Thomas's bigotry runs deep

Helen Thomas’ words follow traditional anti-semitic motifs

June 10, 2010 11:34

The saga of Helen Thomas has served up a pungent lesson on how anti-Semitic ideas can pollute and ultimately force a 58-year career to crash, burn and splutter to an inglorious conclusion.

Thomas, the 89-year-old White House columnist for Hearst newspapers, was caught last week on a homemade video declaring that Jews should "get the hell out of Palestine" and "go back home to live in Germany and Poland".

On Monday, she announced her retirement following a barrage of criticism - including that of President Obama, who called her remarks "offensive" and "out of line."

The episode brought to an end a high-profile career that had begun as a correspondent for UPI in 1960 with JFK. Lauded as a trailblazer, Thomas is credited with having broken several glass ceilings, not least as a Lebanese-American.

Open about her anti-Israel views, Thomas had been wincingly tolerated for her baited questions at White House press briefings. Last week she declared Israel's military response to jihadi-trained attacks aboard the Mavi Marmara as a "massacre" and an "international crime".

Her words gave a glimpse of a hate-filled anti-semitic worldview

During the 2006 Lebanon War she peppered Bush Press Secretary Tony Snow with so many tendentious and factually erroneous questions that Snow had to cut her off for 'hectoring'.

What ultimately did for Helen Thomas, however, was an off-the-cuff response caught on-camera by Long Island reform Rabbi David Nesenoff, who runs He had just emerged from the Jewish American Heritage Month reception at the White House.

In the video, Nesenoff is audibly taken aback by the laughter-laced glibness of Thomas' blurt that Jews should "get the hell out of Palestine".

For some critics, what proved fatal to her career was the airbrushing of the Nazi era and the fact that Jewish survivors who did try to "return home" to Germany and Poland either languished in Displaced Persons Camps or were massacred when they got there.

A more compelling problem is that her words gave a glimpse into the same hate-filled worldview that enabled Thomas – in an interview earlier this year – to claim that "Zionists have vast power" and ultimately control American foreign policy.

In polite society, and in the public discourse about media coverage, we often steer clear of using the label 'anti-Semitic'. It somehow suggests knowledge of 'motivation' – or divination into a person's heart. While intuitively self-evident, the link between public words and inner thoughts is too often wrapped in obfuscation and denial.

But what Helen Thomas did in her dotage (old age has its advantages) was to say what she really feels. And what she really feels is that Jews are an occupying power - that they usurped the land and that they should go back to their supposed countries of origin.

This was and still is an anti-Semitic motif, particularly in the context of post-WWII.

It feeds directly into the pan-Arabist narrative perpetrated by the Muslim Brotherhood, Al Qaeda, Hamas, Khomeinism and the host of totalitarian Islamic ideologies that portray the Jews and Israel as illegitimate infidels, no better than the Nazis and warranting wholesale extirpation.

Helen Thomas's words provided a smoking gun. Suddenly watchers of a viral YouTube video were able catch a glimpse of her inner world.

In a nanosecond, decades of nasty comments, remonstrations with White House press secretaries and "hard-hitting" questions alleging bias in America's foreign policy towards Israel were exposed for what they are: pure, unencumbered bias.

With her impromptu comments to a father, his son and a friend, all flushed with celebrating what it means to be a Jewish American, Helen Thomas spoke hateful words with laughter and exposed herself for the bigot she is.

June 10, 2010 11:34

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