Who needs Helen Thomas? The discredited former dean of White House reporters has returned, if in small type at a small publication. Her re-emergence tells us something about those who still have use for Thomas, a self-exposed antisemite.
Last spring, Thomas, then 89, experienced a videotaped meltdown at the Executive Mansion. For more than half a century she had been first United Press International’s White House correspondent, then Hearst Newspapers’ Washington columnist. In recent decades she’d become a journalistic embarrassment, a hectoring presence at White House press briefings who didn’t ask questions so much as vent her biases.
Among other things, she repeatedly badgered U.S. presidents about Israel’s “occupation of Palestine,” sometimes dating it to the 1967 Six-Day War, sometimes to 1948, when the Jewish state declared its independence. Last May 27, during a White House celebration of American Jewish heritage, Rabbi David Nesenoff asked Thomas for her comments on Israel. “Tell ‘em to get the hell out of Palestine,” she asserted. “ …. Remember these people [Arabs] are occupied and it’s their land. It’s not German; it’s not Poland.”
Where should the Jews go, Nesnoff asked. “They can go home,” Thomas replied. To “Poland, Germany …. and America and everywhere else.” As if Jew is not the English derivative of Judean, Latin for Yehudi, the Hebrew for those from the land of the Jews. By definition, Jews in Israel are home.
The video became public June 4. Under pressure, Thomas apologized, said her remarks did not reflect her true feelings, and called for mutual tolerance in the Middle East.
Her apology didn’t fool Hamas, the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement. On June 6, the organization — designated a terrorist group by the U.S., Israeli, Canadian, Australian, and Japanese governments, among others — approved of Thomas’s Juden raus sentiment. She resigned from Hearst on June 7.
On December 2, speaking in Detroit, Thomas disowned her apology. The Detroit News reported that, talking with reporters, she said “I stand by it. I told the truth” with her “Jews to Germany” declaration. “I paid a price but it’s worth it to speak the truth.” According to The News, she then “took her remarks further.” In a speech to an Arab American audience Thomas reiterated the hoary antisemitic canard of Jewish control:
“‘We are owned by the propagandists against the Arabs. There’s no question about that,” she said, according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “Congress, the White House and Hollywood, Wall Street are owned by the Zionists. No question in my opinion. They put their money where their mouth is.”
The News added that “Thomas, who is of Lebanese descent and grew up on Detroit’s east side, was a speaker at the eighth annual ‘Images and Perceptions of Arab Americans’ conference …. A crowd of 200 gave her a standing ovation.” Later the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, Mich., unveiled a bust of Thomas.
Thomas disingenuously claims she can’t be an antisemite since she too is “a Semite.” This attempted verbal hijacking is as erroneous as it is common. But the term antisemitism was coined in Germany in the late 1800s by self-acknowledged Jew-haters to give their bigotry a more “scientific” sounding name. Semitic also is of German coinage, appearing in the 1700s to describe a group of related languages, not a common ethnicity. Antisemitic meant, and means, anti-Jewish, pure and simple.
Wayne State University (Detroit), Thomas’ alma mater, had had enough. It immediately withdrew its Helen Thomas Spirit of Diversity in the Media Award.
Perhaps seeing in Thomas a fellow traveler, the Council on American Islamic Relations honored her at its sold-out Arlington, Va. fund-raiser on October 9 with a “Lifetime Achievement Award.” CAIR is a Muslim Brotherhood-inspired Hamas spin-off, as indicated by evidence in the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development retrial and an out-of-court settlement with the Web site. After the HLF verdict, in which the co-founder of CAIR’s Texas chapter received a 65-year prison sentence for money laundering on behalf of Hamas, the FBI ceased cooperation with the group. Five of its former staff or lay leaders have been jailed or deported on terrorism or weapons charges.
The Society for Professional Journalists executive committee recommended on January 8 that its lifetime achievement award, first bestowed on Thomas in 2000 and then named in her honor, be retired. SPJ did not drop Thomas’ name from the prize after her May, 2010 comments. Now the executive committee finds her December outburst “offensive and inappropriate.” A final decision is up to the full board. How SPJ found Thomas a press “icon” when it created the award is not clear, her years as a pioneering female correspondent having been supplanted by the crazy-aunt-in-the-attic phase.
And yet, The Washington Post’s “The Reliable Source” gossip column, under the headline “Still fit to print,” reported on January 7 that “seven months into an unwilling retirement, Helen Thomas is reentering the world of journalism — with a column in a Northern Virginia community weekly.”
Founder/owner/editor of the Falls Church, Va. News-Press, Nicholas F. Benton told The Post that Thomas, for decades White House correspondent for United Press International, “misspoke” with her May rant at the White House. According to him, she really meant “Jewish people can live wherever they want.” Hard to credit, given Thomas’ proud insistence subsequently that she stands by the “truth” of her statement as originally made and understood, and to hell with the forced apology.
But Benton, like Hamas, like her approving Arab American audience in Detroit, and CAIR, has a use for Thomas. The head of the Falls Church News-Press, a free, small weekly tabloid, was described this way by The Post:
“A gay rights activist in the early ‘70s in Berkeley, Calif., he became a lieutenant in the fringe-left movement of perennial candidate Lyndon La Rouche — he met Thomas while covering the White House for a LaRouche publication — before splitting away disenchanted in the ’80s …. In 2004, his paper touched nerves with an editorial that some Jewish leaders complained suggested a cabal controlling U.S. foreign policy …. Benton said the News-Press started carrying Thomas’s Hearst column in
Benton’s signed editorial, “Welcome Back, Helen Thomas,” in the January 6 edition of his paper, bears no resemblance to reality. It’s repeatedly erroneous, for example claiming Israeli commandos “killed over a dozen volunteers … on a humanitarian mission to Gaza” in reference to the May 31 Mavi Marmara shootings, when troops boarded a blockade-runner carrying no humanitarian aid and killed nine after being attacked by with knives and iron bars by passengers affiliated with the Turkish Islamist IHH organization. And it’s transparent sophistry. It invokes “inclusion” and diversity to drag out of overdue retirement a shrill and superficial partisan, recognized as such by many former colleagues, whose only remaining credential — for those who have use of her — is reflexive anti-Zionism and antisemitism.
Thomas’ hiring did generate a little inclusion at the News-Press’ online comment column — hundreds of posts by a group of a) thoroughly misinformed, b) deranged, or c) both readers. They represented that half-step from 9/11 “truthers” — “the Mossad did it” — to New Agers parroting medieval libels — “the Talmud teaches hatred and inferiority of non-Jews.” Not much diversity and less reality, but a lot of false quotes and fake history. CAMERA supporter Paul Freedman, among others, replied, but digital fever swamps aren’t easily drained.
Why bother with the Falls Church News-Press? In part because in the online era, a small platform in an old, inner suburb of Washington, D.C. can help carry Helen Thomas around the world. Why bother with Helen Thomas, in her Social Security decades a self-caricature of a White House correspondent? To spotlight the fact that she’s woven herself into the venomous score sung by a growing, Internetted anti-Israel, anti-Jewish chorus.