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Helen Thomas Coverage Skips the Underlying Issue

Sunday, June 20, 2010

In all the brouhaha over Helen Thomas' comments on Israel, Rima Abdelkader finds the media missing the chance to offer a full and fair discussion of the occupied Palestinian territories.

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In all the brouhaha over Helen Thomas' comments on Israel, Rima Abdelkader finds the media missing the chance to offer a full and fair discussion of the occupied Palestinian territories.

Helen Thomas(WOMENSENEWS)--When Helen Thomas, the veteran White House columnist, offered her personal viewpoints on Israel on the sidelines of Jewish Heritage Day outside of the White House, her unguarded remarks were caught on video. The video clip quickly amassed a major audience on the Web, a medium that Thomas has long criticized and that proved her own undoing.

"The technology that brings instant coverage into the living room has also brought into journalism unqualified people who have adopted the modus operandi of true journalists, blurring the profound difference between news professionals and entertainers," she wrote in her 2006 book, "Watchdogs of Democracy?" The book skewered the Washington press corps for their lax coverage on the lead up to the U.S.-led war in Iraq and critically examined the challenges facing journalism in the 21st century.

The damning video was made by Rabbi Nesenoff, who posted it on RabbiLive.com.

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The site was recently re-launched after "having previously existed to beam religious services to military personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan."

The Web site offers a section called "Israel BREATHES Videos," which features brief interviews with rabbis, a boxer, a retired football player and a Fox News White House correspondent. The subjects are asked about their views of Israel and all respond favorably.

Then there's a separate category called "Helen Thomas videos" with the infamous interview.

When Nesenoff approached the columnist for her thoughts on Israel, Thomas answered: "Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine. Remember, these people are occupied, and it's their land. It's not Germany, it's not Poland."

When asked where they should leave to, "They should go home," Thomas replied. "Where's home?" Rabbi Nesenoff asked. "Poland, Germany, America and everywhere else," she answered.

Media Weighs In

Thomas apologized, but Washington Post reporter Sally Quinn thought Thomas' apology didn't go deep enough. "She needs to say, 'I believe in Israel's right to exist' and 'I pray for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem,' or words to that effect," she wrote. "The person who called for Israel to get out of Palestine is not the Helen Thomas I knew. I want the old Helen back."

Ellen Ratner, a Fox News contributor and Talk Radio News Service Washington bureau chief, said on FoxNews.com that Thomas should have gotten a break. "Let's face it, we all have said things--or thought things--about 'other' groups of people, things that we would not want to see in print or on video. Anyone who denies it is a liar," she wrote. Ratner added that Thomas "is three months short of 90 and her brain's filters might not work as well as a 40-year-old's."

Thomas, as we all know by now, was dropped by her speakers' agency, Nine Speakers, and didn't go to Bethesda, Md., to give the graduation keynote at Walt Whitman High School.

The subtext was that Thomas, who has covered nine presidential administrations and over 60 years of Washington politics, had hurled anti-Jewish hate speech, a charge that actress and comedian Rosie O'Donnell gave a frank airing out on her Sirius/XM radio show Rosie Radio.

The charges of hate speech, a guest on O'Donnell's show said, "comes from the fact that Jews left Poland and Germany because they were being killed . . . So, hate is inferred when she says go back there."

O'Donnell agreed, but stood up for Thomas, saying she could have meant for Israeli Jewish settlers to leave the occupied Palestinian territories.

Making a Distinction

Anisa Mehdi, a journalist and Emmy Award-winning Arab American filmmaker, says the Thomas affair offers a chance to make a distinction between Zionism and Judaism.

"Disengaging these two distinct terms will go a long way in supporting good reporting and possibly even a just solution to this wrenching dilemma," Mehdi told Women's eNews.

Rabbi Nesenoff discusses his views on Israel in a post on his "Articles" section of the site:

"Why is it our homeland? Well ask anyone they'll tell you. Everyone knows why Israel is the Jewish homeland. We know, you know, I know. The television knows. The public knows, the world knows. All the schools know. The senior citizens know, the college kids know. Everyone knows why Israel is the Jewish homeland."

He then adds:

"And with the world feeling really guilty right after the Holocaust it made it that much easier to get the land back and kick out hundreds of thousands of Arabs who were living there and dwelling peacefully with their families and loved ones. But it was ours first as it was promised to us by God in the Torah so we have a claim to it."

There is obviously more than one side to this highly polarizing issue. It would be helpful if major media would pick up where Rosie Radio left off and give us a full-throated discussion of the underlying issue.

This is a subject much larger than the fate of just one journalist, even if she is the one-and-only Helen Thomas.

Rima Abdelkader is a New York-based multimedia journalist. If there's a story you'd like her to cover, she invites you to email her or send her a tweet on Twitter.

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For more information:

RabbiLive.com:
http://www.rabbilive.com/RabbiLIVE/Home.html