Monday, June 7, 2010

Helen Thomas, Retired In Peace

Thomas Friedman
Richard Allen

"In sum, this dynamic — Palestinians building real institutions from the ground up and getting Israel to cede to them real authority — is the ballgame. Make it work across the West Bank and find a way to transfer it to Gaza (how about reopening the Israel-Gaza border and letting the new Palestinian N.S.F. control the passages to Israel?) and a two-state solution is possible. Let it fail, and we’ll have endless conflict. Everything else is just a sideshow." - Thomas Friedman
“Well, you know what? Boys will be boys!” - Ronald Reagan

I took yesterday off posting to this blog, kicked back and watched the women's college softball finals, and read a Donald Hall thriller. Sometimes posting to the Internet can become obsessional, and it's good to let the mind drift on other things, go outside and hang out with my cat at night...

In the meantime, events conspired to force my favorite reporter to retire. Helen Thomas made some god-awfully inappropriate remarks in an interview that riled up the conservative Jewish lobby, and received condemnation from the White House: "The White House on Monday blasted veteran journalist Helen Thomas's remarks that Jews should leave Israel and go "home" to Germany, Poland and elsewhere as "offensive and reprehensible."

She is the daughter of Lebanese immigrants, and her remarks are really quite tame opposed to comments I have read on many other websites, and some of the comments I have made have been very critical of the fictional myth of Palestine as the Jewish homeland. "On May 27, during a White House commemoration of Jewish Heritage Month, Thomas gave an impromptu interview to a Web site called Asked about recent arrests of Palestinians by Israel, Thomas said Israelis should "get the hell of Palestine."

"Remember," Thomas said of the Palestinian people, "these people are occupied. And it's their land." In response to another question, she said Jews living in Israel should go "home -- [to] Poland, Germany . . . and America, and everywhere else."

The video interview then fades to black, followed by the words: "Six million Jews were killed at home in Germany and Poland."

I don't really like the columnist Richard Cohen very much, but he did write a good article in response to Helen's comments, historically the situation was worse for many Eastern European Jews who attempted to go home immediately after WW11, which prompted the Allies to set up the state of Israel in Palestine: "Well, I don't know about "everywhere else," but after World War II, many Jews did attempt to "go home" to Poland. This resulted in the murder of about 1,500 of them -- killed not by Nazis but by Poles, either out of sheer ethnic hatred or fear they would lose their (stolen) homes.

The mini-Holocaust that followed the Holocaust itself is not well-known anymore, but it played an outsize role in the establishment of the state of Israel. It was the plight of Jews consigned to Displaced Persons camps in Europe that both moved and outraged President Harry Truman, who supported Jewish immigration to Palestine and, when the time came, the new state itself. Something had to be done for the Jews of Europe. They were still being murdered."

Ethnically, over 90% of the Jews living in Israel are not of Palestinian origin, they are descended from tribes out of the Caucasus Mountains, and other Slavic minorities that converted to Judaism, from Eastern Europe and Russia. Palestinian Jews have been treated as second-class citizens, and black African Jews, such as the Falasha, are treated even lower. Getting Biblical, the original home of the Jews is in Egypt, where they got kicked out and wandered into Palestine, where they too, returned the favor and kicked out the local tribes and imposed their religion.

The neighboring Arabic states see Israel as an occupying force, who have not treated the native Palestinian population well. Over the last 20 years the Jewish extremist settler movement took over people's farmlands to build communities, and kicked others out of their ancestral homes because they didn't possess modern deeds or claims registered with the Jewish government.

When FDR met with the King of Saudi Arabia for the first time after WW11, he asked for the King's support in providing a Jewish homeland in Palestine. The King said that he didn't support that, but why not give the richest lands and houses of the defeated Germans to the Jews, it is what tribal law says to do with a vanquished foe. So, to say that the Jews should go back to Germany makes sense historically, and may actually have happened were it not for the high pressure of the Zionist movement.

In other posts, I jokingly suggested that since Spain and Portugal were having so much problems financially, they could cause a domino effect of failed states if they went bankrupt; that one solution would be to let the Israelis resettle there. They could take over the governments and help build up the economy, they would feel better about having a homeland that is in Europe because of the ethnic affiliations, and the Palestinians could have their land back. End of hostilities, a win/win situation all around.

But yeah, Helen made an inappropriate suggestion in anger that was not politically correct, and pounced on as being anti-Semitic. Because it was said in public, 89 is a good age to retire, and the New York Times is correct to force her out. If we forced out Don Imus, Howard Cosell, and Rush Limbaugh for making inappropriate remarks, that makes Helen toast... Of course, she now gets castigated from both the left and the right: "Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director, issued the following statement: Helen Thomas's statement of regret does not go far enough. Her remarks were outrageous, offensive and inappropriate, especially since she uttered them on a day the White House had set aside to celebrate the extraordinary accomplishments of American Jews during Jewish American Heritage Month.

Her suggestion that Israelis should go back to Poland and Germany is bigoted and shows a profound ignorance of history. We believe Thomas needs to make a more forceful and sincere apology for the pain her remarks have caused."

Here is a link to the kind of invective being tossed at Helen by the older Jewish community, represented by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who is famous enough to have his own bobble-head doll: "One can only imagine the uproar against Thomas had she said that all blacks should go home to Africa, or illegal immigrants to Tijuana. It seems that Jews are the only group that you can attack with impunity because they are the only ones unwise enough to tolerate it. Better yet, we're the only group often so filled with so much self-loathing that we actually initiate many of the attacks." What I don't like about this kind of attack is the false equivocation being used. Jews are not a racial group like blacks, and they are not ethnic groups like immigrants. Judaism is a religion, and people who are attacking Jews show religious intolerance, not racial bigotry or profiling. The Rabbi is showing some intolerance of his own, lumping all illegal immigrants as being Mexican, when they come from so many different countries, some as far away as Asia.

"It will be interesting to see how President Obama, who could not offer a single word of support for Israel since the flotilla affair, will react... Few of us are surprised that it is a coterie of Jewish advisors to President Obama who have joined him in condemnations of Israel over Jews building in Jerusalem."
Here, any and every criticism of behavior by the Israeli government is seen as betrayal, building the myth of Jews as victims. Anything other than blind support is not tolerated. But Benjamin Netanyahu and his government is composed of right wing extremists who are making bad decisions in regards to human rights. Netanyahu has never liked America, he used to bad mouth us all the time when he was the Israeli Ambassador to the US, and has kept up his condescending attitude ever since. Younger American Jews and other are reacting to extremely bad politics, not the Jewish people. Why should Barack Obama make a public statement supporting an action that he doesn't agree with?  The commando raids were a bad idea, when the judicious use of a couple of tugboats would have spared lives and made the whole spectacle into something more light-hearted while still getting the message across. As long as we have intolerant attack weasels like Rabbi Shmuley, who is really trying to promote his radio show and have you buy his books, we will never be able to have a serious, rational discussion.

As I have said many times, Israel has all of the power in any negotiations with Palestinians. If they truly wanted to have a two state solution, it could be created this week. If they wanted to have any kind of solution, they have the power to instantly make it happen. Benjamin Netanyahu has publicly stated that he will never support a Palestinian state, and his political party voted a resolution to that effect. ..

But there are some rational folks in the Israeli government, and the easing up of the land blockades have been in the discussion phase for months, it's one of the topics that Richard Holbrooke has been working on. And as for poor Helen, her work has been the center of her life for over 50 years. She may not be able to adjust to a different lifestyle at age 89, so I will make a horrible guess and say that she will pass on within the next two years, or she could fool me and buy a Harley and ride it up and down in front of the NY Times offices... After 50 years, you'd think they'd at least give her a Comedy Central Roast...

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