The resignation of legendary White House correspondent Helen Thomas after 50 years on the beat is a sad ending to a groundbreaking career. A pioneering woman journalist, the former UPI reporter will now forever be linked to her bizarre and hateful suggestion that Jews “get the hell out of Palestine” and go back to Germany and Poland.
Jewish organizations and observers applauded her current employer, Hearst Newspapers, and Thomas for recognizing that it was time for her to step away. In the days since the deadly flotilla clash, Thomas’s offensive and historically obtuse remarks seemed to encapsulate the worldwide paroxysm of vitriol aimed at Israel. While some of Israel’s critics were happy to defend Thomas’s right to “free speech,” it was gratifying to see a consensus emerge that she had vaulted over the line. At last, many of us thought, the world recognizes a limit to anti-Israel rhetoric.
And what was that line? Thomas’ suggestion that Jews are interlopers in “Palestine” is a historical libel. The idea that Jews have a “home” awaiting them in the charnel houses that were Germany and Poland is obscene. Thomas also negates the central premise of Zionism — namely, that Jews form a nation deserving of autonomy and self-determination in a national homeland.
Still, the forced retirement of a little-read reporter deep in her dotage is hardly a “hasbara” victory for Israel or the Jewish people. But there was a lesson to be learned from this sordid episode, which was expressed powerfully by Rabbi Brad Hirschfield of Beliefnet. “Perhaps her most egregious error from a moral or spiritual perspective is her claim that peace will only be found when some group is eliminated from the picture,” writes Hirschfield. “In traveling down that road, Thomas joins enemies of peace on both sides of the Middle East conflict, people who fantasize about the disappearance of entire cultures and communities from the land they call home.”