Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

June 7, 2010

HELEN THOMAS AND 'CROSSING THE LINE'.... In the unlikely event you haven't heard about this elsewhere, Helen Thomas' remarks on Israel recently were as offensive as they were ridiculous.

Helen Thomas has sparked a furor by declaring that Jews should abandon Israel. In a video posted last week on a site called RabbiLIVE.com, founded by a Long Island rabbi, the Hearst Newspapers columnist, who's covered the White House seemingly forever, tells an unidentified interviewer that Israelis should "get the hell out of Palestine."

Asked where they should go, Thomas, the daughter of Lebanese immigrants, says: "Go home. Poland. Germany. And America and everywhere else."

Not surprisingly, the comments, made in May but publicized last week, were not well received. There have been a variety of calls for Hearst Newspapers to fire her; the speakers' bureau that represents Thomas has dropped her as a client; and a commencement address she was scheduled to deliver next week at a Maryland high school has been cancelled.

Thomas last week posted an item online expressing "deep regret" for her comments, but it didn't come close to ending the criticism. She conceded to Howard Kurtz, "I think I crossed the line."

That seems like a reasonable conclusion to draw.

The question is what happens next, other than Thomas watching the further decline of her damaged public reputation. Hearst, at least for now, seems reluctant to fire her. Whether that changes, I suspect it'd be best if someone close to her discreetly explained to the 89-year-old columnist that it's time to retire.

Thomas had a good run -- she's covered 10 presidents -- but she hasn't actually reported from the White House as a correspondent for at least a decade; she hasn't broken a news story in decades; and no one seems to actually read her work. Thomas maintains an exalted place in the briefing room -- she is the only columnist to have a front-row seat, with her name literally engraved on it -- simply as a matter of tradition. It's a nice gesture for a trailblazing media figure.

But once the trailblazing media figure starts making offensive anti-Semitic remarks, it's that much more evident that Thomas needs to step aside. From her perspective, wouldn't that be preferable to the indignities that are likely to follow in the wake of her remarks?

Steve Benen 10:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (83)

Bookmark and Share

I've been a big fan of hers for many years, but yes, this is too much. It's a shame that her many valid criticisms of presidents will be shaded by this.

Meanwhile, Pat Buchanan somehow manages to thread the needle of being publicly anti-Semitic and anti-Israel while still being treated as a lovable, cranky uncle. He's charmed.

Posted by: Rathskeller on June 7, 2010 at 10:24 AM | PERMALINK

Helen Thomas must go!!!

Of course, Pat Buchanan will stay forever and ever and ever and never be subjected to the scorn that Helen has received.

Posted by: AmusedOldVet on June 7, 2010 at 10:24 AM | PERMALINK

The remarks weren't anti-semitic, they were anti-zionist. There is a difference.

That said, she is wrong. The Isrealies are home. They need to learn how to live with their neighbors. That is something that doesn't seem to interest them and won't as long as they have America's unthinking loyalty.

Posted by: Ron Byers on June 7, 2010 at 10:30 AM | PERMALINK

why should she be fired? she said what she thought. I may not (and don't) like it, but so what? And what's anti-semetic about her remarks? Abandon Palestine? Get a grip.

Posted by: Jack on June 7, 2010 at 10:34 AM | PERMALINK

Thomas has finally said what many, many of us have thought for years. Israel will die eventually, or it will continue to bring the rest of the world down trying to save it.

Israel may at one point have represented something worth saving; at this point, it is the cause of so much loss of life and treasure that it is impossible to defend its existence any more on merits. The fact that it will eventually be overcome by its adversaries in the Middle East is all the more reason for proactive measures now end it as humanely as possible.

Fifty years from now, if anyone will care to remember, Helen Thomas will be regarded as prescient in this, and her forthright statement courageous in the face of so many today that are blind to the reality of Israel's demise.

Posted by: NealB on June 7, 2010 at 10:38 AM | PERMALINK

As I read the names of Helen's detractors, I wonder why Ari F. is still taken seriously. He worked for arguably the worst president of our nation and regularly lied to the American people, as have his predecessors and those that followed. There are any number of "journalists" and political spokespersons who lie and spin for a living and no one is seriously calling for their firing or demotion. That Helen is treated differently is clearly a sign that the fear of truth is alive and well.
Fire BP and AIPAC, then fire Helen.

Posted by: st john on June 7, 2010 at 10:40 AM | PERMALINK

So, once again making any remarks critical of Israel is automatically "anti-semitic". I will give you that calling for the disbandment of Israel is radical and would be a great burden for those who live there. It is not a valid or moral option. But Israel is a state created in a place already occupied by people who were subsequently rounded up into reservations much the same as the American indigenous population. I think someone could be morally uncomfortable with that and think of a radical solution to it without necessarily being against a particular race of people. In fact when the term "semitic" is referring to race it includes Arabs and thus Palestinians.

Posted by: nameless Bob on June 7, 2010 at 10:41 AM | PERMALINK

I've always believed that carving up Palestine to create Israel was a big mistake.

To me, It has always seemed that it would have been much more reasonable to have partitioned Germany after WW2 for the purpose of creating an Israeli state.

After all, it was the krauts who started the worst fucking war in history. What they did to the Jews in EU was horribly depraved and viscous.

But - having been victimized by the nazis does not bestow upon the Israelis the right to commit atrocities against others. Their cry of "never again" rings hollow when they are the ones doing it "again".

So, I can easily understand that a person like Helen Thomas, having been forced on this issue to bite her tongue for many years, could finally erupt in a bit of verbal anger at the way the Israelis have brutalized the area,,, including her ancestral home of Lebanon.

Shit, if I were an Apache, I'd be plotting the overthrow of the US.

Having said that, 89 years old is a good time for anyone to pack it in.

Posted by: cwolf on June 7, 2010 at 10:43 AM | PERMALINK

...how were these comments anti-Semitic?

Posted by: EricB on June 7, 2010 at 10:43 AM | PERMALINK

What others have said. Effectively noting that the State of Israel was carved into the region less than 70 years ago isn't anti-Semitic.

And yeah, the Israelis need to be buying a clue here-- we're in the grandchildren's generation now, and just as many enterprises either fail or have to be renewed at that point, the US/Israel relationship is something that future generations of Americans will be looking at closely. The horrors of WWII have receded into history and there will be much less patience with the idea that Israel is always the party with clean hands in the situation. The time for them to cut a deal is NOW (Yesterday, actually), because their negotiating position only gets weaker day by day.

That of course, will not happen, because their government is nearly as bat-shit crazy as our last one.

And Helen needs to retire, after a decent interval. Making crazy, cranky old person comments IOKIYAR, but is just embarrassing for someone who did good stuff in her day.

Posted by: bluewave on June 7, 2010 at 10:45 AM | PERMALINK

Helen is right. Nobody has the right to take anyone else' land based on their own superstitions. The creation of Israel was a terrible mistake, and in great irony, has become like the Nazi scum that spawned it.

She spoke truth to power, and now will be punished.

Posted by: gkam on June 7, 2010 at 10:46 AM | PERMALINK

Her comment was ill-thought, but /not/ anti-semitic. It was anti-Israel. And therein lies the problem. Steve, you can't seem to separate the two. That is equally troublesome.

9-11 is a /direct/ result of our perceived anti-Muslim bias, brought about by our unthinking support of Israel. And your attitude is so common that no one in political life will dare go against it.

Thomas spoke her mind. It was a dumb quip, but it has as much validity as you saying it was anti-Semitic. They're just words.

Posted by: KW on June 7, 2010 at 10:47 AM | PERMALINK

I'm a big fan Steve, but let's not conflate anti-Zionism with anti-semitism.

I don't agree with Thomas that Israeli Jews should "go home", because moving around is what we humans do, we have to work it out rather than somehow trying to sort everybody out to their point of origin.

But I do think her comments illustrate the fact that Palestinians are angry not because they are anti-Semitic, but rather because their land was taken from them, really rather recently, by a group of people who were coming from elsewhere.

Posted by: JKP on June 7, 2010 at 10:48 AM | PERMALINK

I don't get it. How are Ms. Thomas's comments anti-Semitic? And, oh, that Ari F.... Quick to jump her bones after all the hard times she gave him when he consistently lied to the press and the public.

Posted by: Ben on June 7, 2010 at 10:48 AM | PERMALINK

Their cry of "never again" rings hollow when they are the ones doing it "again".

What "again"? There's no new ghetto in Warsaw. The ghetto is in Gaza! Totally different!

Thomas should get a talk show on AM radio, where crossing the line is a job requirement.

Posted by: Grumpy on June 7, 2010 at 10:50 AM | PERMALINK

Israel is like the abused child that grows up to become a serial killer, rapist, child molestor, spouse beater, etc. You get the picture. They are acting out the abuse they received. It is time for deep and intense therapy.

Posted by: st john on June 7, 2010 at 10:50 AM | PERMALINK

So the right wing racists pundits get to keep their jobs. But Helen Thomas makes one 'over-the-line' comment and has to go. I call BS.

NOTHING she said is any further 'over the line' than Coulter, Buchannan, Limbaugh or a host of others. But because it was about the al mighty Israel she has to be fired.

As others have said, repeatedly, what she said was NOT anti-semitic. They were anti-zionist.

And they were perhaps poorly worded. But she is right. Most of the settlements are being populated by 'returning' jews from Russian, the US and elsewhere. Their religious fevor is part of what's fueling the push into the West Bank and Gaza and their intransigence is part of the reason no solution can be found.

Posted by: thorin-1 on June 7, 2010 at 10:56 AM | PERMALINK

What "again"? There's no new ghetto in Warsaw. The ghetto is in Gaza! Totally different!

Oh, I see, you're one of those "Strict Constructionists"

Posted by: cwolf on June 7, 2010 at 10:57 AM | PERMALINK

I don't agree with Helen Thomas, but a lot of this outrage (Joe Klein for example) is just as much motivated by Israeli-Palestinian politics as anything Helen Thomas said. It's okay to support an anti-Palestinian policy, but not the other way around. In fact, people like Joe Klein actively work to support this status quo.

Posted by: Christopher on June 7, 2010 at 10:58 AM | PERMALINK

To check a sum you can perform the reverse method to if your arithmetic was preformed properly .
Take the names Palestinain and Israeli and reverse them in her comments , now you can tell if Helen Thomas's arithmetic is rightand proper .
It's so easy , just like shooting , or starving a captive population behind a wall .

Posted by: FRP on June 7, 2010 at 10:59 AM | PERMALINK

Anti-Semitic? Get a grip. It's not like she was calling for a neo-Wannsee Conference or anything. That little conclave led to the deaths of millions of people. I think the Jews ought to get the hell out of Palestine, too. Give 'em Oklahoma. It's not like we're using it for anything productive anyway.

Posted by: Death Panel Truck on June 7, 2010 at 11:02 AM | PERMALINK

However inelegantly she may have expressed her point, Thomas asked the right question. It is way past time for the U.S. to recognize the brutality of the current Zionista regime.

That said, I do think that Helen could do this country a great service by retiring and providing a "role model" to others in the public spotlight who have overstayed their welcome and need to be put out to pasture. Darth Cheney, Newtie Gingrich, Failin' Palin, Johnny ("Got Milk?") Bolton, Glen BeckerHead, Rush Limpballs, Little Seanie Vannity, Little Billy Krystol and Johnny McNumbNuts come immediately to mind. I am sure the list could go on and on.

Posted by: Bo on June 7, 2010 at 11:04 AM | PERMALINK

So, once again making any remarks critical of Israel is automatically "anti-semitic".

No, and it really pisses me off when Israel pulls that line, especially each time it's made yet another colossal breach of international law, judgment and human decency. However, the reference to "going back to" Germany and Poland -- site of the death camps -- was way, way, beyond the pale. It's a fact that Israelis came from somewhere else and took someone else's land to create a state, and that's a point worthy of discussing. Suggesting that the children and grandchildren of the people who came from the center of the Holocaust's worst crimes, however, was not the way to discuss it.

I also admit to not understanding why Steve has so completely avoided the issue that's been pretty much consistently number one in international circles the past week. Except for a post criticizing Liz Cheney for criticizing Turkey, and a couple of one-off references to the attack on the flotilla in the roundups, Steve's been eerily silent on this. I'm aware that this topic is a tinderbox, but you can't just ignore it, Steve. You're entitled to write about whatever you want on your own blog, but this huge omission can't help getting people's attention.

Posted by: shortstop on June 7, 2010 at 11:05 AM | PERMALINK

Helen Thomas still has my support. The utter brutality Israel has shown towards the West Bank has been unconscionable. It is a miracle that they have not incited another Middle East war.

Posted by: kropotkin on June 7, 2010 at 11:08 AM | PERMALINK

Give 'em Oklahoma. It's not like we're using it for anything productive anyway.

I admit to a gory interest in seeing Likudnik magical thinking go up against Coburn and Inhofe magical thinking. The crossover is about 75 percent, but the other 25 could be entertaining.

Posted by: shortstop on June 7, 2010 at 11:09 AM | PERMALINK

Oops, that was not a sentence. Should have been: Suggesting that the children and grandchildren of the people who came from the center of the Holocaust's worst crimes "go back there," however, was not the way to discuss it.

As has been pointed out, most of the kids and grandkids of German and Polish emigrants to Israel tend to be living somewhat liberal and secular lives in Tel Aviv, anyway. The strongest pro-settlement expansion faction is, if I'm not mistaken, of mostly American and Russian background. Happy to be corrected if I'm wrong.

Posted by: shortstop on June 7, 2010 at 11:13 AM | PERMALINK

True that Ron Byers @ 10:30! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on June 7, 2010 at 11:14 AM | PERMALINK

I agree with Shortstop. I hate having to read about this on Al-Jazeera.

Posted by: Jamobey on June 7, 2010 at 11:14 AM | PERMALINK

Steve, it would appear you've misjudged the attitudes of your own audience. Perhaps the most representative is the comment by nameless Bob. Personally, the piling on of the American media in propaganda action supporting Israel's piracy in international waters is very telling, and it's sad to me that you are joining that chorus.

Posted by: winddancer on June 7, 2010 at 11:15 AM | PERMALINK

I think I'm friends w/ Jewish folk who make up the younger generation who don't jump to the "anti-Semitic" label every freaking time a policy is brought up, because this post reads like someone from AIPAC was posting. I mean, really? Maybe I didn't see the interview, but as others have pointed out, this was just anti-Zionist, not anti-Semitic.

Reasonable people can disagree on whether the state of Israel was a good thing to establish after WWII. Personally, it's there now so I think it deserves the US's protection. But if someone where to ask me whether, knowing what we know now, would we have done it again, I'm not so sure.

These exact same types of anxieties were present in liberals following the invasion of Iraq, only they were called anti-American by detractors. Calling someone anti-Semitic in this situation is similar: some people are uncertain about the circumstances, but that doesn't mean they are opposed to the whole idea.

Posted by: Huh? on June 7, 2010 at 11:15 AM | PERMALINK

how the fuck is this anti-semitic?

Posted by: rageahol on June 7, 2010 at 11:17 AM | PERMALINK

I hate having to read about this on Al-Jazeera.

Not my point. Of course I can and have read about this on nearly other major and many minor progressive blogs. I get that Benen's carved out his own niche and it doesn't involve taking on the big issues of the day in any depth. That's his right. There's a place for pure party loyalists and for watchdogs of a horribly skewed right-wing American media.

It's ironic, however, that he's been handed one of the most outrageous examples of the latter this past seven days as a gigantic present, and failed to open it except to nibble at the edge of the ribbon with this Helen Thomas post.

Posted by: shortstop on June 7, 2010 at 11:20 AM | PERMALINK

Like many of the other commenters and readers of this blog, I'm disappointed, but not very surprised by Steve Benen's reaction. The unwritten rule in U.S. mainstream politics and journalism has been broken, so Helen Thomas must be condemned and drummed out. Her apology, Steve writes, is just not apologetic enough.However, her remarks were not anti-Semitic, but in a shorthand way said that Palestinians have a right to their land, and the current ultra-right wing Israeli policies are brutal and unacceptable. In most Western European countries that would be viewed as a completely unremarkable view. But this is the country with an indefensible "Israel right or wrong" policy. It's not one I endorse.

Posted by: nancycadet on June 7, 2010 at 11:29 AM | PERMALINK

Yeah, I'm all for Israel, but you know, I do recognize that others in the Middle East might have a different perspective. Being against Israel (and especially against Israel expansion into Arab territories) is NOT always being anti-semitic in the sense of being against Jews.

But you can't, in the US, say anything against Israel. Israelis are far, far more allowed to criticize Israel than we are! And we're supposed to be the land of the free.

Posted by: alix on June 7, 2010 at 11:31 AM | PERMALINK

The sad reality is that the Israelis, in response to unspeakable ethnic cleansing in the 1940s, have sought to create an ethnically pure state of their own.

Ron Byers is absolutely correct that the problem here is not their ethnicity or that of the Palestinians. It is the absolute unwillingness of the Israelis to learn how to live with their neighbors.

Posted by: chrenson on June 7, 2010 at 11:34 AM | PERMALINK

Steve, how about this? Tell us some criticisms of Israel that you wouldn't regard as "anti-semitic". Is it possible in the US to say anything critical of Israel?

And she is of Lebanese descent, and you know, really, the Arabs do matter too, especially to themselves. You think she shouldn't have any regard at all for her ancestral homeland's interests? Israel trumps all?

But really, what can a public figure say in support of Palestinians or against Israel that you'll accept?

Posted by: alix on June 7, 2010 at 11:36 AM | PERMALINK

I am really sick of this. FIRE HER??? REALLY? Honest to God, we have been lied to, manipulated by and generally been treated like morons and a woman that reported for DECADES, IS a legend and makes a remark 'that crosses the line' and we should FIRE HER? What on earth has this country come to? We don't agree with Obama? Well then IMPEACH him...of course, he hasn't done anything to warrant that but IMPEACH HIM. Helen Thomas makes a stupid remark so fire her! She's 89...get rid of her. So Steve...what do you say about South Carolina? LEAVE the US? What about AZ? Get rid of it...honestly.

Posted by: SYSPROG on June 7, 2010 at 11:48 AM | PERMALINK

We condemn Islamic theocracies who dare to think they deserve to be in the nuclear club, but the secretly nuclear Israeli theocracy gets our whole-hearted consistent support. And we do it with a straight face.

Posted by: ajohng on June 7, 2010 at 11:49 AM | PERMALINK

If you tell current Jewish residents of Israel, people who were born in Israel to parents who were born in Israel, that they should “go home” to Germany and Poland, you are not just a critic of the Israeli government, you are engaging in antisemitic behavior.

Scratch the history of any nation-state on this planet and you will find stories of inter-ethnic warfare, occupation, and exile. But I never heard anyone in the African National Congress say that the Afrikaners should “go home” to the Netherlands. Irish Republicans wanted the Catholic majority to rule over Ireland, but as far as I can tell, they didn’t demand that Protestants “go home” to Scotland. (If they did, I never saw anyone outside the IRA and its supporters take that idea seriously.) Now that Bosnia and Herzegovina have something resembling a stable government, nobody is pressuring Bosnian Serbs to “go home” from the previously-Bosniak lands they occupied.

Saying “go home” to Jews living in the only majority-Jewish state on the planet is not just criticism of the Israeli government; it’s antisemitism. I’m sick and tired of seeing how so many people on the left consider this a topic worthy of discussion.

PS: For a lot of Israelis, Germany and Poland were never “home” to their ancestors, anyway. For many, that “home” was Egypt, Yemen, or Iran. So Thomas’s remark was not just antisemitic; it was antisemitic with a side of racism.

Posted by: Seth Gordon on June 7, 2010 at 11:49 AM | PERMALINK

The strongest pro-settlement expansion faction is, if I'm not mistaken, of mostly American and Russian background. Happy to be corrected if I'm wrong.

No, that's exactly right.

On the other hand Helen Thomas' remarks were nonsense. Israel didn't just appear magically out of the air in 1947.

Posted by: cld on June 7, 2010 at 11:57 AM | PERMALINK

What's wrong with being anti-semetic? I could never understand why the so-called christians have always fawned over the jews. Weren't they the ones who killed christ?

Posted by: josephus on June 7, 2010 at 12:01 PM | PERMALINK

Yeah, I'm having a difficult time understanding why Helen Thomas crossed a line yet Pat "too many Jews on the Supreme Court" Buchanan continues to be a guest in good standing on all the TV channels, cable and broadcast.

Posted by: karen marie on June 7, 2010 at 12:21 PM | PERMALINK


Say Alaska was nuked, and we had boatloads of Sarah Palin family members that we needed to housed somewhere. We decide to place them in a state smack in the middle of San Francisco, where they are attacked again and again. This is different from a people *within* a state -- they got a sovereign land. The Palins get their helicopters, and can attack back. This goes back and forth, forever and ever without end in sight.

Looking at this from the outside (and .. um, ignoring whether or not Palin's ancestors were *actually* from San Francisco or not) I'm not sure a reaction from one who identifies with San Francisco folks as "jeez, can we just stop this craziness -- maybe they should go back to where they came from" may be understandable. Impossible and sort of dumb, but understandable.

In the context of a historical anti-Semanticism, it sounds a little offensive: it's now their home! But as a expression of exhaustion and of a "maybe we shouldn't have tried this thing out," especially by a women who identifies w/ the "other side," it doesn't sound so indefensible (even though it's now impossible).

Posted by: ........ on June 7, 2010 at 12:22 PM | PERMALINK

Remember when Edward Said caused a furor when he was photographed throwing a stone at the Israel border?

Israel has profited greatly from the knee-jerk assumption that angry criticism of Israel is ipso facto anti-semitic. Bush/cheney used a similar strategy: you're either with us or with the terrorists. Be careful what you say!

Helen Thomas was wrong, but not so horribly wrong that she should be hounded from polite society.

Posted by: ceenik on June 7, 2010 at 12:23 PM | PERMALINK

Wow ... talk about mis-reading one's audience. Seems as though Benen stepped in it on this one.

The response of the commenters here show that there are many, many people are sick and tires of the unwavering support for Israeli policies, regardless of whether or not those policies make sense, are brutal, or even illegal. Israel does are things we condemn when other nations do them. The Holocaust Guilt has got to end at some point ... doesn't it?

I think we all agree Israel has a right to exist. It does not, however, have a right to be immune from criticism.

Posted by: Mark D on June 7, 2010 at 12:24 PM | PERMALINK

I have to agree that Thomas's remarks weren't anti-Semitic. The creation of Israel was an act of political idealism, based on the hope that the humans in the area would respond to the idealism. They didn't.

Thomas is old enough to remember the creation of the state. However optimistic or cynical she might have been at the time, decades later, she was impolitic enough to say what more than a few people think.


Posted by: Steven R. Stahl on June 7, 2010 at 12:27 PM | PERMALINK

Looks like this has been noted, but I'll pile on.

Why is it "anti-Semitic" to propose that Palestine is a sub-optimal location for Jews to survive?

I can see calling it "anti-Israeli," "anti-Zionist," a stupid idea, or criticizing it on all sorts of other levels, but "anti-Semitic?" Have we really come to the point where every opinion that the Israeli state doesn't like is "anti-Semitic?"

Rather like, in some circles, saying the war in Iraq is stupid is considered "anti-American?"

Posted by: Jon on June 7, 2010 at 12:36 PM | PERMALINK

Benen's doing his part in eliminating an acerbic journalistic critic....

Thought that through did you?

That's not to diminish that journalist's clearly unsympathetic remarks.

How dare she express an opinion over the militant expansion of Israel's land-grabs at the expense of the former residents.

Perhaps Benen can regurgitate some of Howard "Right wing extremist mainstreamer" Kurtz's knock downs of other critics of Israel's.

Posted by: Annoyed on June 7, 2010 at 12:37 PM | PERMALINK

Say Alaska was nuked, and we had boatloads of Sarah Palin family members that we needed to housed somewhere. We decide to place them in a state smack in the middle of San Francisco...

My point is that Israel’s right to exist as a sovereign state is independent of its history as the ancient Jewish homeland, as the refuge for Jews displaced by WW2, etc., etc. It has a government that holds territory, represents a population, and manages its international affairs. That government achieved diplomatic recognition by the two then-superpowers and was admitted into the United Nations over sixty years ago. These decisions should be enough to close the book on whether or not its mere existence should be permitted to continue.

In the context of a historical anti-Semanticism, it sounds a little offensive

More than a little.

as a expression of exhaustion and of a "maybe we shouldn't have tried this thing out,"

But she was not speaking as a historian saying “maybe in retrospect this whole Zionism thing had more bad than good consequences”. She was speaking as a political commentator saying that right now the Jews should get out of Israel.

Posted by: Seth Gordon on June 7, 2010 at 12:44 PM | PERMALINK

...and no, I am not saying that criticism of Israeli government policies automatically makes someone an antisemite. Thomas’s remarks went far beyond “Netanyahu is an idiot” or “there ought to be a Palestinian state” or “Israel has committed war crimes”.

Posted by: Seth Gordon on June 7, 2010 at 12:48 PM | PERMALINK

Hey Shortstop,

I wasn't being ironic or anything. I actually hate going through the Google news aggregator for news on this event, and not finding it. I use Steve's blog as my primary news source, and have since Carpetbagger. I'm incredibly dismayed to find so little discussion of this event anywhere on the net, and I'm more dismayed to find Steve only engaging what I consider a major issue on the level of Lynn Cheney's or Helen Thomas' relation to the event.

Posted by: Jamobey on June 7, 2010 at 12:50 PM | PERMALINK

Say Alaska was nuked, and we had boatloads of Sarah Palin family members that we needed to housed somewhere.

Wouldn't you put them in Idaho?

Posted by: g on June 7, 2010 at 12:50 PM | PERMALINK

Just reinforces the observation that it is easier to criticize Israel in Israel than to criticize Israel in the US of A. Also does anyone know what the anti-semitic comments were? If so please post them so I will know too.

Posted by: nonheroicvet on June 7, 2010 at 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

These decisions should be enough to close the book on whether or not its mere existence should be permitted to continue.

When we have to prop up their military so that they can, in fact, continue to exist then the book is not even fucking close to closed.

And the shear chutzpah required to defend Israel's right to exist by appealing to its status with the UN is laughable. Their status with the UN is that of a rouge state in violation of multiple treaties and resolutions.

Posted by: Tuttle on June 7, 2010 at 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

Say Alaska was nuked, and we had boatloads of Sarah Palin family members that we needed to housed somewhere.

Knock them out with tranquilizers and they wake up on an island somewhere, no radio, no phone, one knife. . .

Posted by: cld on June 7, 2010 at 12:58 PM | PERMALINK

When I imagine an alternate history in which the UN never created the state of Israel, I imagine a world not nearly as fucked up as what we have now.

And poor Helen Thomas has been forced to retire.

Posted by: hells littlest angel on June 7, 2010 at 1:04 PM | PERMALINK

I seem confused. There is Israel and there is Palestine. Now in the Palestinian Territory there are these large settlements occupied to a large degree with immigrants from Europe the United States and other lands. Now as I listened to her remarks I thought she was asking that they return and stop with the expanding settlements. As far as I know the PA recognizes Israel and Israel says it wants a Palestine so why don't they get out. Close the illegal settlements in the West Bank and return home. Now if they don't want to do that then carve out land in Israel as an offset and give it to the Palestinians. Hers seemed like a simple statement. Please stop allowing the right wing Likud supporters to twist things to make everyone anti-semitic.

Posted by: Harris on June 7, 2010 at 1:06 PM | PERMALINK

Tuttle: US aid to Israel is less than 2% of its GDP. Obviously the people running the Israeli government would rather get that money from the US than from its own taxpayers, but in the absence of US aid there would still be an Israeli military.

Posted by: Seth Gordon on June 7, 2010 at 1:13 PM | PERMALINK

I beg to differ. Many of us read Helen Thomas's columns eveery chance we get. So she lost it a little. There was sufficient provocation. You should hope you could ever contribute as much as Ms Thomas has to the political discourse in this country and to the benefit of keeping the people informed and holding the politicians to accountability, frequently almost alone among the rest of the so-called journalists. Shame on you, Benen.

Posted by: danny Gail McElrath (Ms) on June 7, 2010 at 1:13 PM | PERMALINK

I seriously doubt that Ms. Thomas has an irrational prejudice against Jewish people, which would be my definition of "anti-semitism," which is itself a misnomer as currently used because Arabs and Jewish people are both Semitic peoples. She certainly shouldn't have glibly suggested that people who were born there have somewhere else to call home.

Nevertheless, attacking her doesn't address the situation to which she alluded, which is simply that an independent, Jewish state of Israel is not going to be tenable in the long run because (a) demographics is destiny, and Jewish Israelis will become more and more outnumbered both by her neighboring states and her own Palestinian population (b) large majorities of Arabs and non-Arabic Muslims consider the creation of the state in 1947 to have been an illegal and unjust taking from the Palestinians which they will never accept, and (c) no government of Israel has ever shown the capacity [and few the desire] to reach an entente with the Palestinians that would be acceptable to them and most of the Middle East. Israel as it now exists will only be able to exist for so long as it maintains a commanding military supremacy over its neighbors and the implicit protection of the U.S. government. Building more settlements and attempting to starve the Palestinians in Gaza isn't going to improve their underlying problem.

Posted by: nightshift66 on June 7, 2010 at 1:15 PM | PERMALINK

Steve, you'd be right if all the people who've said worse things had required first. But they didn't, and they're not going to.

Why, exactly, should this one woman retire? Well, she's someone who embarrasses the rest of the press corps by being so much better than they are.

Posted by: Avedon on June 7, 2010 at 1:18 PM | PERMALINK

To re-iterate what many others have said: there's nothing anti-semitic about what she said.

Posted by: skiddie on June 7, 2010 at 1:20 PM | PERMALINK

It's anti-semitic in that if such a thing were to happen it would be a terrific victory for Arab anti-semitism.

You think they'd have any other reaction?

Posted by: cld on June 7, 2010 at 1:25 PM | PERMALINK

Ethnically pure quasi-theocracies have no place in the 21st century. This comically obvious point is completely obscured by US cultural power brokers. Helen Thomas' comments were rude and just outside the line but Israel is going to have to disappear as a Jewish state or become a morally indefensible apartheid state (if it hasn't already).

And from the comments here and elsewhere, Israel is rapidly losing support on the left.

Posted by: inkadu on June 7, 2010 at 1:37 PM | PERMALINK

Ethnically pure quasi-theocracies have no place in the 21st century.

Tell it to the Saudis.

Posted by: cld on June 7, 2010 at 1:43 PM | PERMALINK

Jamobey: Okay. But I would respectfully suggest that using this blog as your primary news source is a route to significant ignorance of very many current events. Steve does some things very well, but what he covers is strictly limited by his own design and choice.

There is plenty of discussion of the flotilla attack online, including on progressive blogs -- but on blogs with different purposes than this one's. Why, then, am I ragging on Steve for hiding from this issue? At least partly because one of the things Steve does choose to do regularly is expose right-wing media bias in America. The past seven days have presented him with an absolute whopper of an example, and yet he's been resolutely silent on it.

Posted by: shortstop on June 7, 2010 at 1:46 PM | PERMALINK

Tell it to the Saudis.
Posted by: cld

You have placed Israel in the appropriate company with this comment.

Posted by: Gonads on June 7, 2010 at 1:51 PM | PERMALINK

If it's a theocracy how do Muslim political parties get into the Knesset?

Posted by: cld on June 7, 2010 at 2:07 PM | PERMALINK

Give Lieberman and Bibi time ... soon, dissent will become illegal, purity tests and loyalty oaths will be required, and dozens more Palestinians can be killed and the ethnic cleansing dismissed ... all in the name of security.

Zuabi has already had the biginning of proceedings to have her MK privileges revoked because of participation in the Gaza flotilla.

Give it time ... Israel can be a democracy or a Jewish state, not both. Please try not to look surprised when the inevitable apartheid occurs.

Posted by: Gonads on June 7, 2010 at 2:48 PM | PERMALINK

If it's a theocracy how do Muslim political parties get into the Knesset?

If the GOP is such a bunch of racists, how did Condoleezza Rice get to be secretary of state? Huh? Huh?

Surely you can do better than this.

And Gonads has already addressed the attempts to kick Zuabi out of her seat.

Posted by: shortstop on June 7, 2010 at 3:06 PM | PERMALINK

In the entire realm of U.S. political discourse (if I can dignify the continual stream of Kabuki dance with that name) no topic receives a less honest assessment than that of Israel.

It is to Israel's credit that it has been able to remake "American Exceptionalism" as "Israeli Exceptionalism", but that doesn't make it right. The fact is that Israel has become an aggressor, and ever more agressively so.

Posted by: PowerOfX on June 7, 2010 at 3:06 PM | PERMALINK


Zuabi goes out of her way to do something illegal and now she might get her Knesset privileges revoked and that's evidence of tyranny? Sounds more like rule of law.


I think you can do better than that.

Republicans aren't all racists, they don't run on a platform of racism; they pander to racists on the one hand and try to prove they don't by appointing Condoleeza Rice.

They don't have a racist ideology and their governmental theory is not based in racism.

Theocracy is a governmental theory explicitly based within one religion, disenfranchising all the rest. If Israel had such a government a non-Jewish party wouldn't be allowed to exist, never mind run for anything.

Posted by: cld on June 7, 2010 at 3:22 PM | PERMALINK

I think what Israel does with their nation is their business, they've got their constitution, their rights, hard fought, and earned.

That said, however, it is NOT America's place to bark, every time Likud says "Speak!" - as we have been doing for nigh on 60 years. It's time to end this codependent relationship. Let Israel stand on its own terms, suffer the consequences of its own extremist's behavior, and learn to moderate their tribal urges - on BOTH sides of that fence.

This relationship does not and never has benefited America one iota. In fact, it has cost us plenty. We can be allies without being boot-lickers.

Oh - sorry, that would mean we'd have to end the hundreds of billions of dollars of corporate welfare we spend disguised as military aid to Israel. . .

Posted by: osama_been_forgotten on June 7, 2010 at 5:29 PM | PERMALINK

I commented that some comments including mine seemed to be taken down from this board. Now I see them back up again. I'm not sure if that was a computer glitch of some kind or why that happened, or even if it did. But I do feel I owe it to Steve to note the correction. Arghhh

[are you confusing the two Helen Thomas threads? you posted that observation in the other thread. moderation has not removed your comments. regards -- mod.]

Posted by: ajohng on June 7, 2010 at 5:38 PM | PERMALINK

Yes, Helen Thomas may have been speaking from a bad place. The thing is: most liberals are so used to seeing elite liberals and conservatives FREAK OUT over any little critique over Israel that they have trouble spotting old-fashioned Antisemitism.

That said, I think a lot of liberals see an extremely powerful, well supported Jewish state and wonder why there's such a huge sensitivity toward any and all disparaging comments? It's as if all comments -- ranging from rational critique to wacko proposals to remove people from their homes -- all represent an equal threat to the Jewish state and must be met with the maximum amount of passion possible in responding. If not, Israeli might not succeed or something.

That makes no sense to me -- I mean, if you saw Mike Wallace say one random and really offensive thing about black people, would there be a blog post detailing his racism? People would say "wow, he's gone crazy in his old age," and move on.

It just seems more relevant and productive to complain about everyone's huge rush to label someone "antisemitic" (especially when people are reluctant to crtiticize Israel's policies for fear of not sufficiently supporting the Israeli state) than it is to focus on the unfortunate rantings of a senile old woman. The response is totally disproportionate to the impact of her comments.

Posted by: Chris_ on June 7, 2010 at 6:10 PM | PERMALINK

While I don't like her comments I feel bad for her. A very long career in journalism should not end on such a sour note. My sense is her frustration with the Netanyahu government pushed her around the bend. The reaction to her comments, especially knee jerk comments that equate her criticism of Israel as being racist and anti-Semitic, are over the top. I have watched her for several decades and she does not appear to be a racist, in fact, quite the opposite. The irony is the Netanyahu government has been acting in an irresponsible and arguably racist manner of late and her comments distract from their actions.

Posted by: Bob on June 7, 2010 at 6:26 PM | PERMALINK

I also think the reaction is overblown, largely, she has no opinion you can't hear anywhere.

But about the general response to Middle Eastern developments I have exactly the opposite impression.

Anything Israel does, anything at all, is met with a fanatic zeal to label it Nazi, or totalitarian or apartheid, or ethnic cleansing or theocracy or literally whatever else is the most villainous color you can splatter all over it, while the incredible mess of the Palestinians is, whatever it is, is always said to be Israel's fault, and any objection is called racism or 'you think Israel can do no wrong!'

Anyone who points out the Palestinians have been the pawn of one faction or another (or usually three or four at once) for the entire course of their history is met with a mocking disbelief that would be highly tempered if they tried even a little reading on the topic.

The horror of their circumstance is really unique, their promoted and institutionalized victimization is used to victimize others like a political carny show that so many people just swallow whole.

(Actually, you know, it's like a cock fight. I read somewhere that Yahweh entered the Middle East as a minor war deity associated with cock fighting --I think they call this spontaneous dependence on initial conditions.)

Posted by: cld on June 7, 2010 at 6:40 PM | PERMALINK

Steve, define "anti-Semitism" such that it fits Helen Thomas's remark.

She said no bad or derogatory thing about Jews.

It appears her words don't support a policy called "Zionism", but that policy is not identical with the people called "Jews", and in fact not all those people even agree with it.

Is it your opinion that American reporters should lose their jobs over disagreements on policies by or about foreign nations?

Posted by: Raven on June 7, 2010 at 8:47 PM | PERMALINK

Well, with Steve Benen's helping right-wingers beat up an 89 year old lady for saying something stupid she finally quit.

Benen sure is a mensch, isn't he?

Benen's officially earned his right to blog with right-wing extremist Jonah Goldberg over at the NRO.

Posted by: Annoyed on June 7, 2010 at 9:36 PM | PERMALINK

Thank you, Steve; this needed to be said by a progressive.

"Pro-Israel," when used as an attack term, is so ill-defined that it is positively weaselly. Too often, when progressives treat Israel as a villain, they say of course that they recognize Israel's right to exist, or to exist and defend herself. Ms. Thomas's remarks were odious. That relatively few progressives have been willing to say so shows that "I'm for Israel's right to exist" is often a CYA phrase, like "I'm for equal pay for equal work" was a CYA phrase in the early days of the women's movement.

When Ms. Thomas said that Jews should "get the hell out of Palestine" and "go home," Rabbi David Nesenoff asked where home is. Ms. Thomas mentioned Germany and Poland, and later, America. That was the tipoff. If she had said that Jews should go back behind pre-1967 borders, then "Palestine" would have meant the West Bank and Gaza. But if "home" means outside Israel entirely, then "Palestine" means the whole of Israel, the way Israel is called "Occupied Palestine" on many Arab maps.

Now if all Jews were to leave Israel for the diaspora, then, by definition, there would be no more Israel. That is what dismantling Israel is about, not just a change of government but "Juden raus."

I wish Rabbi Nesenoff had pressed her further on where "home" is, because many if not most Israeli Jews have ancestors who came to Israel from Islamic lands during the past century. That's where persecution is going on today. It's one thing to say, go home to Germany, because Germany has done much to make amends for the Holocaust. It's another thing to say Jews should go home to Syria, go home to Egypt, go home to Iraq, go home to Iran.

As for Poland, that country was nearly emptied of its remaining Jews by a wave of persecution in the 1980's. It was conducted in the name of anti-Zionism, but the New York Times correspondent in Poland at the time said that government-controlled radio in Poland called Jews the Polish equivalent of "kikes."

Helen Thomas has done great work in covering presidential politics. But her views on Israel, and the Jews who have found safe haven there, are odious. I don't know what price she ought to pay, but thanks to the gutsy progressives who have called her out. Including Matt Gertz of Media Matters.

Posted by: mim on June 8, 2010 at 7:59 AM | PERMALINK

"get the hell out of Palestine." "Go home. Poland. Germany. And America and everywhere else."

If said by someone else, this could be construed as a wish for the endless fighting to cease. A plea for the safety of the two sides' combatants.

It's not a sentiment that can be felt ONLY by anti-semites. That it has been portrayed that way conflates anti-semetism with Zionism. I don't accept the two as inseparable and the press has played fast and loose at accepting the quote as absolute proof of her anti-Jew feelings.

Those who would prefer Israel did not exist do not automatically dislike the Jews that live there and elsewhere. To assume so is to engage in a form of intellectual intimidation; invoking public condemnation of a fabricated hatred. Zionists lean upon scripture in their claim for a scrap of land. We are ready to bash Christians and Muslims who expect their scripture to run all our lives yet take the same behavior casually when executed by Jewish people laying claim to a scrap of land at outrageous cost to the entire world? Political action motivated by religious fervor carries with it problems regardless of which adherents are behind it. It is not anti-Catholic to condemn attempts to ban all abortion. It is not anti-Muslim to condemn any effort to force women to wear clothing they hate. It is not anti-Jew to question the wisdom of expenditures of blood and treasure for the sake of the establishment of a theocratic nation.

Posted by: toowearyforoutrage on June 14, 2010 at 9:13 AM | PERMALINK

It does seem that everybody is into this kind of stuff lately. Don’t really understand it though, but thanks for trying to explain it. Appreciate you shedding light into this matter. Keep it up

Posted by: Plugaru Andrei on September 30, 2010 at 1:33 PM | PERMALINK

I just sent this post to a bunch of my friends as I agree with most of what youre saying here and the way youve presented it is awesome.

Posted by: Meabeve on November 29, 2010 at 1:52 AM | PERMALINK



Read Jonathan Rowe remembrance and articles
Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

Advertise in WM

buy from Amazon and
support the Monthly