Why Helen Thomas Had to Go

Helen Thomas, longtime Hearst newspaper columnist famed for her front-row spot at White House press briefings has resigned after making astonishingly bigoted, anti-Jewish, anti-Israel statements. She made the statements at a May 27 White House event in celebration of American Jewish Heritage. Here is the transcript of the exchange between and Helen Thomas and Rabbi David Nesenoff, the man who videotaped the conversation, which became public on June 4, 2010:

Rabbi: Any comments on Israel? We’re asking everybody today for any comments...

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

Rabbi: Whoaa.

Thomas: (laughing)

Rabbi: Any better comments?

Thomas: Remember these people are occupied and it’s their land. It’s not German; it’s not Poland.

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

Thomas: They can go home?

Rabbi: Where’s home?

Thomas: Poland, Germany.

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

Thomas: And America and everywhere else. 

These comments reveal a fundamental ignorance of history and contempt for the Jewish people. By calling for Israel’s Jewish inhabitants go back to Germany and Poland, Thomas was urging they go back to the very countries where more than a third of world Jewry was murdered during the Holocaust. When Jews attempted to return to Poland after World War II, some were murdered in the streets outside their homes. Thomas also ignored the fact that in the years after Israel declared its independence in 1948, approximately 800,000 Jews fled numerous countries in the Middle East to escape oppression and murder at the hands of their Muslim neighbors. Israel’s creation quite simply gave Jews who were unwanted in Europe and the Middle East a place to live without having to depend on others to provide for their safety. Thomas’ comments were a high-water mark of contempt and audacity.


A few days after her comments became public Thomas issued the following brief statement of regret:

I deeply regret my comments I made last week regarding the Israelis and the Palestinians. They do not reflect my heart-felt 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. (June 4, 2010)

The statement does not address or undo the offensive anti-Jewish, anti-Israel statements she made, which were noted approvingly by Hamas on June 6, 2010.


As a result of her comments, Thomas’ speaking agent dismissed her from its list of clients and writer Craig Crawford, who co-authored books with the White House correspondent, severed ties with her. Then on Monday June 7, 2010, three days after the appalling comments became public, the Hearst Corporation announced that Ms. Thomas had announced her retirement, effective immediately.


Hearst Legacy Sullied


What made her comments even more outrageous was that Thomas had made them while working for a company founded by William Randolph Hearst, a man who stood alongside such leaders as  Eleanor Roosevelt and Herbert Hoover to draw attention to the murder of Jews in Europe in the 1940s.


In addition to sponsoring the Emergency Conference, which formed the Emergency Committee to Save the Jewish People of Europe, Hearst published a number of signed editorials in his chain of papers to draw attention to the ongoing murder of Jews by the Nazis.  As Peter Bergson (aka Hillel Kook), who was at the center of efforts to enlist the United States government into the cause of saving Europe’s Jews testified:

He was a sponsor of the Emergency Conference. And he wrote editorials in regard to the extermination of the Jews, which [were published in his] forty-some papers, which is a lot of papers.  His papers sold millions of copies. The Mirror in New York, was selling more than 2½ million copies a day. In terms of public opinion, it was like Nixon—everybody talks against Nixon, but the majority voted for him. So Hearst represented a large segment of what is now called middle America, what Henry Wallace called the common man. He put his name on the editorials—he very rarely wrote signed editorials—and an editorial which he signed was a signal to the whole readership that this is a cause that he’s interested in. His editorials ran on the front page, not on the editorial page. And his papers gave us a lot of coverage, which induced others to give coverage. You know how it is, if the Journal-American in New York or the Mirror started giving these things coverage, then other papers did something. (In: A Race Against Death: Peter Bergson, America, and the Holocaust by David S. Wyman and Rafael Medoff (The New Press, 2002, p. 76),  

Samuel Merlin, Bergson’s right-hand man, said “Hearst was the only newspaper owner who supported us without any qualifications or reserves. All his papers. He gave us pages after pages free. He gave us the whole editorial page—Hearst himself. He gave orders to print our material.” (Ibid. pp.76-77)


Given the outright anti-Semitism of her statements, it was only a matter of time before Thomas would be removed from the Hearst Corporation’s payroll.


The company had a legacy to protect.


Thomas’ Critics and Defenders


Most people understood just how outrageous her comments were: For example, Ari Fleischer, former White House Press Spokesman for President Bush called for Hearst to fire Thomas. Likewise, Bush press secretary Dana Perino said  it was time for Thomas to go.


Others had a tough time understanding what was at stake. Clinton press secretary Joe Lockhart responded: “The good news is Ari no longer has the weight of government behind him in intimidating voices he doesn't agree with.”


ABC’s Anne Compton defended Thomas saying: "Helen has been a columnist for about a decade now and her strong beliefs on the Middle East are well known. I think I saw that she regretted these remarks and realized they were hurtful and inappropriate. Ari Fleischer is a private citizen and certainly free to express his opinion that this was a firing offense even for an opinion columnist. I would agree with you that Helen enjoys a rather special status as the White House. But I think her employer will have to decide whether the comments went over the line."


Lanny J. Davis, former Special Counsel to President Clinton (1996-98) and White House spokesman has issued the following in regard to Thomas’s outburst:

Helen Thomas, who I used to consider a close friend and who I used to respect, has showed herself to be an anti-Semitic bigot. This is not about disagreement about her criticisms of Israel. She has a right to criticize Israel and that is not the same as being an anti-Semite. 

However, her statement that Jews in Israel should leave Israel and go back to Poland or Germany is an ancient and well-known anti-Semitic stereotype of the Alien Jew not belonging in the "land o f Israel" -- one that began 2600 years with the first tragic and violent diaspora of the Jews at the hands of the Romans. 

If she had asked all Blacks to go back to Africa, what would the White House Correspondents Association position be as to whether she deserved White House press room credentials -- much less a privileged honorary seat? 

Does anyone doubt that my friends Ann Compton, head of the WHCA, and Joe Lockhart, who believe in the First Amendment right of free expression as much as I do, would be as tolerant and protective of Helen's privileges and honors in the White House press room as they appear to be if she had been asking Blacks to return to Africa? Or Native Americans to Asia and South America, from which they came 8,000 or more years ago? I doubt it.

Of course Helen has the right as a private citizen under the First Amendment to speak her mind, even as an anti-Jewish bigot - but not as a member, much less privileged member with a reserved seat, in the WH press corps.


Mainstream Media Slow To Respond


Until Thomas’ resignation, the New York Times and other major papers ignored the story. Blogger Michael Silence documented the reluctance of the mainstream media to cover the issue in a Monday-morning post in which he compared the number of news stories about the controversy with the number of blog entries about the story.


If you search "'Helen Thomas' Jews" for the last seven days on Yahoo News, you get 37 results, at the time of this posting. If you Google the same for the same time periodyou get 1.1 million hits. Almost seems like the MSM weren't in the forest when the tree fell. Or, I suppose it could have fallen on them.


When the New York Times finally weighed in on the story – after Thomas retired – its reporter Jeremy Peters couldn’t even be bothered to relay all of what she had said. By omitting Thomas’ call for Jews to go back to Poland, Germany, the United States and “everywhere else," he downplayed the full force of Thomas’ statement.
This omission really shouldn't come as much of a surprise. After all, the Times had a tough time covering the Holocaust when it happened in the 1940s.

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