Helen Thomas and anti-Semitism

By Legal Eagle

Okay, I’ve just got to get this off my chest because it’s been bugging me for the last few days. Helen Thomas, famed White House reporter, retired suddenly after a controversial video interview on a website called RabbiLive.com, when she was asked whether she had any comments on Israel. She was reported to have said:

Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine. Remember these people are occupied and it’s their land, not Germany and not Poland.

When then asked where Israeli Jews should go, she said:

They can go home, Poland, Germany, and America and everywhere else.

It’s a sad end to a distinguished career of a powerful woman. Thomas was apparently the only member of the White House Press Corps to have her own seat in the White House Briefing Room, and had a reputation for asking difficult questions. Still, her response showed prejudice and a lack of detailed knowledge of history. Unfortunately, I get the feeling that many people secretly (or not so secretly) agree with Thomas. As I’ve said a while back, I suspect that many believe that if the State of Israel hadn’t been created, the West wouldn’t have a problem with terrorism and Islamic extremism, and the Jews are “to blame” as a result. And perhaps some people think, “Is it really such a big deal?”

Richard Cohen has written an excellent piece setting the record straight:

Well, I don’t know about “everywhere else,” but after World War II, many Jews did attempt to “go home” to Poland. This resulted in the murder of about 1,500 of them — killed not by Nazis but by Poles, either out of sheer ethnic hatred or fear they would lose their (stolen) homes.

The mini-Holocaust that followed the Holocaust itself is not well-known anymore, but it played an outsize role in the establishment of the state of Israel. It was the plight of Jews consigned to Displaced Persons camps in Europe that both moved and outraged President Harry Truman, who supported Jewish immigration to Palestine and, when the time came, the new state itself. Something had to be done for the Jews of Europe. They were still being murdered.

In the Polish city of Kielce, on July 4, 1946 — more than a year after the end of the war — rumors of a Jewish ritual murder triggered a pogrom in which 42 Jewish Holocaust survivors were killed. The Kielce murders were not, by any means, the sole example of why Jews could not “go home.” When I visited the Polish city where my mother had been born, Ostroleka, I was told of a Jew who survived Auschwitz only to be murdered when he tried to reclaim his business. In much of Eastern Europe, Jews feared for their lives.

Cohen then recounts that the United States at that time had a tight limit on the displaced persons it would accept. So there was nowhere to go. Israel was the dream, the country where they could freely be Jewish.

Even if one thinks that establishing Israel in 1948 was the wrong thing to do – the question remains pertinent to those who wish to disband Israel in 2010 – where do they think Israeli Jews should go?

I wonder, how would Thomas feel if native Americans turned around and said they wanted her to go back to Lebanon? I’ve noted in another post that non-indigenous Australians who believe all Israeli Jews should be expelled from Israel as soon as possible should think how they’d feel if indigenous people turned around and said, “We want you to all go back to where you came from right now. This is our land. You are occupying it against our will, and colonialists stole it from us 200 years ago.” Now, personally, I can see why indigenous people might feel that way, but as a non-indigenous Australian, I feel a connection with Australia, not the countries whence my forebears came. It would be awful to be suddenly sent back…where exactly?!?…my ancestors came from various places…

[And yes, I know Israel expelled Palestinians and Arab countries expelled Jews in the course of the 1948 conflict – but further expelling people or annexing bits isn’t going to fix anything. If it is at all possible, some form of co-existence is the  answer.]

To anyone who saw Thomas’ comment and thought it was fair enough – she’s entitled to her opinion and she can express it until the cows come home if she wants. However, it is callous and historically inaccurate, and it ignores the hideous consequences to some Jewish people who did try to return to their European homes.

That’s all. We will now resume normal transmission…

29 Comments

  1. Posted June 10, 2010 at 7:10 am | Permalink

    I have long been a realist about the ownership of land by a people or a group. Essentially if you accept that land can be legitimately owned as the result of conquest then you have to accept that someone else can legitimately own the same bit of dirt if they can take it as well. The land in the Levant is one of the most contested in the world and its ownership has changed so often that it is very hard to suggest that anyone’s claim to it is any less legitimate than any other claimant.

    That said the Jews seem to have what is perhaps the most longstanding claim to the dirt in question and they have the most important thing, which is possession now. To my mind no one can “own” land unless they can successfully exclude others from it. The Palestinians can’t exclude Israel from the land they claim so their claims are invalidated by reality.

  2. Martha Maus
    Posted June 10, 2010 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    There was some idea of resettling Jews in Australia. Nothwithstanding ties to sacred dirt, which I can theoretically understand but weigh less than peace in any equation to me. Perhaps this is because my life has already been cut from those ties and I live in the new world. http://www.adb.online.anu.edu.au/biogs/A160362b.htm

    I sometimes wonder at the difference it would have made to us all to have the energy and determination of all those people for our own country for the last 50 years. Just image what the NT would be like today?

  3. Martha Maus
    Posted June 10, 2010 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    Wikipedia doesn’t say much more than that Australia was offering the top end of the NT but the Americans didn’t like that and prefered the Israel option (!). Isn’t it Patsy Cline that sings “Who’s sorry now?”

    Cheap jibe, because I don’t believe post hoc ergo prompter hoc at all with Israel and Islamic terrorism.

  4. TerjeP (say Taya)
    Posted June 10, 2010 at 4:31 pm | Permalink

    My main criticism of Israel is that the tax rates are too high. 1948 probably was a mistake but you can’t unbake a cake.

  5. Posted June 10, 2010 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

    Indeed they could not go home. Their homes were taken by people willing to defend them by force and no justice system existed to protect their property rights. On the other hand if you take religion out of the equation then this would be Israel today. That lot couldn’t say they had nothing to do with the Holocaust.

    Thomas’ comments don’t necessarilly mean she shares Hitler’s feelings about Jewish people. And the chauvanism with which partisans to Israel often defend it against criticism is exasperating. I think this is part of a cycle. Anti-semitism is is often discussed; anti-Goyism never does.

    Memoirs of an Anti-Semite had an interesting take on this tug-of-war. And as it says you can’t discuss the matter openly because of ‘those idiots’ the Nazis.

  6. Posted June 10, 2010 at 4:56 pm | Permalink

    Martha Maus: it’s just occurred to me that the Ord River Scheme would have been a roaring success from the get-go!

    On the actual history LE mentions in her post, I remember coming across this when doing the research for my first novel. What made it even more tragic was that — at the same time — countries like Poland and Czechoslovakia were expelling their German minorities. Often because they were more ‘culturally German’ (ie, they spoke German better than the local Eastern European lingo and had German sounding names that went back to the Middle Ages), Jews were included in this exercise in ethnic cleansing and flung out alongside the people who’d just spent the last 12 years persecuting them.

    History is deeply sucky.

  7. Posted June 10, 2010 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

    I do question the accusation of anti-semitism – as I always do when there is no hint that someone is genuinely racist ie believing that a group is inferior/damaged/evil per se. If she was basically saying “they can f*ck off and die” then yes, that’s racist but surely more likely is that like the rest of us, she wasn’t aware of that particular nasty kink of history. Basic ignorance, like forgetting that there was an established Sephardic Jewish community IN Israel/Palestine going back to 1492 when they were expelled from Spain by Ferdinand and Isabella (nobody expects the Spanish inquisition!) is a bit harder to explain but still not anti-semitic. Nor is being anti-zionist for that matter, that’s simply a matter of opinion.

    I don’t think she should have resigned because I’d much prefer her to have been forced to explain her views in a bit more detail so we’d have a clearer idea of whether they’re ACTUALLY anti-Semitic. Until then she just comes across as a grumpy old woman (and frankly, if I was still working when I hit 90 I’d be pretty grumpy too).

  8. Posted June 11, 2010 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    @3 I wonder if at some level they had the same view as Stalin: supporting Israel would be a great way to undermine the British position in the Middle East.

    Also, the Yanks should have listened to us over Dutch New Guinea too! (Or Menzies should have stood up to them.)

  9. Miss Candy
    Posted June 11, 2010 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    http://www.crikey.com.au/2010/06/09/helen-thomas-retires-in-disgrace-a-crikey-wrap/

  10. Wayne Job
    Posted June 11, 2010 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

    This is my first visit to your blog,I have spent an hour reading it, and, find your views and analysis of events and politics balanced. It is also apparent that your loyalties lie in the left of politics.

    My only observation that bothers me, is some thing that eludes my mind. it is inconceivable for my thought processes to be anti Jew or Israel. Why are so many people hung up on a hatred of Jews.

    In our recorded history how many countries have they invaded, I must have missed some thing, they obviously attacked Europe. Swept up through the Balkans into Russia, followed the silk road killing millions, and ,destroying temples and harmony. Sweeping down into India, causing misery for millenia. Spreading like a cancer across North Africa and down enslaving and selling the people to the highest bidder. Destroying millions of peoples chances of a good, peaceful and happy life,for aeons. Evil, evil Jews. Hold on that was that other mob. What the hell have the Jews ever done to deserve such crap.

  11. Posted June 12, 2010 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    Note to random passing conspiracy theorists: Any comments about how Jews are not really Jews, they are Europeans or Khazars or whatever will be SUMMARILY DELETED. I’m not interested. And you’re BLOODY WRONG anyway.

    .
    I knew a kid fresh from a third rate university who thought the ideas that Jewish people were descended from Hebrews laughable. He realy laughed. No real reason, no argument, couldn’t explain why a bunch of Europeans would suddenly adopt some ancient Occidental religion and acquire all sorts of strange habits. Forget the genetic data.
    .
    He wasn’t an anti-Semite. Just really badly educated.

  12. Posted June 12, 2010 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    What the hell have the Jews ever done to deserve such crap.

    .
    They have it coming! With their ‘reading’ and ‘hygeine’.

    Who do they think they are? 🙂

  13. John H.
    Posted June 12, 2010 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    Why are so many people hung up on a hatred of Jews.

    The problem for the Jews in Europe particularly is that they were too successful. They constituted a very large percentage of some professions(law, medicine, finance), possessed a great deal of wealth, and tended to stick to their identity.

    It is akin to something the sci-fi writer Robert Heinlein once said: if you become very wealthy but are surrounded by poverty then barricade yourself because the masses will find some excuse, any excuse, to blame you for their ills.

    The Tall Poppy Syndrome is not uniquely Australian.

  14. Posted June 12, 2010 at 7:51 pm | Permalink

    John H: Sorry, Jewish success post-dates the origins of Jew-hatred. Leaving aside Classical Greek intellectuals who were irritated with the Jews for not wanting to embrace “clearly superior” Greek culture, the main source of Jew-hatred has been the Christian Church, who had to “explain” why the Chosen People produced the Messiah and failed to follow Him. Because they were evil, of course! Just as Muhammad had to explain why Jews did not accept him as Prophet. Because they were evil of course! Then nationalists had to explain why Jews did not merge their identity into the Nation. Because they were evil of course! So it goes: Jews kept not conforming to other people’s theories of how things should be: thereby establishing that they were evil.

    A pattern one sees elsewhere, but the Jews have been burdened with it for a long time from powerful sources. Just like the queers, really.

  15. John H.
    Posted June 12, 2010 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Lorenzo, I accept that argument but still wonder if they would have been subject to so much hatred had they not being so successful.

  16. Posted June 12, 2010 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

    [email protected] (Cits a long list of anti-Jewish acts, because they were “evil”)

    Let’s not forget 70 CE, probably more bewailed than any other event in Jewish history – Hitler included . Was that because Titus et al thought the Jews were evil, or simply revolting? Now, if they’d salted the earth over Jerusalem, I’d agree that the Romans would have thought them evil.

    (SL can surely tell us all about the attitude of those sent – [condemned?] – to govern the joint in Roman times)

    I sometimes wonder whether there would be so much bad blood today in that troubled region if the soldiers of Titus had demolished just one more wall.

  17. Posted June 13, 2010 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    Sigh. Sometimes it does seem there’s no solution.

    I got the solution. Hi my name is Reg Thrust I’m with the Global Consort Marketing and Financial Resource Deployment consortium. And I thinm we need to update the Temple Mount. Tastefully of course.
    .
    Guys like me, there’s always
    a solution

  18. Posted June 13, 2010 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

    Thanks Adrien, love Bill Hicks stuff.

  19. paul walter
    Posted June 16, 2010 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

    A sad, desolate commentary so one sided and one eyed as to ignore any mention of the Palestinian experience or the experience of middle eastern people in general during the era of colonialism and neo colonialism.
    It ignores certain historical realities, such as the violence and death toll faced in post war Europe not just by the Jewish remnants, but Eastern Europeans and even Germans themselves. Legal eagle, if you want to delve into history, a real issue concerning genocide would involve the British effort in India from the early forties to Independence. Not forty odd, but millions!
    It ignores the promises offered the Arabs after ww1 and it ignores the fact that the Palestinians have been patsied to pay off European and American guilt.
    It pointedly ignored the violence done to Arabs in their own homes and homeland by Zionist invaders since ww1 and particularly after ww2. It specifically avoids looking at the favoured treatment of Israel by America, theinjustices done not just to Palestinians but Arabs in general over the last century and the real geo strategic reasons why the US continues to sponsor Israel; right or wrong.
    It flagrantly avoided mention of Lebanon and the invasion of the Gaza ghetto.
    Is it written to try and spin off the bloody Israeli piracy of the medical aid flotilla on the open seas last week?
    Helen Thomas is pro democracy and anti tyranny, not “anti semitic” ( crude debate-killer, that term, like “Self-hating Jew )and Legal Eagle has done herself utterly no credit slandering the woman. She should take her thirty pieces of silver presumably involved for the piece and go away for a rethink, focussed on how she’d feel if she was a Palestinian ( “empathy”; a word not noted for its presence within the legal profession, from Albrechtsen and Julie Bishop down! ).
    Legal Eagle’s peice is romantic fiction, but callous. And on a level of facticity and sincerity almost of “The Hand that Signed the Paper”.
    C’mon, lass!
    Drop the Murdoch agitprop- real lives are involved- and if you are being paid as a shill, so much more the bankruptcy, Let’s make it a sophistry -free zone.

  20. Posted June 16, 2010 at 6:50 pm | Permalink

    Paul Walter appears to be the type of leftie who has all the sympathy in the world for dead Jews, but none for those who happen to be alive and surrounded by hostile neighbours.

    Interesting.

    On the Payola slur, Jason Soon’s policy at Catallaxy was to ban people who made it, and having now been confronted with an instance of it, mine is the same. Assuming that people who disagree with you must be in the pay of your ideological or commercial opponents is just about the worst sort of bad faith argument I can imagine. Paul Walter, you are in permanent moderation, and, in addition, you might want to take a good long look at yourself.

  21. paul walter
    Posted June 16, 2010 at 11:15 pm | Permalink

    No, I disagree with you both and would bet my soul Ihat post was deliberately anti Palestine.
    To me a lamentably biased post that obscured rather than revealed what the Aid Flotilla incident is really about.
    Iime for you guys to go and live in Gaza or the West Bank for aninderterminate period, for acquisiton thru experience, belated understanding of what its REALLYabout.

  22. Posted June 17, 2010 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    Paul –

    It ignores certain historical realities, such as the violence and death toll faced in post war Europe not just by the Jewish remnants, but Eastern Europeans and even Germans themselves. Legal eagle, if you want to delve into history, a real issue concerning genocide would involve the British effort in India from the early forties to Independence. Not forty odd, but millions! It ignores the promises offered the Arabs after ww1 and it ignores the fact that the Palestinians have been patsied to pay off European and American guilt.

    .
    Paul, LE wasn’t actually writing a book on the history of the Israel/Palestine comment. Also she didn’t call Thomas an Anti-Semite but simply illustrated that her comments were ignorant of history and feed anti-Semitism. As she says the European Jews could not return to their homes by and large.
    .
    The Palestinian Arabs were betrayed by the British after WWI. This was one of many broken promises and deceptions by the West toward Arab people and one of the main reasons why they mistrust us so thoroughly. Yes, I agree.

    From the Palestinian point of view the establishment of Israel was a gross disinheritance. But if you look at it from the Jewish point of view can you in all honesty blame them? I can’t. And if I was dead serious about eradicating the traces of injust disinheritcance from the Earth I’d start by removing myself to Scotland and leaving this place to the Wurundjeri people. I’m not going to do it. Not least because it won’t make things better for anybody.

    You can’t change the past. The point is what happens in the future. And what happens in the future is that Israel will stay as it is and will not withdraw without Apocalyptical struggle. That ain’t good for anyone.

    And also: if you work in advertising or marketing kill yourself.

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