Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Helen Thomas' comments

We've all heard about Helen Thomas' comment by now.  To start with, I'm posting what was actually said (because so few articles about it are doing so):
Questioner:  Any comments on Israel?  We're asking everybody today.  Any comments on Israel?
Thomas:  Tell 'em to get the hell out of Palestine.
Questioner:  Ooo.  Any better comments on Israel?
Thomas:  Remember, these people are occupied.   And it's their land.  It's not Germany, it's not Poland...
Questioner:  So where should they go?  What should they do?
Thomas:  Go home.
Questioner:  Where's home?
Thomas:  Poland, Germany...
Questioner:  So you're saying the Jews should go back to Poland and Germany?
Thomas:  And America, and everywhere else.

I transcribed this myself from the following video:

Now I agree that what Thomas said was insensitive, and pretty stupid.  Telling Jews to go back to Poland and Germany, knowing why they left there, was an incredibly poor choice.  She has since apologized, and rightfully so.  

I also disagree with her main point.  It may be the case that Israel was essentially taken from Palestinians after World War II.  But that was over 60 years ago.  The people living there now are so far removed from that.  Poland and Germany are not their home.  Every piece of land on Earth has been taken from some group of people by another group at one time, most places multiple times throughout history.  I don't think America should be given back to Native Americans at this point, nor do I think Israeli Jews should have to leave either.  The people who live in Israel now should stay there.

But disagreeing with Thomas does not mean I think her statements were odious or anti-Semitic, as many people are now saying about them.  It is not anti-Semitic to oppose Israel.  I don't support Israel's actions with regards to Palestinians, among many other things.  To suggest that Jews don't have the right to do whatever they want, and that they aren't the "chosen people" is not antisemitism.  It's the desire to treat both Israelis and Palestinians equally.

Her suggestion that Jews go home to Poland and Germany has a bad connotation, but it was not an ominous comment.  We can see this easily by looking at the hypothetical:  What would happen if the Jews actually did go back to Poland or Germany?  Nothing.  They would live in Germany or Poland (or America or anywhere else; Thomas did say other places besides Germany and Poland).  I don't want to suggest that we forget what happened there during the Holocaust.  But it was over 60 years ago, and Jews are free to live there as they wish, just as anyone else can.  From some of the comments I've seen, however, you'd think Thomas is sending Israelis right back to the gas chambers.

It seems that the uproar over these comments is mostly due to America's unquestioning allegiance to Israel, regardless of their actions.  And it's too bad, because Helen Thomas was an excellent journalist, willing to ask difficult questions to presidents on both sides of the aisle.  
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