RIP Helen Thomas: Non-PC re Israel: American Journalist: Arab Heritage,
A complex woman, bold in her time of times when women were to be quiet and entertaining, petite and not reveal they were educated. Helen was attacked for how she looked, attacked for how she thought personally and as a journalist: she kept going. The reining chair at presidential news conferences for years and years, many were glad for her presence. Some coveted her power. Some attempted to dunn. She continued.
Helen Thomas, born into an Arabic family from Lebanon, was the seventh of ten children. Her immigrant parents who could not read or write, had immigrated to Kentucky at the line between the 19th and 20th centuries. The family owned a small grocery, later migrating to Michigan. Miss Thomas was raised in the Greek Orthodox church.
Miss THomas spoke in her books about early life as a child of immigrants, the harassments at school, the struggle to assimilate. She held the belief that persons in America are Americans, not hyphenated by their previous country. Thus, she called herself an American, not an “Arab-American” as she said.
Miss Thomas is known for many things, one detailed below, which I believe is a case for a long overdue conversation and set of teachings re what I’d call ‘truth about death-dealing’ that is, invasion and occupation of another country in our time, by some of those who literally were turned away from our country, and from Canada and UK because those nations post WWII, are alledged to have refused to allow their quotas of Jewish immigrants to increase– having their own issues of anti-Semitism [which means Arabs and Jews and other Semitic peoples].
Miss Thomas, resquiat in pacem. May you have a good chair and the first question always.
The gist of my putting this here [below] about Miss Thomas’s controversial comments re Israel and Palestine, is this, and perhaps the question more so remains even though Miss Thomas has passed: She was crushed for saying what she saw as truths. And the STARK question remains, regardless of her death today: Is it allowable to speak, discuss, teach, reassess, delve into whatever good faith and hope US citizens had for persons streaming to newly founded Israel since learning of the holocaust and wanting, at that time, it appears to many at least on surface knowledge, wanting so much that there be a safe haven place for those who had suffered so?
Can we also add the hidden parts back into the conversation: the anti-semitism of church and states across the world, who would not take those who suffered so in WWII, and who literally in terms of the allies, Russia, UK, USA, gave away the fertile lands many WWII Jews and other tribal groups held rights to return to in Europe… instead giving dominion over those lands to the known murderer of million, Joseph Stalin who would go on to invade and occupy and murder many while cossetting the few, throughout his tenure?
When will be the time to reassess from all sides, and in some calm rather than creating more war? In truth, rather than in shading the truth back into ‘you started it first,’ ‘no you’, ‘no you’, ‘no you.’ There are finer minds. I’m sure of it.
Thus, here is one of the places in US culture, where the question of reassessment of post WWII choices was raised…
Helen Thomas retired in June 2010, following negative reaction to comments she had made about Israel, Jews, and Palestine in an unscheduled video made by Rabbi David Nesenoff of RabbiLive.com. for his website promoting his own views. Nesenoff approached Miss Thomas on the sidewalk as she was leaving the White House and without preamble, asked herr comments on Israel.
Miss Thomas 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 the rabbi 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?” She mentioned she was of “Arab background.” Nesenoff broadcast her responses on his website.
Following, Miss Thomas posted on her web site: I deeply regret my comments I made last week regarding the Israelis and the Palestinians. They do not reflect my 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.
The fallout to Thomas giving her opinion was shaded and swift.
–Thomas’s agency, Nine Speakers, Inc., dropped her as a client.
–Craig Crawford, who co-authored with Miss Thomas, “Listen up, Mr. President,” said “I … will no longer be working with Helen on our book projects.”
–Her scheduled delivery of a commencement speech at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, Maryland, was canceled by the school.
— The White House Correspondents’ Association, over which she once presided, issued a statement calling her remarks “indefensible.”
— On June 7, Thomas tendered her resignation from Hearst Newspapers
–On June 8, in an interview on NBC’s Today Show, President Obama called her remarks “offensive” and “out of line” and said her retirement was “the right decision.” He remarked that it was a “shame” her celebrated career had to end in such controversy, and at the same time he recognized her long service covering U.S. presidents, calling her “a real institution in Washington.”
–White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, former special counsel to and White House spokesman for President Bill Clinton, Lanny Davis, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, and Hoover Institution senior fellow Victor Davis Hanson– all condemned Miss Thomas publicly.
–Helen Thomas’s alma mater, Wayne State University strongly condemned what it called her “wholly inappropriate comments.”
>>And, Ralph Nader was the first to publicly note the “double standard” where one off-hand “ill-conceived remark” ended Helen Thomas’ career while “ultra-right wing radio and cable ranters” engaged in “bigotry, stereotypes and falsehoods directed wholesale against Muslims, including a blatant anti-semitism against Arabs.”
>> Gary Leupp in CounterPunch called the interview an “ambush” because it was a sudden running up to her on a sidewalk, and he wrote the “they” referred to did not specify whether it was all Jews or Jews in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. He also criticized the White House for being more outraged by Thomas’ comments than by Israel’s May 31, 2010 Gaza flotilla raid which killed nine Turkish activists.
>> Paul Jay on Huffington Post wrote Thomas “clearly” was referring to Jews from Germany, Poland and America who had to go to Israel after World War II, mostly because “the American, Canadian and British governments would not drop their anti-Jewish quotas” and that most refugees would have preferred to go to those nations.
>>Former managing editor for United Press International, Michael Freedman, said that Thomas had “shown that most dreaded of vulnerabilities—she is human” and “Let’s not destroy Ms. Thomas now.”
>>The Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of The Nation, wrote: “Her remarks were offensive, but considering her journalistic moxie and courage over many decades—a sharp contrast to the despicable deeds committed by so many littering the Washington political scene—isn’t there room for someone who made a mistake, apologized for it and wants to continue speaking truth to power and asking tough questions?”
>>Activist Medea Benjamin stated at a White House protest supporting Thomas: “We are clear what Helen Thomas meant to say, which is that Israel should cease its occupation of Palestine and we agree with that.”
>>Former White House correspondent Sam Donaldson disagreed with Thomas statements but praised Thomas’ achievements as an early female journalist, and said her comments likely reflected the view of many people of Arab descent.
**Hezbollah called Thomas’ comments “courageous, bold, honest and free opinion.”
** Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades of Hamas stated that “Thomas Helen has told the truth that everybody in the world knows…”
–In August 2010, a group of Holocaust survivors and relatives criticized the Arab American National Museum of Dearborn, Michigan for its plans to place a statue of Helen Thomas in its museum, saying that it would be immoral to honor her and that “American values are at stake.”
In October 2010, Thomas said in a radio interview with Scott Spears of WMRN (AM) that she realized soon after making the comments that she would be fired, stating, “I hit the third rail. You cannot criticize Israel in this country and survive.” She added that she issued an apology because people were upset, but that ultimately, she still “had the same feelings about Israel’s aggression and brutality.”
–In January 2011, the Society of Professional Journalists voted to retire the Helen Thomas Award for Lifetime Achievement stating that it staunchly defends the right to free speech, but that “the controversy surrounding this award has overshadowed the reason it exists.” “…No individual worthy of such honor should have to face this controversy. No honoree should have to decide if the possible backlash is worth being recognized for his or her contribution to journalism.” “SPJ will simply not give a lifetime achievement award (anymore)” said Scott Leadingham, spokesman for SPJ.
2010 speech on Arab Americans
On December 2, 2010, shortly before a speech for the eighth annual “Images and Perceptions of Arab Americans” conference at the Byblos Banquet Center on Chase, Thomas told reporters that she still stood by the comments she had made to Nesenoff.
Referring to her resignation, she said “I paid a price, but it’s worth it to speak the truth.” During the speech, Thomas said: “Congress, the White House and Hollywood, Wall Street are owned by Zionists. No question, in my opinion.” Thomas defended her comments on December 7, telling Scott Spears of Marion, Ohio AM radio station WMRN, “I just think that people should be enlightened as to who is in charge of the opinion in this country.”
–The next day, the Anti-Defamation League called for journalism schools and organizations to rescind any honors given to Thomas. The organization said that Thomas had “clearly, unequivocally revealed herself as a vulgar anti-Semite” in the speech.
— Hours later, Wayne State University in Detroit discontinued the Helen Thomas Spirit of Diversity in Media Award, which it had been granting for more than ten years, citing what it called her antisemitic remarks. The school issued a statement saying: “As a public university, Wayne State encourages free speech and open dialogue, and respects diverse viewpoints. However, the university strongly condemns the anti-Semitic remarks made by Helen Thomas…”. Speaking for the school, Matthew Seeger said: “The controversy has brought a negative light to the award, which was never the intent of the award.”
Thomas herself reacted by saying that “the leaders of Wayne State University have made a mockery of the First Amendment and disgraced their understanding of its inherent freedom of speech and the press.” She also stated that “the university also has betrayed academic freedom— a sad day for its students.”
>> The university’s Arab American Student Union held a protest on campus December 10. In a news release the Palestine Cultural Office of Michigan made a call for concerned individuals to contact the university. Also, members of the Congress of Arab American Organizations held a meeting with university officials on December 7 in an attempt to make them repeal their decision, but a later response from the university said it would not reverse its position.
>> Asked by the Detroit Free Press how she’d respond to people who say she’s anti-Semitic, Thomas responded: ‘I’d say I’m a Semite. What are you talking about?'”.
2011 Playboy interview
In March 2011, Thomas did an interview with David Hochman, a reporter for Playboy magazine. Asked by Hochman about her controversial remarks about Israel and Jews in particular, made in May 2010, she said, “Well, there’s no understanding [on the part of the Israelis] of the Palestinians at all. I mean, they’re living there and [the Israelis] want to come and take their homes and land and water and kill their children and kill them.”
When asked what she had meant when she commented that “they” should go back to Germany, Poland and America, Thomas replied that the millions of German, Polish, American and Russian Jews who have come to Israel in recent years should have stayed where they were as they have not been persecuted since World War II.
When asked if she recognizes that Palestinian hijacking and suicide bombing is wrong, Thomas answered, “Of course. I don’t condone any violence against anyone. But who wouldn’t fight for their country?…The suicide bombers act out of despair and desperation.”
Thomas said she does not feel antisemitism toward Jews: “I think they’re wonderful people. They had to have the most depth. They were leaders in civil rights.”
Later in the interview, when asked by Hochman if she stood by her December 2010 accusations that Zionists own the White House, Hollywood and Wall Street, Thomas answered that she did stand by those remarks. When confronted with the fact that Jews constitute a small percentage of the total population, Thomas told Hochman: “I know where you’re leading with this. You know damn well the power [Jews] have… 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?” Hochman said that he was Jewish.
Thomas accused Israel of treating the Palestinians as the Nazis had treated the Jews of Germany and Poland and Hungary: “They can’t just come in and say, ‘This is my home,’ knock on the door at three in the morning and have the Israeli military take them out. That’s what happens. And that’s what happened to the Jews [during the Holocaust]. Why do [the Israelis] inflict that same pain on people who did nothing to them?”
>>Thomas was a weekly columnist at the Falls Church News-Press, January 2011. Owner-Editor Nicholas Benton defended the decision to hire her, noting that in 2011 he was “outraged” when the Society of Professional Journalists voted on retiring a scholarship award named for Thomas. Benton says that Thomas “is herself a Semite” and was “expressing a political point of view [in the interview with the rabbi Nesenoff website video], and not a bigoted racial sentiment.”
Helen Thomas died on July 20, 2013 at her home in Washington, D.C. at the age of 92.
Many female journalists memorialized Thomas on Twitter,
>>Judy Woodruff, who called her a “trailblazer”
>>Lynn Sweet, who said she was a “glass ceiling breaking journalist”.
>> Andrea Mitchell tweeted that Thomas “made it possible for all of us who followed.”
>> Perino remembered that on her first day as Press Secretary, Thomas approached her to give her words of encouragement.
As before said, now again said,
Miss Thomas encouraged so many on maiden voyages, called Obama White House the most controlling of Press Corp in all her decades covering White House, noted that having a land of refuge re Israel is different than having a land of invasion and occupation whilst repeatedly doing to others what was done to oneself in many cases.
Helen Thomas, ridiculed for her looks, valued for so much of her mind, held her head up high, was a woman outside of time in many ways leaving the mold that was set in her time for most all women to be locked into, a carapace far smaller than the soul of the woman…
Helen Thomas left us, not with a closed case about any of these questions she raised about powerful people controlling others… [she was not speaking about ‘the people,’ she was speaking of people with seemingly unlimited corporate and militaristic power], but with cognizance of a gaping open wound/ question that as yet to be responded to in depth ongoing and in decency ongoing by USA/ UK/ EU and elsewhere. A set of questions about all of us really, our actual comprehension and knowledge about underworkings and double dealing, and our participation in such by giving passes without having the big picture.
I think Helen Thomas allows us the so serious question about why certain actions by certain powers not allowed to be spoken about, especially, and I mean ESPECIALLY, in service of children of our world: our complete future. The children of the Middle East [and all children EVERYWHERE] deserve not to grow up to be commandeered as an available army, but rather grow up able to imagine and create and love and care for others from their own tribes and from all other tribes, and without risking one’s life to do so. To live as long a life as Creator grants. Not to live a shortened and violent life decided by man.
Miss Thomas, resquiat in pacem. May you have a good chair and the first question always. Your questions on earth, remain open for further discussion, also.
note: some of the above facts about response to Miss Thomas’s controversial remarks are drawn from wikipedia where they are referenced and cited in footnotes.