Helen Thomas Coverage Skips the Underlying Issue

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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.

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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10 thoughts on “Helen Thomas Coverage Skips the Underlying Issue

  1. What’s interesting is that a woman with this much experience is missing fundamental historical information. This land was occupied by the British before Israel, the Palestinians never owned this land.

  2. Thomas has exposed her anti-semitism in a most blatant and ignorant way. To suggest that Jews are not indigenous to ‘Palestine’ is a gross historic lie. The Jews were there 3,500 years ago. There were the Kingdoms of David and Solomon. No other country has existed in Palestine (the Roman name for Judea as of 135AD) until 1948 when Israel was re-constituted. International Law and Treaty recognises the historic connection of the Jews to the land and the RE-constitution of the state. The Arabs have no claim to any land west of the Jordan river and by international law and treaty are denied political rights there. The Arabs have the Kingdom of Jordan as their home-land. Even that was an illegal creation by Winston Churchill, carved out of the Jewish National Home in 1921. Thomas is just another Leftist appeaser of evil.

    • I think in saying ‘Palestine’ Helen was referring to the occupied Palestinian territories (Gaza and the West Bank) that the Palestinians are trying to get as their future state of Palestine. I guess at 90 years old, she isn’t as clear and erudite as she once was.

  3. I find this article to be troubling in that it does little to shed light on an important point – why a woman lauded for her groundbreaking advances for women could harbor such prejudice and obvious disdain.

    Women, of course, are no better than anyone else when it comes to hate speech or prejudice, and Women’s E-News has seen fit to cover the sympathetic ditherings of other women here who are willing to give Thomas the benefit of the doubt. I would like to know where Rosie O’Donnell thought Thomas wanted the settlers (as opposed to all Israelis) to go? Back to Poland and Germany?
    Zionist settlers arrived in what was then Palestine before the aftermath of the Holocaust — they worked and purchased land. They arrived in the wake of pogrom, slaughter after slaughter and a lack of civil rights in Europe. Britain controlled Palestine then.
    The culprits here –the forces of authoritarianism, nationalism, and colonialism – all were in play well before the state of Israel was founded. Arab, Jews…we seem to forget that the forces of the 20th century that killed 6 million plus, and enslaved entire peoples under a rubric of national interests are, in fact, issues held in common.

    This common history is one of a lack of determinism … and over the years it has become as much about hatred as it is about who belongs on the land.

    Under siege or the perception of constant attack, there can be no recognition of neighbor as there needs to be.

    What would an intelligent comment have sounded like from Thomas’ lips? What could she have said, instead? An entire life of belief was wrapped in her comments, not a single slip of the tongue. But could she have said “My people come from Lebanon. My sympathies are with all who suffer or who are suffering, and I struggle to remain objective. Yet despite the awful events, I believe there will one day be peace and security for all.” She made a choice.

    Thomas’ comments go far beyond a dispute over land – they show her esteem of mockery and hatred for the Jewish people. That fear of being without help in the world is made manifest to many when hearing her comments, and then the defense of her comments by others.

    Yet, it is the promise of peace,and only peace, that will guarantee and secure the land for all.

    The article doesn’t add to the reporting of the event and only adds to my unease and dismay – because one we looked up to, admired as “one of our own successful women” echoed precisely what the leader in Iran said not so very long ago…

  4. Abdelkader’s pointing out the pervasive lack of media objectivity with respect to the recent attack on White House correspondent Helen Thomas is on the mark. Severely disrespecting this important, uncompromising journalist, the mainstream corporate media has wielded a double standard that blindly favors Zionism over any and all Palestinian claims and perspectives, and that is not based in the true facts of the historical record concerning the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. I do not consider what Thomas is reported to have said in the least bit antisemitic: she was referring (as she has in the past, when also often quoted out of context) to the colonial character of the State of Israel, and to the hypocrisy of Zionists telling Palestinians to leave their homes and lands when in fact historic Palestine is not and never has been a geographical/genealogical home/origin for European Jews (who were the majority of the Jewish “settlers” of historic Palestine).

  5. I think that there was an over reaction over the statments that she has made esp. since in the same montht the Isreali government sends a link to the press on tasteless and more offensive Jeruslam Post journalist parady on Arabs and Muslims, yet neither the journalist was fired nor did any heads roll at the governement.

    at 89, I think she just decided the fight was not worth the effort that it will take to clear the matter up properly.

    I was dissapointed, she was a fixture of the White House Press corps and had proven her worth at a time when others were swollowing the cool aid, and not have her colleagues defened her but instead quippling on who takes her seat, showed us what we will be missing.

  6. Rima, you are doing an excellent job as usual, keep it up and you have my support, Ralph Kader

  7. This is a first-rate essay which helps expose, once again, pack journalism. Most White House correspondents do not possess the courage of Helen Thomas; most follow whatever the President says, sans any tough questions. Sad, that although 99 percent of the journlists who work with Helen KNOW she is not and never has been, anti-Jewish, they remained silent, failing to extend a helping hand of support when she was kicked to the ground. Our nation will miss Helen; her voice reflected the feelings of those Americans who are intent on bringing peace to the region, sans partisan politics,indeed peace to the world.

  8. Just because she is against the Israeli occupation does not mean she is anti Semitic. There is a lot of strategic conflation of the issue by the media which only serves to confuse the general public on this issue.

    History lesson – I think we all know that Palestine was the birthplace for Judaism, Christianity and later the first mecca of Islam. Therefore – the three religions came in waves to the people of Palestine. First some of the people from the land of Palestine converted to Judaism, then Christianity and then Islam. There were Arab Palestinian Jews in Palestine way before Zionism and Israel, just as there were Christian Palestinians and Muslim Palestinians. Her comment was specifically about the imported jews/settlers from the west that have more rights than the people of the country (including Arab Jews who are still 2nd class citizens in their own country). BTW – using the Zionist argument – all of us Christians should also move to Palestine – its the birthplace of our religion too.

    One more point to a particularly ignorant post -When the colonial British occupied Palestine, just as they did India for example – it did not mean that the people and the country did not exist. This comment is similar to saying there was no india before the British colonized it.

  9. Excellent article about how an incredible journalist, who was an inspiration to many, was so cruelly treated after a lifetime of service with integrity.