Helen Thomas was wrong, but Fox and co. are dead wrong


The 89-year-old pioneer woman journalist Helen Thomas, among the first in the White House press corps to challenge President Bush on war, torture and Middle East policy, retired last week. The sad ending to her legendary career came after a firestorm resulting from offensive remarks she made about Jews and Israel.

Thomas, the "dean" of the White House press corps, served for 67 years as a UPI correspondent and White House Bureau chief. The entire nation watched her cover every president since John F. Kennedy.

Many remember with pride how she was the only officially accredited White House correspondent to uphold the American tradition of a free press when she grilled President Bush relentlessly during the build-up to the Iraq War.

She argued passionately in those days that the mass media in the United States could have saved lives if it had questioned what Bush was saying rather than simply echo his pronouncements in print and on the air.

Thomas was the first mainstream journalist to question the lack of evidence about weapons of mass destruction and the cost of the war in dollars, lives and resources.

The purpose of this article is not to determine whether Thomas, when she said, "Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine," meant get out of occupied territories or get out of Israel altogether. Thomas was wrong to say anything that could be interpreted to mean Israeli Jews should go back to the lands from where they came. It is a grave violation of human rights to deny the rights of desperate immigrants anywhere - whether they were Jews fleeing fascism in Europe, Mexican workers in Arizona or Palestinians being pushed around the Middle East. The two-state solution to the Middle East crisis, a solution resisted by the right-wing Likud Party in Israel and the Bush-Cheney neo-conservatives in the U.S., requires mutual understanding and respect between Jews and Palestinians.

Many of those who are leading the charge against Helen Thomas, whose remarks, by her own admission, ignored the right of Jews fleeing genocide to seek freedom and a new life in Israel, are less than willing to extend those rights to other victims in the Middle East.

Don't human rights apply also to the Palestinians who live under an illegal occupation of their territory in the West Bank and Gaza?

Don't human rights apply also to Arabs born in Israel? Right-wing Israeli politicians try to make Palestinians born in Israel into illegal immigrants. Some of those in the U.S. who have jumped into the campaign to vilify Helen Thomas also openly support rounding up of Israeli Arabs and expelling them to surrounding Arab countries.

The Helen Thomas affair must also not be used to justify demands in some quarters that Palestinians must surrender their national aspirations. Such demands are no more reasonable than suggestions that Jews should trust their aspirations to modern day governments in Europe.

The just approach is to support the right of Jews to live securely in the nation of Israel.

The just approach is to recognize that the Palestinians too have a right to a state of their own.

The just approach is to recognize too that Palestinians living within the state of Israel also have rights.

The Thomas apology was on target:

"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."

It's time now for all those who oppose the right of Israel to exist, for all those who oppose the two-state solution and for all those who oppose equal rights for Palestinians living in Israel to cease and desist. After they apologize for the decades of violence, war and death that have resulted from each of their respective roles they should join civilized humanity in the hard work of building a lasting Middle East peace.

Photo: Pacifica's Sonali Kolhatkar, left,  introduces the legendary Helen Thomas at the 2006 Reclaim the Media conference in Memphis, Tenn. (Teresa Albano/PW)

Post your comment

Comments are moderated. See guidelines here.


  • John,
    GREAT article! I personally as an American Indian have always sided with the Palestinian people since they have themselves been rounded up into reservations on their own soil. I was also completely on Thomas's side and was saddened by her retirement over such a bold statement. However, after considering your argument that the Israelis no matter where they were from are immigrants I realize the hypocrisy of my previous stances on Israel and Europeans in the western hemisphere. I certainly can't advocate for immigrant's rights for Mexicans and South Americans and also be so angry about Europeans on Indian land. Thank you for the eye opening perspective!

    Posted by Jordan , 06/14/2010 11:51am (5 years ago)

  • The main reason that many Holocaust survivors fled to Israel after World War II, is that the U.S., Canada, Australia and Britain retained their immigration quotas that kept the number of Jews admitted to a minimum and the Zionist organizations did their best to steer Jewish immigrants to Palestine.

    Posted by Sean Mulligan, 06/13/2010 8:21pm (5 years ago)

  • I found it outrageous how Ms. Thomas was treated. She is a rare phenomenon in Washington: a real journalist. Of course, she meant that Israel should end its illegal occupation. Unfortunately, speaking off-the-cuff, she phrased her thoughts in such a way that was vulnerable to misunderstanding and distortion. And the Israeli state SHOULD get the hell out of Palestine (i.e. West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem)

    Posted by Brad Janzen, 06/13/2010 8:51am (5 years ago)

  • Thanks brother John Wojcik for your evenhanded,and courageous stand for impartial democracy and peace.
    So many die physically,if not spiritually,on both sides,especially the children,as we leisure in relatively comfortable circumstances,our hearts rend,the dead roam the earth,as Satan.
    The mean and wanton systematically,murderous activities of the extremist Israeli state will never foster a peace. No repression,no bullying,no inhumanity,no blackmail,no double-dealing,no fascism,or lie will correct this. Hatred will always spawn hatred and destructive war for the doer. Love will always spawn love and constructive peace for the doer.
    If we do not live together in this world,we will not live.
    From W.E.B. Du Bois-"Teach us,Forever Dead,there is no Dream but Deed,there is no Deed but Memory."

    Posted by E.E.W. Clay, 06/12/2010 1:50am (5 years ago)

  • Helen Thomas never said Jews should get out of Israel, nor did she deny the right of Israel to exist. She said the Israelis should get out of Palestine. This is not the same thing at all. The context makes it obvious that she was referring to the occupation and the settlements, not to the State of Israel within its 1967 borders. We can't be defending the occupation and the settlements if we are trying to achieve a two state solution. The Israeli troops in Palestine are not there as refugees. The settlers are not there as refugees either, they are there as settlers, with a different kind of agenda from those who fled to Israel from persecution and genocide in Europe. Thomas said nothing whatsoever suggesting that Jews should leave Israel and go and live in other places. Her only mistake was to let herself be ambushed in a game of "gotcha" by people who hate her for her honesty. To claim that Israelis should have the right to settle in Palestine flies against the reality that the increasing settlements in Palestine is undermining the possibility of a two state solution. This plays the game of the Israeli far right, and also of Hamas.
    "Israel" and "Palestine" are not the same thing. Nor are "Jews" and "Israelis". She said the Israelis should get the Hell out of Palestine, not that the Jews should get out of Israel. She did not even say that Jews should get out of Palestine, in fact.

    Posted by , 06/12/2010 12:32am (5 years ago)

RSS feed for comments on this page | RSS feed for all comments