Helen Thomas: No Apologies Necessary

Helen Thomas’ statements were about policy, not people, and for that, we should not have lost her. To liken what Helen has said to racist rants inviting African-Americans to return to Africa is disingenuous at best, and more directly, a twisted misinterpretation designed only to silence opposing views to Israeli expansionism.

African-Americans have never been an occupying force, here of their own free will, to lord over others through terror and siege. African-Americans have never been assigned territory in America to reign over, supported by the largest military in the world, and guaranteed by an international body such as the United Nations. To liken Helen Thomas’ comments about Israel’s occupation of the Gaza strip, to comments telling African-Americans to “go back to Africa,” demonstrates a terrible misunderstanding of the plight of both the occupied Palestinians and the kidnapped African-Americans.

A more apt comparison may be to telling Americans to get out of Iraq, a land they occupied, battered, and controlled because of a manufactured threat. Likewise, the retaliation they have encountered because of their illegal occupation is being misconstrued, as in the case with Palestinian resistance, as cause, rather than the effect of their aggression.

African-Americans were not granted lands in America under the guarantee, and protection, of others, any more than they invaded America with ‘shock-and-awe’ under false pretense. Anyone making such comparisons is committing a grave injustice to African-Americans, Palestinians, and Helen Thomas.

Helen Thomas, White House correspondent for Hearst Newspapers, gave an interview to Rabbi David Nesenoff of RabbiLive.com at the White House’s May 27 Jewish Heritage Celebration . Rabbi Nesenoff posted a clip from the video on YouTube. Here’s the transcript:

Nesenoff: Any comments on Israel? We’re asking everybody today–

Thomas: Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine.

Nesenoff: Ooh. Any better comments?

Thomas (chuckling): Remember, these people are occupied, and it’s their land, not German and not Polish.

Nesenoff: So where should they go? What should they do?

Thomas: They should go home.

Nesenoff: Where is home?

Thomas: Poland. Germany.

Nesenoff: So you’re saying the Jews should go back to Poland and Germany?

Thomas: And America, and everywhere else.

Consider the conversation as if it were discussing the occupation forces in Iraq. Change Germany and Poland to the United States and the United Kingdom, or Canada. Realize that what Helen was recommending was that the occupiers return to their country of origin. Helen Thomas is making a statement against a nations foreign policy, not against individuals because of their ethnic group or race. Helen Thomas was not being anti-Semitic or racist. To disagree with Israel, or Israel’s foreign policy, does not make a person anti-Semitic.

The backlash against Ms. Thomas is “offensive and reprehensible,” to use Robert Gibbs words, that more appropriately describe his statement than Helen’s comments. Gibbs statement continues, offering further insight into the motivation behind the attacks against Helen Thomas, by explaining, “because they do not reflect the opinions of most of the people here, and certainly not the administration’.

Helen’s opinions were apparently wrong simply because they didn’t reflect the opinion of the majority. There was no hate speech, just an opinion about a nations foreign policy. Unfortunately, it did not agree with the majority, or, according to Gibbs, the administration. Therefore, a valuable, veteran, White House journalist of nearly sixty years and ten presidents, must be resigned and have her name smeared.

In response to the intense political and professional pressure, Helen offered the following statement:

I deeply regret my comments I made last week regarding the Israelis and the Palestinians. They do not reflect my heartfelt 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.”

An apology was not in order, but Helen Thomas offered one out of her strength of character. Her succinct and eloquent statement, “peace will come to the Middle East only when all parties recognize the need for mutual respect and tolerance,” demonstrates the wisdom and indefatigable spirit we will sorely miss in the press conferences.

Helen Thomas is a voice that we need to continue to listen for as she asks her questions, and probes for her answers. There is life after the White House press corps, and, perhaps there, Helen’s voice can ring even louder and clearer than before, with no apologies necessary.


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