Helen Thomas, Anti-Semitism, and a Powerless, Stateless People
I completely agree with Joe in his feeling that Helen Thomas — apology notwithstanding — lost all credibility when she told a reporter that Jews in Israel should go back to Germany and Poland “and America, and everywhere else.” It’s not just the way her assertion echoed the ignorant demand that black and brown people, and Latinos, and Koreans, etc., etc., “go back where they came from” — although that clearly is part of it. But from my perspective as a first-generation American having been raised by a father and mother who both survived the Holocaust — and I cannot emphasize strongly enough how deeply growing up with that experience has shaped me, in myriad ways — telling Israeli Jews they should “go back to Germany and Poland” betrays an appalling void in comprehension of what the names “Germany” or “Poland” mean to Jewish people in the post-Holocaust world. Although it’s true that even after the Holocaust, some Jewish survivors stayed in Europe, and some who left returned; and despite the fact that it’s possible today to find signs of a re-emerging Jewish consciousness even in Poland, it’s very upsetting that someone who is NOT anti-Semitic (and I don’t think Helen Thomas is) and who, furthermore, is so much better informed than the average person about history and world affairs (or should be, considering her decades of experience as a professional journalist), could believe that most Jews could feel safe living in Germany, or Poland, or anywhere in Eastern Europe, or think of such places as “home” anymore, or EVER again.
Having said all this, I want to also note that the sanctimonious, righteous outrage coming from some of the same people who have been busily degrading and dehumanizing the activists trying to bring aid to Gazans, and trivializing or even denying the desperate conditions in which Palestinians in Gaza are living, is perfectly nauseating.
In 1947, European Jews — and in a very real sense, all Jews — were powerless. We were a population of refugees without a state, without a home. We are not that, anymore, and that is a very good thing. I understand that it can be difficult to look at Palestinians today and recognize something of ourselves from back then. But if we are not even willing to make the effort, then we are not acting in our own best interests, never mind anyone else’s.