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Helen Thomas, RIP

[ 52 ] July 20, 2013 |

Despite some unfortunate late life expressions, Helen Thomas was a pretty amazing woman.

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  1. efgoldman says:

    Yup. I remember her on Washington Week in Review in the 70s(? maybe the 80s) obliquely telling Broder to get his head of his ass.

  2. Just to get something out of the way:

    This post just goes to show that Liberals are the real anti-Semites.

  3. wengler says:

    That whole anti-Israel thing was blown up so some ass clown stenographer could sit in her seat.

  4. Djur says:

    I regret that even liberal blogs are feeling obliged to denounce her supposed antisemitism before celebrating her achievements.

  5. Shakezula says:

    1. Thomas was one of the pioneers for women reporters. Check the photo of the LBJ meeting.

    2. If you’re going to make statements such as “Despite some unfortunate late life expressions,” in an obit, could you maybe provide a link or two. I’m starting to recall the incident from comments but I honestly had no idea what you were talking about.

  6. aimai says:

    She was friends with my grandfather, as much as he had friends, and she is basically the same age as my pioneering Great Aunt who is still alive and who was a journalist and a film critic, travelling internationally to cover foreign films and political films and interview (often) dissident film makers. These are amazing women who were often the only woman in the room, or the only woman on a flight to some godforsaken place. They were tough, funny, brave, witty and hard driving–more hard driving than the men they knew who didn’t get half the hazing they did.

  7. BobS says:

    By “unfortunate”, do you mean to say her statements were disastrous to her career or deplorable for their content?

  8. aimai says:

    Jeezus Christ? This is what people are complaining about?

    Asked by an interviewer from the website if she had any comments about Israel, Thomas responded, “Get the hell out of Palestine”.

    She said “Remember, [the Palestinian] people are occupied, and it’s their land.”

    Thats not “anti-semitic” thats just good sense. Fuck me if I know any good human beings, regardless of their religion, who don’t believe the same thing. I forgot that she got smeared for speaking truth to power.

    • BobS says:

      I think what really got her into trouble was the clumsy phrasing she used when she commented on the reality of the recent European ancestry of much of Israel’s population by inviting them to return to Poland and Germany rather than continuing to steal land from the Palestinians. She then doubled down on her remarks by speaking frankly of the pro-Zionist tilt in American media and politics.

    • elm says:

      She wasn’t just saying that Israeli Jews should get out of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, she was saying they should get out of Palestine in its entirety and go back to Europe. That’s not an inherently anti-Semitic position, though plenty of anti-Semites hold to it.

      It is, though, a quite radical position and she showed a lack of either understanding or compassion for why the Israeli Jews no longer live in Germany and Poland.

      She shouldn’t have been fired for what she said and there’s no reason to denounce her, but referring to it as “unfortunate late life expressions” doesn’t strike me as unreasonable.

      • BobS says:

        I’ve always understood her to have meant get back inside the 1967 borders. My own phrasing was clumsy, as it frequently is.
        She was obviously an intelligent woman who had an understanding of why Jews fled Germany and Poland. She was also a compassionate woman who, like many of us, feel that some of that compassion is due the Palestinians who are forced to suffer in the here and now for the crimes and sins committed by Europeans (and some of their American enablers) nearly 70 years ago. Judging from the tone of her remarks, she was also a woman frustrated by the narrative that’s been hijacked by a rabidly pro-Zionist power elite in the United States. And for the record, she said Jews “could” go back to Germany, or Poland, or the US, which I took as her commentary on the freedom they enjoy relative to Palestinians in Israel or occupied Palestine as much as an invitation to get their asses back inside the 1967 borders.

        • elm says:

          If that’s what she was saying, then there’s nothing at all wrong with it other than some poor phrasing that leads to confusion. Personally, I don’t think she was just saying “go back to 1967 borders,” because then she could have just said the Israelis could go back to Israel. The “go back to Germany et al” suggests to me they should leave Israel altogether, which is, to put it mildly, a problematic, though not necessarily anti-Semitic, position.

          I’d be very happy to be proven wrong in my interpretation, though, as I agree that such a position seems out of character given the rest of Thomas’s career.

    • JL says:

      Yeah, like everyone else said, the problem was the whole Go Back to Germany and Poland thing.

      “Go back to where you came from” is nearly always a little fraught, especially when the people in question have a history of being persecuted as outsiders. “Go back to the place from which your people escaped genocide relatively recently and have a long history of extreme persecution” is much worse. “Go back to the place where some of you came from, because I don’t know or am ignoring the fact that you came from a hell of a lot of other places, including the Middle East, and many of those places are places where you’ve experienced extreme persecution” is both bad and ignorant. And in the context of telling Jews to go back to where they supposedly came from, it (to me) suggests that the “Palestine” in her statement that Jews should get out of Palestine was that whole area, not just the area currently covered by the Occupation.

      • Ronan says:

        I really don’t see anything wrong with her statement, even at its most extreme interpretation. Saying that the Jewish people *don’t* have a right to live in Israel/Palestine, even in its pre 67 form, and that the founding of the state was a travesty is a legitimate argument, imo.

        • Warren Terra says:

          Telling Jews to go to Poland – which was run within the last decade by openly antisemitic Catholic theocrats (I say the last decade because I haven’t followed the news there particularly recently), and where the Holocaust by the Germans was followed after the war by the local majority population slaughtering wholesale those Jews who attempted to return to their former homes – is pretty well unacceptable, and guaranteed to inspire anger and end any chance of reasoned debate. A lot of Jews have a greater distrust of Poland, which has never confronted its past, than of Germany, which has done so.

          I didn’t pay enough attention to know whether that was an accurate characterization of Thomas’s remarks (I tend to mostly avoid digging into debates touching on Israel/Palestine, too many participants on both sides are unhinged and disingenuous), but the assertion that it did reflect her views was, if not effectively refuted, certain to adversely affect her reputation.

          • Ronan says:

            Its not, according to the links below. The interviewer brought up Poland and Germany

            • Warren Terra says:

              Um, yeah, no:

              RABBI NESENOFF: Any comments on Israel? We’re asking everybody today. Any comments on Israel?
              HELEN THOMAS: Tell ‘em to get the hell out of Palestine.
              RABBI NESENOFF Ooh!
              HELEN THOMAS: [LAUGHS]
              RABBI NESENOFF: Any better comments on Israel?
              HELEN THOMAS: Remember, these people are occupied. And it’s their land. It’s not German, it’s not Poland.
              RABBI NESENOFF: So where should they go and what should they do?
              HELEN THOMAS: They – go home.
              RABBI NESENOFF: Where’s their home?
              HELEN THOMAS: Poland.
              RABBI NESENOFF: So the Jews can –
              HELEN THOMAS: Germany.
              RABBI NESENOFF: You’re saying the Jews should go back to Poland and Germany.
              HELEN THOMAS: And, and America and everywhere else.

              The quote in Wikipedia skips the part where she can be quoted saying “Germany” and “Poland”, perhaps because she doesn’t say them in complete sentences. This perhaps gives you the impression they were proferred by the interviewer. But she does say them, unprompted; the interviewer only names them to get her to confirm that she’s just done so. Furthermore, she says them before, and separately from, saying “America and everywhere else”

              • Ronan says:

                Fair enough, I was only going by the comments below. Still doesn’t change it in my mind though. The phrasing could have been better but the argument its based on (that even the pre 67 Israel is illegitimate) is a reasonable argument,imo

                • Warren Terra says:

                  There’s a case to be made that the establishment of Israel in 1948 was illegitimate (which is made problematic by a half-century of significant Jewish immigration). But this also begs the question: where were the surviving Jews of Europe meant to go? It would be unfair to ask them to rejoin their former neighbors, even in those cases where doing so wasn’t, as it all too often was, a death sentence.

                  To say the Jews should leave Israel, and go to where they came from ignores fifty years of living where they now are, and ignores the fact that most of the Jews who moved to Israel around and after WWII were fleeing genocide – not only in Europe, also very large numbers from the Muslim world (Baghdad was 25% Jewish a century ago, almost rivaling the 40% of Warsaw that was Jewish) – and there is every reason to think that the descendants of the neighbors their grandparents fled would even today abuse them, would in no few cases kill them on sight.

                • Ronan says:

                  There’s a long history of Jews living peacefully in Arab countries for centuries as well though, a lot of that hostility has been a result of the Israel/Palestine conflict, particularly post 67
                  I don’t think saying ‘they should go back to Poland and Germany’ is a particularly thoughtful comment, and it’s probably a manifestation of a deeper issue she has with Jews, and I think the context of the interview lent itself to the flippant way she responded, but I just cant see the outrage.
                  Ideally, I think post WW2 the allies could have absorbed Europe’s Jews, and for a lot of anti semetic and nativist politicians the Israel option removed that obligation from them. And I don’t blame any survivors of the Holocaust who felt that Israel was their best option. But Zionism predates the Holocaust, so the legitimacy issue doesn’t rest on the holocaust itself

                • Ronan says:

                  I know I’m probably not sensitive to comments like the ones Thomas made, so I’ve no problem (obviously) with people being offended by it
                  I just think the context (the Israel/Palestine conflict rather than the Jewish history in Europe) should stifle the outrage.

                • Warren Terra says:

                  This is just completely ahistorical. Prior to 1948, there was no “Israel option” giving European politicians an easy out; emigration of Jewish refugees to what’s now Israel was heavily restricted after WWII, and the Jews who did go there often did so clandestinely. The actual European response to the fate of the surviving Jews of Europe was mostly two-fold: detain them as “Displaced Persons”, often in the same camps the Germans put them in (though with better supplies and medical care), and ship them off to their former homes, where they’d often be murdered by their former neighbors. The founding of Israel changed this, but it did so over the objections of the European officials responsible for refugees.

                  To say that Zionism predates the Holocaust is not inaccurate, but it ignores a number of factors: (1) to say “before the Holocaust” ignores milennia of pogroms and antisemitic violence; (2) the relative trickle of Jewish emigrants to what’s now Israel before WWII was much more gradual, planned, and amicable than was the rapid arrival of a million desperate survivors after WWII; and (3) before WWII Jewish settlers in what’s now Israel did not live under quite the same specter of genocide and industrialized slaughter as they did after, necessarily altering their outlook and actions.

                • Ronan says:

                  Support for/opposition to Zionism by the major powers was obviously influenced by a complex mix of ideas/interests/circumstances etc, but one of those factors *was* (to varying degrees at varying times) a hostility towards Jewish immigration to their countries (‘From Coexistence to Conquest’ by Victor Kattan looks at this in part) Obviously you can stress other factors as being more important (and I would) but I don’t think its ahistorical to mention that Zionism did find support amongst nativist and anti semetic politicians at times (although its not really here nor there and it was really just an irrelevant addendum on my part)
                  I don’t disagree with you on the allies response to holocaust survivors, I’m saying that was the *ideal* resolution (and one wanted, afaik, by most Holocaust survivors)

                • Ronan says:

                  btw, Im off to bed now so wont be able to respond to anything until 2moro

              • wengler says:

                And if she were telling Morrocons to get the hell out of Western Sahara nobody would give a shit.

                But the rest of the corporate media had a ready frame they could use(the Israeli state victimization card) and boy howdy did they ever.

          • Ronan says:

            I read her comment as saying ‘the Jews’ don’t have a right to the land of Israel. I personally think she’s right, even if that statement has no practical relevance

  9. Lord Jesus Perm says:

    Helen Thomas’s comments:

    When asked for comments on Israel, she replied: “Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine.” and “Remember, these people are occupied and it’s their land. It’s not German, it’s not Poland…” When asked where Israeli Jews should go, she replied they could “go home” to Poland or Germany or “America and everywhere else. Why push people out of there who have lived there for centuries?”

    Poorly phrased, but I damn sure wouldn’t call that Antisemitic.

    • JL says:

      No? The assumption that Poland and Germany are where [Israeli] Jews come from? That’s, at the very least, ignorant. Suggesting that people ought to return to a place from which their families fled genocide, that people ought to consider such a place “home”? I think that qualifies as anti-Jewish. Failing to consider the reality of what Jews have experienced “everywhere else”, or the difficulties of actually being able to immigrate to large portions of “everywhere else” in the modern world? Probably more clueless than anything, but dubious.

      The commenters here are good about understanding that racism can be more subtle than a cross-burning or de jure segregation, sexism can be more subtle than rape or banning women from jobs, homophobia can be more subtle than a gay-bashing. The commenters here are also good about understanding that intent doesn’t erase effect, and you can be racist/sexist/homophobic while thinking that you aren’t. The same things apply to anti-Semitism – you don’t have to be a member of Stormfront to display anti-Semitism.

    • Manju says:

      “We are owned by the propagandists against the Arabs. There’s no question about that. Congress, the White House, and Hollywood, Wall Street, are owned by the Zionists. No question in my opinion.”

      - Helen Thomas

    • Manju says:

      From Playboy interview:

      THOMAS: Everybody is in the pocket of the Israeli lobbies, which are funded by wealthy supporters, including those from Hollywood. Same thing with the financial markets. There’s total control.

      PLAYBOY: Who are you thinking about specifically? Who are the Jews with the most influence?

      THOMAS: I’m not going to name names. What, am I going to name the Ponzi guy on Wall Street [Bernard Madoff] or the others? No.

    • Manju says:

      More from Playboy, the very next question:

      PLAYBOY: Then how do you make the claim that Jews are running the country?

      THOMAS: I want you to look at the Congress that just came in. Do you think [New York Democratic senator Charles] Schumer and Lehtinen—whatever her name is—in Florida [Republican representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a strong supporter of Israel] are going to be pro-Arab? No. But they’re going to be very influential. Eric Cantor, the majority leader of the Republicans, do you think he’s going to be for the Arabs? Hell no! I’m telling you, you cannot get 330 votes in Congress for anything that’s pro-Arab. Nothing. If you’re not in, you’re eased out, just as Senator William Fulbright was in the 1960s [after claiming that millions of tax-deductible dollars from American philanthropies were being sent to Israel and then funneled back to the U.S. for distribution to organizations with pro-Israel positions]. Congressman Paul Findley from a little old rural district in Illinois made the mistake of shaking hands with Yasir Arafat years ago. It ended up costing him his reelection. He later wrote a book called They Dare to Speak Out about how impossible it is to have a position in this country that takes on Israel. Maybe there is a handful that can, but in general you cannot speak against any Zionist movement in this country.

      Emphasis mine…because nothing says “I am not an anti-Semite” like favorably invoking a fucking unrepentant segregationist.

  10. Gator90 says:

    “It’s real power when you own the White House, when you own these other places in terms of your political persuasion. Of course they have power. You don’t deny that. You’re Jewish, aren’t you?” –Helen Thomas, in a 2010 interview.

  11. Jamie says:

    Wow, I know she was a trailblazer, but that’s some fucked up shit. Speaking as a Jew, though not a Zionist. I mean, not that I want to co-sign with Manju, but… ack.

  12. Dave says:

    Sadly, many people who are concerned with the plight of the Palestinians end up saying things that sound antisemitic, because the boiling rage with which they contemplate continued unwavering US support for Israeli governments, despite the ghastliest acts of oppression and illegality, cannot always be constrained into polite avenues.

    • Jamie says:

      I don’t think it’s just a matter of politeness. Like, you can talk about AIPAC and the Israel lobby without sounding all, “THE JEWWWWS RUN THE WOOOOORLLLLD!” I think antisemitic tropes do unintentionally end up in some of these statements, but I also think there are otherwise well-meaning non-Jewish leftists that buy into these tropes, either not knowing their antisemitic origins, or just because of privilege. (inb4 “zomg Christian privilege isn’t real!115″)

      Again, as a Jewish person who’s also not at all a Zionist, it’s frustrating. Like, yes, there are powerful Jewish politicians and a powerful lobby for Israel. We can acknowledge this without sounding like we’re reading out of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Walking and chewing bubblegum at the same time, it’s a thing.

      • Gator90 says:

        Indeed, there are plenty of actual Palestinians who are quite able to condemn Israel’s oppression of them without being bigots. Pity Ms. Thomas couldn’t manage it.

    • rw970 says:

      Sadly, many people who are concerned with the plight of the Palestinians end up saying things that sound antisemitic, because the boiling rage with which they contemplate continued unwavering US support for Israeli governments, despite the ghastliest acts of oppression and illegality, cannot always be constrained into polite avenues.

      It sounds like you’re saying that Zionism is such a unique evil that it justifies being an anti-semite. As a Jewish person, this upsets me, because it should be perfectly possible for somebody to oppose US support for Israeli governments despite their “boiling rage,” without sounding like a racist douchebag. You should also be able to espouse anti-Zionism without making explicit anti-semitic remarks.

      Her comments were not a matter of breaching “politeness,” unless displaying antisemitism is only a social transgression not to be committed at parties. Her comments were not particularly vague, either, nor were they the kind of comments that are frequently blown out of proportion by the Emergency Committee for Israel types. Moreover, she was a White House reporter for decades, the dean of the White House press corps, and she really should have known better. She knew exactly what she was saying, and she elaborated on those sentiments at length.

      She was a remarkable woman, and led a remarkable life. It’s a shame she didn’t live an unblemished one. But let’s not pretend that her remarks only “sounded” antisemitic to oversensitive Jews.

    • Warren Terra says:

      It’s difficult, and made especially so because there are people like Foxman who like to unfairly accuse people who question a maximalist Likudnik position of being antisemites.

      That being said, some of the quotes above are pretty damning. Saying some version of “You must understand how hidden elites run everything, after all, you’re Jewish” is a pretty hard one to wriggle out of.

    • Mike Schilling says:

      It’s funny how being anti-black or anti-woman or anti-immigrant is purely evil, but being anti-Semitic is understandable.

  13. laurastrand says:

    Helen Thomas was gracious enough to exchange e-mails with me every time I had an occasion to do -and was thoughtful in her remarks. She was the closest I’m likely to get to the locus of power in this country.
    Her career’s end was swift and final while Dana Perino’s continues apace.

    • Bruce Vail says:

      Her career’s end was perhaps swift, but it was by no means premature.

      She rose to her position through hard work, but also as a representative of the United Press, which in the 1960s and 70s was the number-two wire service in the country. That she had a front row seat in the press room was not a personal tribute, but a recognition of the position of UP back then.

      UP fell on hard times, but Thomas soldiered on. She was in her 80s when she moved to Hearst as a columnist, and there was more than a little grumbling i the WH press room that being a columnist for a third-rate outfit like Hearst didn’t entitle her to the front row seat anymore.

      She should have retired a long time ago, but it was still sad that she got fired for speaking her mind.

  14. Paul Gottlieb says:

    I think Helen Thomas, who was of Lebanese descent, spoke the exact truth when she said that American policy–and reporting–were both wildly unbalanced in favor of Israel, and that the lives of Arabs and Lebanese civilians were treated as essentially worthless by the U.S. Media. These were career ending observations, but they were absolutely true

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