The Campaign against Helen Thomas

Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, August 2010 | Go to article overview

The Campaign against Helen Thomas

Helen Thomas Deserves Praise

By Paul Findley

FEARLESS, decent seeker-of-truth Helen Thomas, 89, the pre-eminent challenger of political power for a half-century as dean of White House correspondents, has resigned her position with Hearst Newspapers. She acted in the wake of controversy that erupted when she was asked by a rabbi, during Jewish Heritage Week, for any comments on Israel. "Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine." While speaking plainly on behalf of the rule of law in occupied Palestine, her message was submerged when reporters gave it an anti-Semitic twist by quoting words out of context.

It is a sad finale to an unprecedented career in aggressive, constructive journalism. In her departure from the White House newsroom, America is the loser. The Washington press corps contains few with Thomas' talent in challenging power close-up.

The fiasco started when Thomas was asked to comment on Israel after a White House briefing in late May. In an extemporaneous burst of passion she said, "Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine. Remember, these people are occupied, and it's their land." When asked where they should go, Thomas said they should "go home to Poland, Germany, America and everywhere else." Her intent was unmistakable: Jews are unlawfully residing in occupied Palestine and should leave. She made no reference to Jews in pre-1967 Israel, where all Jews can lawfully reside.

Out-of-context reports on her comments stirred angry controversy. Several commentators failed to report the words "America and everywhere else." This left Thomas' quoted words suggesting only Poland and Germany, countries identified with extermination camps for Jews in World War II, as the only destinations for those Thomas would expel. The warped reports led Diane Nine, her longtime literary agent and friend, to cut ties. She was uninvited after agreeing to be commencement speaker at a Washington, DC-area high school, and was falsely smeared as a bigot and anti-Semite by leaders of Jewish organizations. Time columnist Joe Klein wanted her moved from her traditional front row seat to the back at future White House news briefings. Former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, who served President George W. Bush, told reporters she should be fired by employer Hearst Newspapers or at least lose her White House credentials.

Attempts to link Thomas' outburst to Nazi crematories are contemptible. In denouncing Thomas, Klein and others mention only Poland and Germany as places Thomas wants Jews now in Palestine to go. If they included "America and everywhere else," as Thomas actually stated, the attempted linkage of past Holocaust crematories would be blurred if not lost.

True to her reputation, Thomas spoke up for human rights, the fundamental property rights of Palestinians that are violated at an ever-rising pace in occupied Palestine by the government of Israel, with no serious opposition from the United States, Israel's main benefactor. Thanks to an intimidated U.S. media, most Americans are unaware of the plight of Palestinians, who are all Arab and mostly Muslim. Almost all Jews who live in what is left of Palestine are euphemistically called "settlers" by U.S. media, not as unlawful occupiers. By residing in Palestine, they violate international law, Geneva Accords, and clear stipulations of the U.N. Charter. The rare exceptions are a handful of Jews who belong to a peaceful, independent sect.

This dark, undeserved cloud over the reputation of an unrelenting grand champion of human rights will have a silver lining if it awakens the American people to their own quiet, complicit role in Israel's sustained violation of Palestinian rights.

I offer unique credentials in defending Thomas. Although a lifelong admirer, I first met her in October 2009 at a dinner in Washington. When I greeted her, she addressed me as They Dare to Speak Out Findley, using the title of my bestseller book published in 1985. …

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