Play the end of the movie “Schindler’s List” backward - the compelling scene in which refugees emerge from the hell of the Holocaust to freedom in Israel - and you will get a glimpse into the tortured mind of Helen Thomas.
Yesterday, Ms. Thomas, a veteran White House correspondent for Hearst Newspapers, announced her immediate retirement in the wake of a scandal generated by comments she made that presidential press secretary Robert Gibbs deemed “offensive and reprehensible.” Last week, Ms. Thomas helped kick off Jewish Heritage Month by advising Israelis to “get the hell out of Palestine,” declaring that the Palestinians “are occupied. And it’s their land.” She suggested the Jews in Israel should “go home” to Poland and Germany. This is an extremist view more commonly associated with representatives of Hamas, Iran and al Qaeda.
Ms. Thomas’ insinuation that all Israelis are European colonists squatting on land that rightly belongs to others betrays an ignorance of history and demography. Jews born in Europe and the United States - those Ms. Thomas says need to “go home” - make up just 22 percent of the country’s Jewish population. More than two-thirds of Israeli Jews are native-born; some are the sons and daughters of recent immigrants, and others have family histories stretching back hundreds, even thousands, of years.
Ms. Thomas may be surprised to learn that Jewish Israelis either born in or having family roots in Arab lands make up 40 percent of the population. In most cases, their property was confiscated, and they were driven out, leaving them with no home to which to return. The same is true of the Holocaust survivors and displaced persons from Europe who were stateless souls held in internment camps by the Allies before being allowed to find refuge in what became Israel. The only real home they have is the country they built and defended through four wars.
Ms. Thomas thinks the “occupied Palestinian lands” encompass all of present-day Israel, which implies that the Jewish state has no right to exist. A useful analogy can be made to the United States, which was carved out of lands previously claimed by Indian tribes. Israel has been independent for 62 years, the equivalent of 1838 in this country, when Martin van Buren was president. By then, the United States was a recognized sovereign state, like Israel, and the people born here were Americans, just as people born in Israel today are Israelis. American culture was a distinct and unique addition to the world, a product of the melting pot of many peoples. Israeli culture has evolved in the same way. American settlers found a wilderness and built a thriving, technologically advanced society. Israeli settlers have done the same. As a daughter of Lebanese immigrants, Ms. Thomas has expressed views that are flatly hypocritical, living as she does in what some believe are “occupied Indian territories.” By her own flawed logic, she could more honestly show her solidarity with oppressed peoples by going “back home” to Lebanon.
Ms. Thomas expressed mild regret for her remarks, saying they do not reflect her “heartfelt belief that peace will come to the Middle East only when all parties recognize the need for mutual respect and tolerance.” She should have heeded her own counsel. Ms. Thomas’ comments embodied contempt and intolerance. They were a stark message of hatred from the dean of the White House Press corps, the kind of toxic speech that disqualifies someone from a position of public trust. She now enters her long-overdue retirement, tainting a half-century of White House reporting with the memory of a vile 30-second rant.