it was a professional PR flack who took umbrage and called for the ouster, not the JDL etc. I want to know who hired Ari Fleischer.

  23. Mike Benedict

    Without taking a side on Helen Thomas’ comments, I recommend reading J.J. Goldberg’s essay in CJR from May/June 2009. http://www.cjr.org/feature/a_matter_of_trust.php?page=all&print=true

    If you aren’t a subscriber, in summary, Goldberg reflects on the Israeli nation’s and world’s distinctly different approaches to reporting accusations of Israeli military abuses during the 2008-09 Gaza conflict. What he determines is that, “Whom you turn to [for news] is a function of whom you trust more. And that depends on your point of view.”

    That statement likely also applies to how one sees Thomas’ comments: anti-Zionist, anti-semetic, or just the plain truth.

  24. C. E. Stead

    Dan – to leave the issue per se and return to jounalism…

    I read the AP story by Jim Kuhnhenn and David Bauder this morning, and they were able to write about the entire incident without using the word ‘Jews’. Their opening paragraph says she called for ‘Israelis’ to get out of Palestine. Even the quotes are excerpted in such a way as to avoid the J-word. If you relied on newspapers and hadn’t seen the videotape, the story is nonsensical, as MANY people think that Israel should leave Palestine and they don’t lose their jobs.

    Why the fastidiousness? Cover up or correctness?

    I wish the interviewer had followed up and asked her if Soviet Jews should return to the gulag as well.

  25. BP Myers

    @Christian Avard says: Why aren’t you supporting these groups? They need all the support they can get.

    I do support those groups. Continued Israeli occupation of, and settlements in, the future nation of Palestine is unconscionable. I support any approach to dissuade Israel from their continued sanctioning of this behavior.

    But looking backward (as so many of your posts do) does nobody any good.

    My own people were forced from their land by Cromwell, and many of my ancestors died via England’s strategy of famine in the land of my ancestors. But what’s done is done.

  26. Christian Avard

    @ BP OK, but as I told Dan this via Twitter the evocation of past evils in America, England, or wherever is not an excuse to commit new ones. That is happening in Israel today with the settlements.

    As far as Thomas goes, I don’t think she should have lost her job (or pressured to resigned). She apologized, learned her mistake, and moved on. We all do that. But for overzealous Zionists, it wasn’t enough. They got the best of her and her bosses and now we just saw what happened. It was unnecessary. Was it offensive? Sure! She made a poor choice in words. But it wasn’t hate speech, nor was it anti-Semitic as Paul Jay, CEO and senior editor of The Real News Network, wrote.

    In 2002 or 2003, Bob Ryan said something shocking. Remember when he said on camera “I’d like to smack (Jason Kidd’s) wife?” He was promptly suspended by The Boston Globe. I supported the suspension, but I didn’t think he had to lose his job over it, especially what he’s contributed to the Globe over the years. Luckily, he didn’t.

    Thomas on the other hand contributed SO MUCH to the White House press corps. She’s the only one that asks difficult questions and does a good job at it. Ryan learned from the incident, moved on, and kept his job. Thomas learned form the incident, was willing to move on, and was asked/forced to resign. Words are words, folks. If someone can show they’re willing to learn and move forward, then give them another chance. That goes for Imus, D & C, or anyone else I can’t stand. They got second chances, I support that. Thomas deserves one too. Maybe she can report for some other outlet in the future… and still ask great questions to presidents.

  27. BP Myers

    @Christian Avard said: She made a poor choice in words . . . Thomas learned [from] the incident

    Think both those statements above are another one of your “hunches.” Nowhere in her statement does she acknowledge any such thing.

    But we can agree to disagree.

    1. Dan Kennedy

      @BP: I think it was her invocation of Poland and Germany that did it. She said it twice. Then, as if she realized what she’d done, she quickly threw in “America, and everywhere else.” As Rachel Sklar notes (link in my Guardian piece), you just can’t listen to that without thinking about the Nazi death camps. And Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen today writes that some Jews actually attempted to return to Poland right after World War II, only to be massacred by the Poles. It was a bit of history with which I was unfamiliar.

  28. Christian Avard

    @ BP: Well, obviously I can’t mind read what she really means. But seriously, I think Helen’s smart enough to learn from BIG mistakes, especially this one. I suppose it would help us all if she said she learned from this incident, but why should she? I’m sure the people that matter to her in the professional world know she’s genuinely sorry; that she’s moving on from it; and she is someone who learns from her mistakes. She didn’t make it as far as she did in her job/career for nothing.

    It’s overzealous twits with axes to grind who don’t want to let go of it/her.

    1. Dan Kennedy

      @Christian: I am baffled by all this talk about mind-reading. Just listen to the woman. She is as clear as can be.

  29. BP Myers

    @Dan: Read the Sklar piece as well as Cohen’s (caught your tweet) and think they both got it more than right.

    I confess when I saw Thomas’ video the first time last Friday night, I was sure she was talking about settlements. I only wish she were.

    Now THAT would have been constructive.

  30. L.K. Collins

    “Don’t you realize that anyone with a couple hours of free time on his hands could come up with a long list of blood-curdling quotes from Arab leaders about Jews?” — Dan Kennedy

    It would take a lot less than a couple of hours.

    Any serious student of the region knows that the Arab nations, with the possible exception of Jordan, are as culpable for the Palestinian’s plight as the the Israelis. It was the Arab world, after all that isolated them in the Gaza strip and the West Bank.

    Ms. Thomas’s tirade is an echo of the Arab sentiment that they do not want to deal seriously with the Palestinian issue because it is messy and would upset the delicate balance of their less-than democratic regimes.

  31. David Sanders

    I would never have thought that an academic like yourself would deride, label and pronounce judgement on someone who commented about Israel without producing any references and shreds of evidence whatsoever. Hastening towards hounding and demonizing somebody with an evil ideology is no better than a thug spewing out ‘four letter words’ from a platform of sheer ignorance. Would an academic not think before opening his or her mouth?

    I watched the Youtube video and was completely dismayed that not one bit of comment from Helen Thomas pertained to anti-Semitism. By any stretch of the imagination, and by the proper definitions of antisemitism, your risible remark about ‘Garden variety of antisemite’ is way off the mark, utterly ludricous, emanating from callous calculations that anti-Semite accusations will fell any rightful, legal, historically justified criticism of that dispossessing, ethnic-cleansing, war criminal, militaristic and militant racist and religio-racist state.

    One would have thought better of an academic. Either out of sheer malignant ignorance or in fearful trepidation of a witch-hunt in the US of detractors of Israel, your article would never ‘make the grade’ according to academic standards.

    Helen Thomas is historically accurrate. By the start of the 20th century, around 83 % of Jews in the world lived in slavic lands. Their origins are purely slavic and, to a much lesser extent, central European/Germanic. They are converts to Judaism, much like the other Slavs converted to Orthodox Christianity and Islam in the Middle Ages.
    What moral right to you have to say that millions of Jews were gassed, therefore the immigrant settler foreign colonialist Jews to Palestine are automatically granted with a ludicrous moral and even so-called ‘God given right’ – unacceptable by modern day human rights law – to invade, settle, takeover, ethnically cleanse, destroy, steal the entire land, massacre and unleash many devastating militaristic fascist wars against the indigenous people of the Middle East. Most of the Israeli Jews have been in Palestine for the last 30 to 40 years, and to even less time.

    These immigrant foreign Jews self-righteously and on flimsy Biblical grounds – a ‘sacred book or books replete with war crimes, in which the Canaanites are massacred by the Israelites in their takeover of the Land Canaan – , which would be thrown out of the Strasbourg Court of Human Rights, as Zionism intrinsically rides rough shod over, crushing, negating and deligimising the indigenous native population as ‘mere Arabs’ or the religio-racist denigrating term of ‘goyim’ or ‘Arabishim’.

    You use the word “loathsome” to describe her comments. Yet, Israel’s invasions, ethnic cleansing, annexation, mass plundering, occupation, devastation of indigenous Middle Eastern lands has gone unchecked, never held to account, never the recipient of devastating sanctions, blockades, of overkill on a massive, calculating and deliberate scale, left as the darling bloodied, murderous watchdog, dismissive and contemptuous of Arab peoples. This is loathsomeness at a sickening level. The commiting of genocide of the people of the Gaza Strip – a siege to bring about the slow death of an entire society (56 % of the Gaza Strip’s population are children). Read the human rights reports! Who is Hamas, who the PLO, who is Fatah and all the other Palestinian groupings? If you do care to know, their binding ethos is ‘resistance’ to the Zionist immigrant Jews bent, bloodily, on wresting all the land that belongs to the Palestinians, the Lebanese, the Syrians and the Egyptians.

    Helen Thomas is an immigrant from Lebanon to the US. But, she is not part of a fascist extreme ideology determined to dispossess. That is the big difference between Helen Thomas and all these immigrant, colonialist, settler foreign, non-native Jews to Palestine.

    “A tragic miscalculation” amounts to ‘whitewashing and a cover up’, a no doubt very endearing tactic. How remiss of yourself to cast aside the forensic reports of hospital doctors in Ankara, Turkey, who very much point out that they were shot in the back, in the head and at close range, all unarmed huminatarian aid civilians, and a number of analysts who strongly suggest that these murders were perpetrated in ‘execution’ style’. Your ignominious, short-sighted fraudulent conclusions put to shame academia and what it should really stand for.

    Poorly unsubstantiated confusing mini paragraphs, conflacting one thing with another, baffling the reader, as well as demonising Helen Thomas as a Hizbullah afficionado ridicules yourself and your profession. How unacademic to use a Lebanese popular resistance movement as some form of demon and bogeyman to spook others nonsensically is beyond comprehension.

    “ …reveal they aren’t interested in peace or a two-state solution so much as they are indulging romantic notions about Palestine and Hamas.” So Mr Know-it-all, how do you know? What about the millions of Palestinians who have paid an enormous price over 62 years at the hands of this rapacious state? So much for the naïve Americans who more than indulge, to gratifying levels, cosy sacred Biblical romantic notions of a very nasty Rottwheiler indeed.

    Denigrating others seems to the aim of your article. Denigrate not, as ye shall in turn be denigrated. Assume and presume nothing, as that is the fount of careful contemplation, lest this mere mortal spews, gushingly, self-serving vacuous statements.

  32. BP Myers

    @David Sanders says: Helen Thomas is an immigrant from Lebanon to the US.

    Helen Thomas was born in Kentucky.

  33. Steve Stein

    @David Sanders: “They are converts to Judaism, much like the other Slavs converted to Orthodox Christianity and Islam in the Middle Ages.

    Cite?

    If this were the case, then how would you explain the “Cohen gene” which occurs in Jews of diverse geographic heritage (Eastern European, Sfardim, even the Lemba Bantu tribe of southern Africa)?

  34. BP Myers

    @Dan: Heh. Wasn’t sure you’d let me get away with it. Appreciate it that you did. Hope at least it brought a smile.

  35. Bill Duncliffe

    I think Helen Thomas is the daughter of Lebanese immigrants.

    Anyone who cuts and pastes the text of her comments and doesn’t note the venom with which they are said is being disingenous or just plain dishonest.

    I think some of the commenters here are just dying to trot out their “authentic version” of the “Protocols of Zion.” Just give them time.

  36. Christian Avard

    @ Dan: It’s clear you’re going after Helen Thomas because she’s an easy target (for a lack of a better term) and she says things you disagree with politically. I still can’t fathom why you identify with oppressors. It’s hardly self-defense to have policies in place to punish and humiliate civilians, but that’s a whole other story. That has nothing to do with “Israeli security.”

    The other thing is titles do not matter. You say Marty Peretz and Huckabee do not count because he’s the owner of The New Republic and that Huckabee is a nut-job. I’ll say it again, it’s not about their titles. It’s about calling out their comments for what they are and that includes people who make derogatory comments on policies or people or cultures you agree/disagree with. And the other thing is they are people who are responsible for presenting “accurate” information and opinions that are supposed to be in the public interest, just like Helen Thomas. Therefore, they’re equally as culpable; they’re equally accountable; and they should be scrutinized.

    I can assure you if Peretz or Huckabee said anything derogatory about dwarfism, you’d be on their case in a heartbeat. I don’t think you’d be playing “the owner” or “the nut-job” card. But these cards are perfectly acceptable when it comes to commenting on Palestinians. It’s a convenient excuse for not calling out Peretz and Huckabee. It’s clear that you’re practicing double-standards.

    I’ll say it again. It was offensive. She made a poor choice in words. They were in really bad taste. We all make those, including you. I’m sure you’ve said offensive things you wish you could take back. But you learned from your mistakes, you moved on, and I’m sure you’ve had second chances. Probably because you’re an accomplished journalist and a male. As for me, I apologize when I say something I later regret. I learn from my mistakes, I move on, and I’ve had second chances. Thomas learned from it and apologized. But instead, the mob mentality, which you chose to participate in, cost the best WH press corps journalist in the last 50 years her job.

    I’ll end it with Robert Scheer, of Truthdig, because he’s probably got the best big picture perspective out there.

    The few sentences uttered by her were, as she quickly acknowledged, wrong—deeply so, I would add. But they cannot justify the road-rage destruction of the dean of the Washington press corps…

    I have no trouble condemning Thomas’ ill-considered remarks that Israeli Jews should go back to the lands from where they came… What the Thomas affair allowed was the repeat incantation of the Holocaust as the excuse for punishing not the Europeans who committed those unspeakable crimes, but rather the Palestinians, who had nothing whatsoever to do with what remains as the greatest moral stain on the history of people claiming to be civilized…

    On that point the apology Thomas issued got it right: “I deeply regret my comments I made last week regarding the Israelis and the Palestinians. They do not reflect my heartfelt belief that peace will come to the Middle East only when all parties recognize the need for mutual respect and tolerance.” Now all that is left is for those in the media and government who have shown so little respect and tolerance for the Palestinian side of the dispute to offer some apologies for decades of indifference to, and often contempt for, those victims as well.

    That was responsibly put and I think his comments speak to you perfectly.

    1. Dan Kennedy

      @Christian: Hilarious that you closed with Robert Scheer. There is no more predictable a left-wing hack than he. He and I have tangled previously.

      You keep trying to put me in hypothetical situations for reasons that escape me. So let me turn the tables. I cannot imagine you would run to anyone’s defense for uttering hate speech unless that hate speech were directed at Israel.

      When you slyly invoke the Holocaust with references to Poland and Germany, as Thomas did, you can apologize, but you can’t take it back.

    2. Dan Kennedy

      @Christian: One other thing I should point out about your incessant comments on this topic. If you actually read my Guardian commentary, you will see that I have nothing good to say about the Netanyahu government or its attack on the flotilla. I defend Israel only against the charge that it engaged in “a deliberate massacre,” the blood libel that flowed so easily from Helen Thomas’ lips. I linked approvingly to essays by Leon Wieseltier and Christopher Hitchens that were, if anything, even harsher on Netanyahu than I was. I was appalled by Netanyahu’s return to office, but not surprised. The Israelis were clearly exhausted by years of terrorism and the condemnation of the world whenever they try to defend themselves.

      Given those facts, I don’t see how you can be so animated by this topic except that you don’t believe Israel even has a right to exist — something you clearly don’t believe, given your condemnation of Israel’s founding fathers, like Ben-Gurion. And given that Thomas did not criticize Israel so much as she consigned it to the Third Circle of Hell, your repeated defenses of her are revealing in a mighty damn unattractive way.

  37. charles pierce

    “Blood libel,” Dan?
    I thought we were staying away from loosely using inflammatory phrases with specific historical definitions.

    What word do you quibble with? “Deliberate” or “massacre”? If it’s the former, you’re going to have to explain how four bullets in the head of an American citizen shot down in international waters do not qualify as “deliberate” acts. As to “massacre,” well, maybe that’s just a matter of numbers.

    And saying that Thomas’s deplorable comments “so much as” condemned Israel to “the third circle of hell” is almost Peretzian in its fundamental irrationality. Get a grip, son.

  38. BP Myers

    @Christian Avard said: But instead, the mob mentality, which you chose to participate in, cost the best WH press corps journalist in the last 50 years her job.

    If you’ll forgive me my own hunches, Christian, I suspect you haven’t read a column of hers in years, if ever. I further suspect you’ve never read a single one of her books.

    PS: Dan did not “participate” in the mob mentality that brought her down. Near as I can tell, all his public comments occurred after she resigned.

    1. Dan Kennedy

      @BP: @Christian thinks her job was popping off at news conferences. He may have a point — what else did she do?

  39. Neil Sagan

    THE TRUTH:

    “if Peretz or Huckabee said anything derogatory about dwarfism, you’d be on their case in a heartbeat … It’s clear that you’re practicing double-standards.”

  40. BP Myers

    @Dan: My point exactly.

    I consider myself pretty well read and informed . . . and I don’t recall a thing she’s done recently. She certainly wasn’t on my must read list.

  41. Neil Sagan

    Dan Kennedy says:
    June 9, 2010 at 10:58 am

    @Christian: One other thing I should point out about your incessant comments on this topic.

    Dan, you wrote the article and you made the entry here on Media Nation, a post about the article. Now your readers are commenting. It’s hardly fair for you to express the notion that Christian’s comments are too many and/or too frequent as if that’s the problem.

    Be a mensch; face the issue and stop making it personal (stop making it about Christian) Christian is not the issue.

  42. Neil Sagan

    . . . and I don’t recall a thing she’s done recently. She certainly wasn’t on my must read list.

    Then it would save been perfectly reasonable for her employer to terminate her for non-performance but that’s not what happened. What happened is that Ari Fleischer went on a PR blitz on CNN calling her comments “horrific”, and falsely claiming that she was calling for “religious-cleansing.” There was nothing in Thomas words that evoked rape or murder but there was in Fleischer’s characterization of Thomas’ words.

    Just becuase you don’t know the value Thomas’ employer realized through her employment is no reason to claim that it’s just she was forced to resign becuase she’s antisemetic.

    If you cannot recognize you’re own rationalizations than you’re not as smart as you’d like to think.

  43. BP Myers

    @Neil Sagan says: It’s hardly fair for you to express the notion that Christian’s comments are too many and/or too frequent as if that’s the problem.

    I took it to mean something akin to Christian “doth protesting too much,” not a derisive comment on the sheer number of posts. It does almost seem like Christian is trying to convince mostly, himself.

    And I just don’t get the dwarfism / double-standard comment. I suspect too that if Huckabee or Peretz said something negative about dwarfism, Dan would comment on it. Is he not allowed also to comment on (what he and many others see as) anti-semitism?

    In what way is that a double-standard?

  44. Christian, from Dummerston VT, how perfect…said to Dan, “I still can’t fathom why you identify with oppressors.”

    Many of us are wondering about anti-Semites like yourself…

    Why do you identify with people who target and kill civilians with indiscriminately fired rockets?

    Why do you identify with people who kill innocent women and children through the use suicide bombers on the bus, in the sub shop and nightclubs?

    Why do you identify with people who use women and children as human shields?

    Why do you identify with people who can’t even bring themselves to see Israel’s right to draw a breath, to exist?

    Why do you identify with people who have shown no interest in peace?

    Why do you identify with people who use their religion as a basis for killing thousands of innocents around the world?

    Why do you identify with people who remember the Holocaust like it was Woodstock, a magical event?

    Why do you identify with people who are funded and supported by enemies of your country, like Iran?

    Why do you identify with people who export terrorism around the world?

    Why?

    Because you are unwilling or unable to apply rational, critical thinking, to see right from wrong. You, and everyone in America like you, are the worst kind of sheep. Useful idiots to enemies of America and freedom loving people everywhere.

    Most sincerely,
    Kevin

  45. Neil Sagan

    Christian inquires about what’s behind Dan position that he doesn’t hold Huckabee or Peretz to the same standard as Thomas, and as a point of reference, Christian posulates that Dan would hold Huckabee and Peretz to the same standard if the subject was derogatory comments about dwarfs, thus illustrating Dan’s inconsistency and bias.

    I hope Dan never makes a comment about Israel that gets him in hot water with defenders of Israel; Dan’s drawn the line (his line) between what a person can and cannot say and then be forced to resign from their job in a very narrow way with a very low tolerance for free expression.

    If there is more to this interview, please share it.

    Q: Any comments on Israel? We’re asking everyone today.
    A: Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine.

    Q: Any better comments?
    A: Remember, these people are occupied, and its their land, not German and not Poland’s

    Q: So where should they go?
    A: They should go home. Poland. Germany.

    Q: They should just go back to Poland and Germany?
    A:And America and everywhere else.

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