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Helen Thomas' comments on Israel raise a fundamental question

Hearst announced the immediate retirement of Helen Thomas on Monday.
REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
Hearst announced the immediate retirement of Helen Thomas on Monday.

Helen Thomas retired suddenly Monday, effective immediately, after saying on camera last week that the Jews should "get the hell out of Palestine" and go back to Germany, Poland and America and wherever else they came from.

Thomas is the longest-serving White House reporter of all time. She covered the Eisenhower administration, but the date she could first be considered a full-time White House reporter is probably during the Eisenhower-Kennedy transition in 1960, which would make it 50 years on the beat. She will turn 90 this summer. For many years Thomas was recognized for the first question at presidential news conference as the senior wire service correspondent in the corps (she worked for UPI most of her career).


In 2000, she dropped the objectivity gag, became a columnist for Hearst Newspapers but kept her seat at the White House. During her columnist years, she has been feistier, leftier and was perceived as one of those crusty but lovable old crabs who isn't afraid to say what's on her mind and hector the president a bit. Some of her questions and remarks made Israelis and their allies nervous about her sympathies, but they were nothing that would force her resignation.

Then last week, at a White House event celebrating a Jewish heritage event, Rabbi David Nesenoff of RabbiLIVE.com asked her for "any comments on Israel." She replied: "Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine."

She said: "Remember these people [Palestinians] are occupied and it's their land. It's not German and it's not Poland." Asked what the Jews should do, she said: "Go home." Asked where their homes were, she said: "Poland. Germany. America and everywhere else."

It's all on video and on YouTube. As far as one can tell from the video, Nesenoff didn't trick her into saying it. He just asked her, "Any comments on Israel?"

'Mutual respect and tolerance'
Her retirement was swift. She apologized for the remarks, saying, on her website that:

"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."

If that's really what's in her heart, it's a little hard see how the RabbiLIVE words came out of her mouth. And it's also hard to believe that the taped statement reflects anything other than a belief that Israel should not exist. Maybe someone can fuzz that up if they try, but it will be difficult.

Furthermore, although many people know better than to say it in English on camera, the basic sentiment is shared by most Palestinians, most Arabs, probably most Muslims (I'm obviously getting way beyond anything I can prove here), and probably by many of those who sympathize strongly with the Arab side in the long argument/struggle/war over whether Israel should and will exist.

Thomas (whose parents were immigrants from Lebanon, by the way, and I mention it without meaning to imply that there is anything nefarious about Americans of Arab descent being reasonably likely to side with the Arab side in this dispute, any more than it is nefarious for U.S. Jews to mostly side with Israel) may have done us a favor by putting the fundamental question squarely on the table.

I'm Jewish and I support Israel's existence. I try to avoid the common phrase "right to exist." Doesn't work for me. What does it mean, exactly, and who gets to decide who else, or which other country, has a right to exist?

As a matter of history, every country in North and South America has, perhaps, a questionable "right to exist" on land taken by conquest from the previous occupants. Or does the historical offense of taking someone else's land by force go away if you can hang onto the land long enough?

The Euro-Americans can't even make the claim, as Zionists do, that Jews had a pre-existing nation on the territory in question, and that Jews maintained a presence in the disputed land all along. I don't find those claims particularly dispositive (think about who else could make a claim if prior occupancy was the key determinant), but if "right to exist" is the issue, it seems superior to anything our own country can muster as an excuse for taking over land that had been someone else's for centuries.

When I say I support Israel's existence I mean I think that — on balance and ignoring for the moment many important details and sub-arguments — after the centuries of persecution of the Jews in many lands after they lost their own, topped off by the unspeakable barbarity and evil efficacy of the Holocaust, it seemed necessary (at least to the Jews) for the Jews to have a land in which they were guaranteed refuge and decent treatment.

A catastrophe
But the creation of Israel has turned out to be a catastrophe — al-Nakba — for the group that the world now knows as the Palestinian Arabs. (Let's note here, without trying to settle it, the argument that the catastrophe has many elements of self-infliction. There are only so many arguments I can have with myself in the course of one measly post that started out to be about Helen Thomas.)

If I was Palestinian, I would probably believe that Israel does not need to exist, if its existence amounts to mitigating the Jewish catastrophe by substituting a Palestinian catastrophe.

But where does that get us. I support Israel's existence — but in peace with, and with justice for, its neighbors. I always hope that Israel will make reasonable, generous offers on borders and the rest of the issues to bring about the creation of a viable Palestinian state, and that whoever is speaking for the Palestinians will respond in kind, seeking the best possible compromise for the benefit of those now alive rather than trying to redress grievances of past generations.

I wish I believed that this is possible. To the extent that the neighbors believe that peace and justice can be achieved only by Israel's non-existence, we have a problem — a big, tragic problem that cannot be solved until Israel ceases to exist, and that is not a reasonable negotiating position.

So the tragedy bleeds from year to year and, most of the time, without an honest discussion of the real goals of the two sides. Instead, we have a dialogue of the deaf in which each side tries to tell the world that the other side is lying about its goals.

Palestinians say that Israelis have no serious intention of allowing a viable Palestinian state to come into existence. If you want to go deeper, you have to look into the Taba Summit of 2001, which, I fear, is the closest the parties have come, or will come anytime soon, to a settlement.

Israelis say that the Arab side will settle for nothing less than the destruction of Israel. If they truly believe that, it becomes a lot harder for Israel to "take chances for peace," as the saying goes.

I am not one of those knee-jerk Israel apologists who talks as if Israel's existence is hanging by a thread. Israel is the strongest country in the region and is backed by the world's only superpower.

On the other hand, when much of the world expresses outrage that Israel insists on regulating the shipment of goods into Gaza, they ignore a legitimate Israeli concern about what might be shipped onto their border for use by a group that is publicly pledged to Israel's non-existence, however long it takes to bring that about.

Helen Thomas does not speak for the Palestinians, nor for Arabs generally, nor for all skeptics of Israel's good intentions. Apparently, she doesn't even speak for herself, since she claims to believe the opposite of what she said to the surprised rabbi with the video camera. She's an old lady for whom I wish a pleasant retirement. But when her candid reaction to a non-leading question about what is needed in the Middle East was for the Jews to go home to Germany and Poland, she was whistling more than Dixie.

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Comments (50)

If we censor home journalists like Helen Thomas for unacceptable 'wrong words', yet accept 'wrong words/lies told by Israeli media (closed communication, video content) on the flotilla incident, and we accept,respect journalists/mainline news sources, who so carefully write 'soft words'/no investigative content; in tandem with Israeli closed communication stories...how can we accept, respect media/government that embraces the same?

Where is there consistency of outrage?

At least Helen Thomas apologized. Israel has not.

The water-soaked newspaper lying in the gutter will soon disappear. Gutters will never go away but print media may too soon be twisting its last spin? Sad, sad indeed.

Eric,

Two quibbles with what is, on the whole, a very thoughtful post.

1) You write: "...although many people know better than to say it in English on camera, the basic sentiment is shared by most Palestinians, most Arabs, probably most Muslims (I'm obviously getting way beyond anything I can prove here)..."

This is an broad and problematic statement that you all but knock down with your parenthetical note. Why make it then?

2) The blockade of Gaza sounds so benign when you call it "regulating the shipment of goods." There was a great piece in Foreign Policy last week called "What exactly is the blockade of Gaza" and you can find it here: http://bit.ly/cO1sYU

Nice post and I agree. Actually, her comments wouldn't even have been that odious if she had replaced "Jews" with "Israel." Countries ought to be subject to harsh criticism and that one more than many, but when you lose the distinction between national governments and ethnicity then the White House isn't where you ought to work.

I blame the Brits.

Wherever they abandoned their "empire" throughout the world, they seem to have made sure to leave a territory divided in such a way as to ensure the continuing clash of the surviving populations.

Refer: India vs Pakistan, Turkey and Iraq vs Kurds, Greeks vs Turks, Israel vs Palestinians, and other regions as well. The Brits had the power to allocate space otherwise, but did not.

It almost seems as though they WANTED them to be at bloodthirsy odds with each other -- perhaps to make them sorry for rejecting the benign and civilizing presence of British power.

In any case, the division of Palestine as it was done was sure to pit enemies for a thousand years against one another in a fight to the death. The war is not territorial -- it is deeply personal in the minds and hearts of each side.

Those who know the history of the region going back to the time of David and Solomon suspect that this battle is unlikely to be over for at least several hundred years if ever. The best that can be hoped for, in their eyes, is a standoff much like what we see today.

Which, as I see it, is just what the Brits wanted.

Very thoughtful post Eric, and I agree with what you say. My problem though is the very premise of the argument. No one questions the right to exist of any other modern state the way people question Israels right to exist. Regardless of the sentiment this question has gained legitimacy in the mainstream and that frightens me because of what it implies, especially considering the history of persecution our people have faced.

The issue here is not WHAT she said -- that is irrelvant. It is that she said anything at all. What has become blurred in our media world today is the very fine line between "reporting" new objectively and "editorializing" the news. That is what she has done, and it has essentially destroyed her reporting credibiity from here on out.

With the best and most respected "reporters" (Walter Cronkite and Tom Brokaw are great examples nationally, and Don Shelby locally) their personal views are "behind the curtain" when it comes to pure reporting, and we feel confident we are getting a straight and unbiased story.

In the end, this is NOT a story about Israel, and not even a story about Thomas -- it is really a story about the trust and efficacy we have in the NEWS media in modern America.

My issue with this whole thing is that I don't understand why she can't say what she wants to say when and where she wants to say it. She's not an elected official, she's not espousing some sort of corporate policy. What about her free speech rights? I don't think a person gives up that right simply because they have some notoriety or some degree of prominence. It seems to be another example of carrying political correctness too far.

What Thomas said was plainly stupid, but no more stupid than stuff that shows up on Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly regularly. Beck makes a comparison to the current administration and the Nazi's at least once a week. But apparently in this country, where two thirds of the country can’t name a single Supreme Court justice, we still have this inside baseball, double standard for “mainstream” press and a completely different one for the “crazy” press. I was listening to Talk of the Nation on public radio yesterday and they were drawing all of these subtle differences. It sounded like a discussion I would have had with an old college j-school professor. I’m sorry, but MOST people in this country are pathetic consumers of news and can’t tell the difference when a comparatively normal journalist spouts off and when we hear daily rants that don’t even fly within 100 miles of reality. Stupid? Absolutely. Out of the norm, not even close.

Eric - On a related issue, I wonder if there is any part of you that would share my concern that Hearst would terminate Thomas for her remarks?

However inaccurate or misinformed she may be, as far as I could ascertain, her remarks weren't racist in nature, nor was she calling for the Jews to return to concentration camps and if we're being honest, there are those in the Jewish community who've said worse.

That isn't to diminish or dismiss what she said, they were obviously ignorant and offensive to many. While I disagree with Ms. Thomas' comments, she's entitled to be stupid on occasion..as should we all be, because it is inevitable in Human beings.

Perhaps some disciplinary action would have been much more appropriate, followed by some education on the history of Jews in the Middle East. Consider it a teachable moment I suppose.

Hearst acted cowardly in its firing of Thomas as far as I'm concerned. Just what we need in the current political and diminishing media environment...more media bosses willing to throw their veteran reporters under the bus for high transgression of stupidity.

Thomas' institutional knowledge and the fact she was one of the last Washington reporters who could make a President squirm should make her disappearance from the media landscape a concern for all Americans. If I were Hearst I might be inclined to consider her stupidity on the Isreali/Palenstinian issue with her body of work on politics for the last 60 years and try to strike a balance. What are your thoughts on that?

What did Ms Thomans mean by 'Palestine'? If she meant all of Palestine, including the UN recognized borders of Israel, the inference that she's against the existence of Israel is a reasonable interpretation of her remarks. But if she means the occupied territories of Palestine, that's a different kettle of fish. While she hasn't clarified that particular nuance, her categorization of Jews being from parts of Europe, the US and everywhere else seems, to me, to refer specifically to the settlers in the occupied territories that are squatting on Palestinian territory - illegally, if the UN gets to make the rules. If that's what she meant, I don't understand why her words were so allegedly dispicable. If she did actually mean that Israel shouldn't exist, I can understand the reaction. But I almost think there's been a deliberate misinterpretation of her words, in order to maintain this idea that nothing critical can be said of Israel without the speaker being accused of anti-Semitism.

Myles,

Helen Thomas has not been a reporter for some time. She is paid to be a columnist and offer her opinion. It wasn't out of line for her to offer her personal thoughts; she is not paid to be objective.

I'm mostly surprised that someone who has been in the media so long didn't anticipate that those comments would result in a major backlash.

Excellent post and good comments.

I think what Helen Thomas was trying to say is that there is a cultural difference between Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews. When the Ashkenazi Jews emigrated to Palestine they brought with them European notions of property and statehood that were quite different from the Arab conceptions, and what happened to the Palestinians was the same thing that happened to the American Indians.

Of course, the only hope is that they both recognize the legitimate right of the other to exist, and they must return to the 1967 borders. At this point it certainly seems that Israel is the party most responsible for holding up progress toward that end.

I suppose Hearst has the right to end her column based on remarks uttered on camera.

But a lot of assumptions are buried in this graf:

==when much of the world expresses outrage that Israel insists on regulating the shipment of goods into Gaza, they ignore a legitimate Israeli concern about what might be shipped onto their border for use by a group that is publicly pledged to Israel's non-existence, however long it takes to bring that about==

By what right does Israel "regulate the shipment of goods into Gaza" by boarding a ship with armed commandos in international waters and comandeering it to an Israeli port?

Other questions arise, but that's probably enough for starters.

The concept of freedom of speech in this country deals with the government regulation of speech. Helen Thomas is free to say as many ridiculously offensive things as she wants, but the constitution does not guarantee her right to get paid to say them or to the right to say them at the White House.

As for Thomas's statements, they are right there on the video. She isn't talking about the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza - telling Jews to go home to Germany and Poland is a rejection of Israel's right to exist. The comments are even more horrific because the Jews who left their "home" in Germany and Poland did so because they were being murdered by the millions.

Thomas took a brilliant 50 year career in journalism and flushed it down the toilet. CBS couldn't keep Jimmy the Greek around and there is no way Hearst (or the White House) could keep Thomas around after this.

To those who try to equate Thomas's statements with things said and done by Israel, what are you trying to accomplish? Telling Israel that it doesn't have a right to exist isn't going to solve anything. A big part of the reason for what Israel is doing in Gaza is because Hamas shares Thomas's views on Israel's right to exist. If you can't get past that point, why even bother talking about peace.

Well, I think it may be a little disingenuous to pretend that whatever ideas or feelings Helen Thomas's heart or head contains are really that important. At any rate I think it's obvious she was speaking for herself and no one else.

I would not recommend assigning credibility to any journalist based on their ability to conceal their bias. If you're looking for honest reporting I don't know why you'd look for it from someone who's deceiving you on a regular basis.

I have a couple issues with the general discussion thus far. First, I think Eric's characterization of people who sympathize with the Arab's as sharing a view that Israel has no right to exist sets up a false dichotomy that preempts constructive dialogue. First is assumes that those who sympathize with the Palestinians do not also sympathize with the Israelis. This idea that people who want peace are somehow anti Israeli has always been bizarre. This rhetorical framework needlessly puts people in opposition. Second, the idea that even a simple majority of those critical of Israel advocate it's destruction is factually inaccurate. Even strong Palestinian sympathizers like Noam Chomsky have never advocated for the destruction or dismantling of Israel, but rather a two state solution.

The fact is that there has been no real existential threat to the state of Israel since 1970. You can worry about people who don't think Israel has a right to exist if you want, but it's disingenuous to pretend such people actually present a threat to the continued existence of the country.

What has been happening, and I think Thomas's comment reflects this, is a loosening of the uncritically pro Israeli grip on the US media in the last five years or so. The established narrative is starting to unravel under the weight of Palestinian casualty figures and historical documentation. I know this makes Jews nervous, and I can understand that. But I think it's ultimately a good thing in the sense that the status-quo is obviously unsustainable.

Kissinger sought stalemate in the late 60s and early 70s, and he got it. The problem is the Israeli's and Palestinian's have been living with the attrition of that stalemate for 40 years. I agree with Eric that Taba is a basis for a viable two state solution, but it looks to me like some Israeli's are more concerned about the narrative than they are the process. You can see this in the Harvard debate between Chomsky and Dershowitz in 2005.

http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article11190.htm

Dershowitz is reduced to high school debate tactics, outright lies, and personal attacks from the outset. He wants peace, but he also wants to control the story. In fact it's as if he's more concerned about how history will record the peace process than he is the results of the peace process.

Thanks for an excellent discussion thread so far.
I agree with those who say that Ms. Thomas had an absolute right to express her view. Her unconvincing takeback diminishes her reputation for straight talk. I wish she had clarified and defended her state view. I also wish her well in retirement.
Hearst also has a right to fire her, so long as they abide by whatever contract exists. It's not clear to me at this point that she was fired, but suspicion along those lines seems reasonable.
It seems clear to me that Thomas was not making fine distinctions between sephardic and ashkenazic Jews, nor between territory inside and outside of the green line. I take her reference to be to all of historic Palestine. One should note that there are relatively few Israelis alive today who were born in Poland or Germany. Mentioning Poland and Germany in her remarks may have been the worst thing she did, given the historical backdrop.
I didn't mean to soft soap the issue of Israel's boarding of the ships bound for Gaza. But I do mean to say that that is basically a detail that really derives from the fundamental question of Israel's existence.

Everyone marveling at Thomas's bias, should look to Garrett's post above (#11). Helen Thomas hasn't been employed as a straight news reporter since 2000 when she left her longtime position at the UPI wire service in protest after convicted felon Rev. Sun Myung Moon's News World Communications bought out the floundering news organization She then took a job as a White House columnist for Hearst.

Also, she wasn't fired by Hearst, she resigned (admitedly under pressure, but there's still a difference).

In theory it was a good match for Hearst to let Thomas write opinion pieces based on her decades of experience reporting on every president since Eisenhower (kind of an insider's guide to the White House) but in reality Helen Thomas writing sharply partisan columns about what she thought fell flat. Her 40-plus years of White House covereage failed to translate into compelling writing or thought-provoking opinion. In fact only two of the Hearst papers (the Seatle PI and the Houston Chronical) published her columns with any regularity. In short, Thomas the octogenarian columnist wasn't terribly good.

Furthermore, I'll bet that anyone ruing her retirement as a loss to American political journalism hadn't read her work in quite some time.

Old age catches up to us all. I suppose her departure was inevitable, it's just a shame she went out on a sour note.

Eric Black

In your journalistic career at the Star Tribune and else where can u tell us how many times you have questioned people who have pooh poohed the Palestinians right to exist in their own homeland.

Need examples ? Statements by Rudy Boschwitz, Alan Dershowitz, Avigdor Lieberman...and many more... Their statements regarding Palestinians have been far more odious.

My guess is the answer is zero or close to it. And I believe that states a lot.

//I didn't mean to soft soap the issue of Israel's boarding of the ships bound for Gaza. But I do mean to say that that is basically a detail that really derives from the fundamental question of Israel's existence.

Israel's existence is a fact. Whether or not it ought to exist is almost an esoteric debate. The question at hand really is whether or not a Palestinian state has a right to exist. I think the boardings are a detail deriving from that question rather than Israel's existence. The Israeli actions are after all a policy designed to deny legitimacy and viability for an Hamas run Palestinian state.

Source: The Fall of the House of Bush, by Craig Unger.

The current Middle East "crisis" was designed by the secret 1916 "Sykes Picot agreement" to divide the Middle East into British and French spheres of influence. Under the British Mandate, Jewish population in "Palestine" increased from 83,790 in 1922 to 608,230 in 1945.

The Balfour declaration of 1917 (Jewish homeland) was supported by British Prime Minister Lloyd George, "who, I need not say, does not care a damn about the Jews".

"These noble religious ideals (i.e. the claptrap we still hear today from christian fundamentalists - GM) all just happened to serve British interests in what was known as the "Great Game".

The London Guardian military correspondent during WWI reported that "the whole future of the British empire as a Sea empire" depended on Palestine's being inhabited by the Jews.

Fast Forward to just before Rabin's assassination in 1994: Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to 100,000 rally in Israel, where banners widely proclaimed, "Death to Arafat", and he calls Arafat a "war criminal being hoisted aloft by the Government of Israel", i.e. Prime Minister Rabin.

I found your comments reasonable and objective, but I do thing that Abbas would be willing to negotiate,if it weren't for Hamas.

The Palestinians have been living in refugee camps for over forty years. Under what possible rubric can anyone still seriously say that Israel will relent and let them have an autonomous nation of their own some day?

Since 1990:

124 Israeli children killed by Palestinians
1,441 Palestinian children killed by Israelis

1,072 Israelis killed
6,348 Palestinians killed

8,864 Israelis wounded
39,019 Palestinians wounded.

Last year the USA gave $7 million a day to Israel, nothing to the Palestinians.

But that's just the numbers. The real atrocity is that Arabs living in Israel live under conditions objectively worse than those of Black Africans living under the old South African Apartheid regime. South Africa never restricted use of highways to whites only. South Africa did not control the passage of goods in and out of the homelands. South Africa did not deny building materials to the bantustans.

Israel is an Apartheid state and a serial violator of international law. Shouldn't we resolve those issues before questioning the loyalty of Americans to Israel?

Whew! Interesting how this gets people fired up more than 60 years after the the country was established. A very thoughtful post from Eric, and interesting responses.

I have to agree with Eric to at least some extent, and I'm not Jewish, never have been Jewish, and generally regard religion of any sort as a great, self-inflicted fraud.

Commentary about conquest and occupation seems absolutely to the point (Americans are in no position to point fingers at others in that regard), as does the overlooked mention that Jews predate Muslim Palestinians, not just by a couple generations, but by many hundreds of years, and even after the diaspora at the hands of the Romans, retained at least some presence in the area in question.

I've listened to the Thomas statements several times, and simply cannot believe that she didn't mean exactly what she said, which to my mind can't be interpreted in any other way than to say that Israel shouldn't exist. I don’t see or hear any sort of fine distinction between one kind of Jew and another. A good argument could be made that establishing a country because Group ‘A’ has been horribly wronged, but doing so at the expense of Group ‘B,’ is not the way to go about it.

That said, it was 60 years ago, and the Arab neighbors who claim to be so outraged have had a couple generations to provide aid, comfort and, dare I say, living space in their own countries for the Palestinians who want to escape the refugee camps. That they have conspicuously failed to do anything of the kind makes Arab outrage largely disingenuous, at best.

I might suggest that there be no Nobel Peace Prize awarded unless/until someone figures out a way to resolve this Middle Eastern Gordian Knot that’s equitable to both Israelis and Palestinians. If and when someone does that, they’ll have truly earned the prize. I disqualify myself from the competition.

Until then, the Israelis are not always correct, and are sometimes murderously heavy-handed.

There are numerous, easily documented reasons why they might occasionally behave this way.

Frankly, not being a follower of journalism per se, I wasn’t aware that Helen Thomas was no longer a UPI correspondent and was writing columns for Hearst. The comment that age catches up to us all seems apropos. It certainly is catching up with me. It IS a shame that she went out on a sour note, but we’re not guaranteed a happy ending, and while she certainly has the right to say what she thinks, there are consequences to doing so in many circumstances.

In that context, let me add that Tom Weyandt is touchingly out of touch. Public school teachers, especially those teaching Social Studies, are fired with distressing frequency because some of them fail to realize that the First Amendment – in practice – doesn’t always cover them. The same thing with some minor-league public officials. I served two cities as a planning commissioner, and it was made plain at the beginning in both communities that “free speech” had some very definite limits for members of a planning commission. There are many other examples. “Free speech” has never been absolute.

After viewing the video I think it is one of the worst examples of gotcha journalism. I no longer believe in Middle East peace and more should read the recently published piece INLBiMEP. Like Bill Clinton said after being perturbed by Netanyahu "Who's the fucking superpower here?".

I'd like to suggest that it is Mr. Black that has sought to "fuzz up" Helen Thomas' remarks. I have no trouble believing that Ms. Thomas was referring to the occupied territories when she used the term Palestine and the sudsidized immigration of jews into those areas to fill the ever expanding settlements while at the same time denying palestinians the right to build and deny those who were expelled decades ago the right of return. All issues that Mr Black (like Mr. Obama) clearly does not want to address ( not to mention the blockade of Gaza and the events of the last week). The quick and vocal condemnation of Ms. Thomas following on the heels of the muted reaction to Israeli murder of nine in international waters speaks volumes about the state of the free flow information and debate on the middle east in this country.

Personally, I wasn't surprised by Thomas' outburst in the least...but then again I pay closer attention to leftist media than a lot of leftists do.

What I do not understand, given the level of undiluted vitriol it spills upon Israel, is why American Jews line up so reliably in the Democrat column.

For instance, the 5th CD's US Representative, Keith Ellison followed the lip service paid to the Jewish constituency with repeated, and blatant support for the HAMAS government. In fact, if I'm not mistaken, he's taken up their banner yet again in congress.

What part of this are Jewish voters missing?

This column suggests that Thomas' comments were made directly to the rabbi on tape. Information from other sources is that the comments were made, obviously off-handedly, in a public place to a young boy who pretended to be soliciting comments from people in general, but who was obviously sent specifically to provoke comments from Thomas.

The part of Israel's policy that I don't understand, unless that policy is in fact the elimination of any possible Palestinian state, is the continuation of settlements that make impossible the otherwise inevitable acceptance by Palestinians of Israel's right to exist.

It's unfortunate how one after another, people seem to be afraid of opinions. Why did Mrs. Thomas have to resign? She has made a life of having an opinion, and taking a stand; isn't that respectable independent of whether or not we agree with her views? Why should anyone feel threatened by an opinion as long as he or she is not denied the right to answer back?

There should be less name calling, and the promotion of a more complex debate in which whomever thinks differently exposes his or her views. Since when have the non-debaters won the issue? Respect has to serve the purpose of establishing rules to have a more fruitful debate, not to suppress it.

Thus, let's not be so offended by opinions: in the present situation there is not an excess of words, but a lack of them. Too many offended parties, and too few people willing to explain why they are offended.

Generally overlooked in all of the above is that Jews were working hard to create their own state *before* World War 2 (including having their own shadow government, the Jewish Agency) and the fact that about half Israel's population is from countries of the Middle East or decendants of those immigrants.

In response to one of the Israel-bashers: Saying Israeli Arabs are worse off than blacks under Apartheid is so beyond reality that a response wouldn't be warranted except that people might believe you. Unlike blacks in the bad old South Africa, Israeli Arabs vote, have their own representatives in Israel's parliament, can live wherever they want, can eat in any restaurant they want and have no curfew. They have the same civil rights as Jews and access to the same medical care as Israelis; in fact, Jewish and Arab physicians work side by side in many Israeli hospitals. Even PA-resident Arabs (including from Gaza) come to Israel for treatment. In addition, guess which Middle East country has the freest Arab-language press? Yes, Israel.

Are Israeli Arabs worse off than Israeli Jews? Some are, some aren't. Drive though Um el-Fahm sometime and look at the magnificent homes. One reason some Arab towns lack good services is because their officials refuse to collect Israeli taxes or their residents refuse to pay taxes.

The clincher is that when Israeli Arabs are asked in surveys if they would prefer to live in a PA-run state, the answer is overwhelmingly no.

I have to say that the attacks here on Eric Black are absurd. Not the "quibbles" but the attacks on Eric's integrity and the motivation behind this piece. This was a well-written and even-handed article about a difficult topic.

I also have to say the suggestion that this was gotcha journalism or that Thomas was set up are just as absurd. This is not some innocent rube we are talking about here - this is a woman who has been asking tough questions of very important people for the last fifty years. I don't know if you could ask a much easier question than "what do you think about Israel?" And its all on video - the questions, her words, her inflection and facial expressions - its all there. You can't say she was misquoted.

I'm a regular reader, and this post surprised me. Seemed like a lot of fuss over not that much. I have friends who believe Palestinians should all move to other countries. Strikes me as symmetrical, both in intent and in total impracticality, tho my friends aren't celebrities.

All the discussion comparing Israel to North America seems rather beside the point as well. We are not in the middle of starving a million natives because we're worried they might receive weapons as well as food. The fact that Americans committed atrocities in the past does not mean everyone else gets to. Collective punishment is not ok.

re: Neal Gendler

Why don't u replace the word "Israeli Arab" with the word Palestinian? I guess that would show the vacuousness of your arguments because the Palestinians have no rights. Israel has carefully constructed a show piece of "equal rights" for a few Israeli Arabs for P.R purposes in America. I came from India to America. Dare to compare rights of Muslim in India with Israel ? I guess u won't.

And yes a lot of Indians would rather live in America than India. So does that mean India is not free. Also there are free press in Jordan, Turkey, UAE. And before u tell me they are censored, there is Israeli Army censorship in Israel too. So please.

re: Dan Hintz

"I also have to say the suggestion that this was gotcha journalism or that Thomas was set up are just as absurd."

I asked Eric a simple question as to how may times he has questioned people who have made odious statements about the Palestinians in his long career as a journalist. No response. I wonder why ?

Also is the "existential threat from Hamas" the reason for Israeli settlement. Settlements that deny existence of a Palestinian state.

But then i guess Eric and other journalists in America need a job.

Too many certainties in a world of uncertainties?

Eric Black has carefully executed one perspective and has successfully stimulated quite a discussion. I forgot to thank him...thank you. And also want to add a couple of alternative news stories.

ALJAZEERA has done an in-depth story on Helen Thomas which some may find worth reading and discover a few small truths worth pondering?

AsiaTimesonline has a 'companion piece' one could call it, on the attendant discussion here on Israel and its unacceptable actions lately..."The Method Of Israel's Madness" by Pepe Escobar.

Sometimes it's enlightening to read how others view us...especially in times when we are losing favor on the world scene, as Israel is losing its power-shadow over the MidEast.

//I do thing that Abbas would be willing to negotiate,if it weren't for Hamas.

Actually Ellen Hamas has been willing to negotiate as well. The US/Israeli coalition has been trying to destabilize and deny the legitimacy of the Hamas government since it won elections and then consolidated it's power with force. Regardless of what you may think about Hamas the legitimacy of Abas was seriously eroded by the the US/Israeli sponsorship during and after the elections.

At any rate, Hamas declared and maintained something of a unilateral cease fire for several months. Was the cease fire complete? No, but this is where things have always been kinda bizarre as far as the Palestinians are concerned. Despite the fact that they have no sovereign state, or unified government, they are expected to act like a state and bring every militant group completely and totally under control as a precondition for negotiations.

At any rate, Hamas is willing to negotiate. Do they think Israel has no right to exist? They say they don't, but you have to decided, what's your objective, peace or mind control? North Korea clearly does not accept South Korea's right to exist, but they've had a much more effective cease fire. The US has never recognized Cuba, and we've launched a series of overt and covert attacks on Cuba. Nevertheless Cuba and US have not exchanged fire in (even by proxy) in over 40 years. This is doable, but the US and Israel have to be willing accept a settlement rather than impose one.

A current leader of Hamas said a couple of years ago that they would of course accept the right of Israel to exist -- if Israel would recognize that of Palestine. So far, there is no response from Israel's far, far right current government.

This government, based in an extreme version of fundamentalist Zionism, has been attacking the civil rights of Arab Israeli citizens for the past year or so. Its Knesset yelled insults at an Arab member of its organization because she took part in the effort to break the blockade of Gaza (which includes, by the way, not just construction materials but such things as children's crayons because they fear they would be used by Gazans to make weapons). Hundreds of Israelis have signed on to a Facebook page urging that this woman be executed for being on one of the boats.

The Israeli government blocked media coverage within its borders of its destruction of Gaza, choosing to show instead "rockets raining down" from the group of militants that refuses to obey Hamas's plea that they stop. Its army confiscated all cameras and recording devices from the flotilla it attacked so as to prevent any version of "the truth" except the government's. (Guess what? Self Defense once again.)

When we uncritically support Israel in violence toward its neighbors and illegal land-grabs that seem to grow out of paranoia and religious fundamentalism rather than real self defense, we delay over and over any chance for a real two-state solution. Check out J-Street, the new Jewish lobby working to counteract the influence of AIPAC and to help achieve a two-state solution with justice for both parties (www.jstreet.org).

Dear Eric, Thanks for a thoughtful article. Too bad Helen Thomas wasn't also more thoughtful. I've admired her independence and feistiness for a long time, and think her apology should be respected whatever her true opinion (Freudian analysis goes beyond your analytical role as a news commentator). I, too, am Jewish and strongly oppose the inhumane treatment of Palestinians which the Government of Israel pursues. I believe, despite all the years of failure, that a just solution is possible for both sides to achieve peace. But, for the time being, the United States has no standing as a fair arbitrator. It is up to us to play a strong supportive role in bringing the United Nations and neutral peacekeeping forces into the region to replace the oppressive "wall" with international guarantees of security. We must withhold our massive aid to Israel until it truly begins peace negotiations with the Palestinians as equals in human rights. Hamas, the legitimately elected government in Gaza regardless of many recent denials, must be a part of the negotiations and must, in turn, agree on the right of Israel to exist. Then the two parties can turn to long term workable solutions. Sincerely, David Harris

What a wonderful discussion following a great commentary. Enough has been said about the Thomas comments but count me among those who opine that they were awkward and that she should not have been 'retired' and that she should be in the White House. I think she speaks for many Americans who are reducing their support of Israel over the settlements and vilolence issues.

I would like to see some group advocate for the historic peace and justice theology that evolved in Israel at the same time as Jesus was saying similar things. Hilel tapped into this long standing Jewish value. It is this "Israel' that should be resurrected-with peaceful coexistence and a capitol in Tel Aviv-with Jerusalem being an international city of spirituality shared by the three Abrahamic faiths.

I think the "retirement" of Thomas is symptomatic of the political correctness of the present day. Gone are the days when a mistake can be made, followed by an apology, followed by moving on. The utterance of a single thought can end a career in public life. What have we gained? Does this hypersensitivity make the world a better place? More likely, the opposite.

I must apologize for sloppy wording in my earlier comment. I meant Arabs living in Israel-controlled territories, not Arabs living in Israel proper.

My mistake gave Mr. Gendler a very big opening through which he just drove a truckload of propaganda. Nothing Mr. Gendler says is true of Palestinians in Gaza, which is why he was quick to steer the conversation to Arabs living in Israel proper. Those Arabs, however, are still second-class citizens. Not to the degree that the Palestinian refugees are (I was referring to them when I brought up Apartheid), but Arabs in Israel are hardly first class citizens, especially those in Jerusalem or the West Bank.

I do appreciate why Mr. Gendler found it necessary to misconstrue my words (my intent was quite obvious from the context). Israel's actions toward Gazans are truly indefensible, but they treat the Arabs in the "big house" better because those are the Arabs Americans see when they visit. The extraordinary effort Israel makes to keep people out of Gaza speaks directly to the deplorable conditions there.

The neo cons (Michael Ledeen, Richard Perle, etc) pioneered the "clean break" doctrine to end the peace process, and stop "land for peace". Their simple position is "Israel uber Alles". "Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm" meant "reestablishing the principle of preemption", which has meant a series of flotilla type attacks.

Israel treats Gaza like the initial stages of the Warsaw Ghetto, with slow death replacing mass death.

The apologists of this "Ledeen Doctrine" include the idiot savant, Jonah Goldberg, who wrote in the National Review, "Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business."

This moron wrote a 'book' entitled "Liberal Fascism", which starts by attacking the world's leading anti fascist, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

By contrast, Michael Ledeen is an actual fascist, having written a paean to Mussolini's mentor, "The First Duce: D'Annunzio at Fiume", which proclaimed that "the radicalization of the masses in the 20th century could not have succeeded without the blending of the 'sacred' with the 'profane'... higher ideals had necessarily to be transferred from a religious context into a secular liturgy...."

Mark Gisleson is correct: I was not talking about Arabs in Gaza. Nor, as he seems to assume, was I talking about those living under the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank; they're not Israelis. The only "intent" I could see in the words "Arabs living in Israel" was to make an absurd, slanderous comparison between Israel and South African Apartheid.

I was speaking only of Arabs who live in Israel and are Isreali citizens. Are they all thrilled to be living in a Jewish state? Of course not; few people like being part of a minority. And do they have legitimate complaints? They sure do. But they also have the rights I mentioned earlier and are the only Arabs I've heard of who can denounce the government in public without risking arrest -- and they often do. Try that in Gaza or the West Bank. Or in other Arab states.

My response stated facts, not propaganda, about Israeli Arabs. Palestinian Arabs' rights under PA administration are another matter -- one the Palestinian Arabs need to deal with themselves -- including asking why their leaders have since 1947 refused to take "yes" for an answer.

Neal Gendler is basically stating the same old talking points that work in our ordinary newspaper and television settings in America. because the Palestinian side is usually conveniently omitted.

Do Arabs (yes i mean Israeli Arabs) have equal rights in Israel. No way. As I have stated earlier (for which Neal will not respond), I challenge him to compare the rights of Moslems in India with those of Arabs in Israel.

He says Arabs can criticize the govt and not in any other country. This is not true at all. Israelis know that the participation of Arabs is so minimal that their criticism has no consequence. In areas where equal participation has a consequence Arabs are excluded. "Equality" in Israel is for propaganda. And any time u challenge that they promptly compare themselves to every god forsaken dictator in the world, while the rest of the time we are told Israel is just like America.

Compare that to India. Pakistan was created as a Muslim state and India is not. Also, we disagreed to split India in 1947 (so I guess Indians who disagree should loose their country too). India has Muslim president, Muslim ministers, Muslim richest people, Muslim actors and actresses.

Also, there are opposition parties in Jordan, Iran, Turkey. There are no opposition in Saudi Arabia, Egypt (well u go to jail). And surprise, the last two are puppets dictators sponsored by our AIPAC sponsored Congress due to our "Israel only" policy for the last five decades.

Finally regarding Israeli treatment of Palestinians. Neal won't even answer that question. They are "another matter". How convenient.

Eric writes:

==I didn't mean to soft soap the issue of Israel's boarding of the ships bound for Gaza. But I do mean to say that that is basically a detail that really derives from the fundamental question of Israel's existence. ==

Israel's boarding of the ships bound for Gaza is more than a "detail." It's an armed act of aggression against a civilian ship in international waters.

Would Gazans, whose occupied territory might also have a right to exist independent of a blockade, be equally OK if they blocked a shipment of goods to Israel in international waters?

If Gaza (or Palestine) is in fact a state, then a blockade is legal according to international law. Note that Israelis (at least the current government) deny that Palestine is a state, while Palestinians seem to claim that it is).

Basically, I think that Eric has it right.
It's a messy situation with two groups having a valid claim to the same piece of land.
Who was there first is lost in the origin myths of both groups -- there's no historical answer.

And yes, I've heard Native Americans state that Europeans should go back to Europe.

A pox on both their houses. The most dramatic thing that the US could do would be to walk away. Eliminate all subsidies to Israel and Arab states (except the one we occupy), discontinue all participation in peace talks, and tell them to give us a call when they have a solution and they need help with implementation.

Israel was once seen as a beacon of democracy and liberalism amidst despotic Arab regimes. Well, the Arab regimes haven't improved, but I find it increasingly difficult to defend Israel. It's time that the world understood that all the US needs out of the middle east is decent commercial relations with those that sell us oil. If the various parties want to continue their common nightmare, then go at it. Leave us out of it. We're sick of the drama, the bloodshed, and the hatred. Trying to stop one crowd of zealots from killing another crowd of zealots just isn't worth it.

Wow, that was certainly a lot of words, and a lot of passion concerning the words of a political commentator.

We seem to have forgotten, however, that last week Israel boarded an aid ship loaded with supplies for a million and a half people under siege, that 9 unarmed civilians were killed, that several ships have been confiscated on the high seas and all camera equipment stolen to hide any photographic or video evidence.

Lots of outrage about a few words. Not much outrage about the deaths, the siege, the U.S. one-sided support of nuclear-armed Israel against a few rock-throwers sitting on the land that the settlers want. How strange our reactions must seem to the rest of the world!

//If Gaza (or Palestine) is in fact a state, then a blockade is legal according to international law.

There's no "If" about it, Gaza is NOT in fact a state. There is no Palestinian state. The reason people are arguing about implementing a two state solution is two states currently do not exist.

I personally think the model the US and Israel would like to impose on the Palestinians is basically a model based on the Indian reservations in the US rather than full sovereignty. The problem is unlike the American Indians there has been no successful genocide of the Palestinians and the opportunity to enact one has passed. And the Palestinians do not seem to be content to place on reservations.

Just to be clear by the way, this blockade is not about security and never was. The blockade is itself an act of warfare, which is the real Israeli claim to legality. Regardless of Palestinian statehood war can be waged against an enemy of Israel. The blockage is an attempt to weaken and collapse Hamas. Security is only an tangential concern. Israel has basically admitted this. McClatchy just published an article about this: "Israeli Document: Gaza Blockade Isn't About Security"

http://news.yahoo.com/s/mcclatchy/3530852

(1) In an June 9 editorial for CNN, J-Street founder Jeremy Ben-Ami wrote about time he spent recently with Israel's former Navy commander and intelligence head Ami Ayalon. Ben-Ami writes:

"Today, says Ayalon, there is one imperative for friends of Israel: tell us the truth -- even if it's painful. As it becomes increasingly isolated, insecure and scared, Israel is finding it harder to see for itself what is happening -- how its actions are deepening its isolation and dooming the chanes of maintaining a Jewish and democratic Israel. Israel's future hangs in the balance. Without a major course correction, American friends of Israel are poised to witness, on our watch, a tragic fate for the Jewish, democratic state we've loved and supported over the past century. It's a true act of friendship for us to help Israel see how critical it is to end the occupation and create two states, to make this the centerpiece of American and Israeli policy, and to rely again on our people's moral compass to guide the way."

In the light of this statement, it is sad -- to say the least -- to see so many members of our Congress, not to mention the Administration and its State Department, persist in calling those who resist Israel's aggression "terrorists" or "supporters of terror." This attitude helps neither Israel nor the Palestinians or other Arab nations.

(2) Yvonne Ridley, in the Middle East Monitor of June 2, confirms the illegality of Israel's attack on the flotilla by noting that Article 3 of the Rome Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Maritime Navigation of 1988 makes it "an international crime for any person to seize or exercise control over a ship by force, and also a crime to injure or kill any person in the process."

Henry Siegman served as national director of the American Jewish Congress from 1978-1994, and now runs the U.S./Middle East Project, wrote in the Friday, June 11 edition of Israel's Ha'aretz newspaper. "Israel's Greatest Loss: Its Moral Imagination,". Siegman, who was born in Frankfurt, Germany, in 1930, recounted a conversation with a close friend in Israel, days after the Israeli commando assault on the Gaza aid flotilla. The friend lamented that the international condemnation of Israel "was reminiscent of the dark period of the Hitler era."

Siegman wrote, "When I managed to get over the shock of that exchange, it struck me that the invocation of the Hitler era was actually a frighteningly apt and searing analogy, although not the one my friend intended. A million and a half civilians have been forced to live in an open-air prison in inhuman conditions for over three years now, but unlike the Hitler years, they are not Jews, but Palestinians. Their jailers, incredibly, are survivors of the Holocaust, or their descendants. Of course, the inmates of Gaza are not destined for gas chambers, as the Jews were, but they have been reduced to a debased and hopeless existence... Particularly appalling is that this policy has been the source of amusement for some Israeli leaders, who according to Israel press reports have jokingly described it as 'putting Palestinians on a diet.' That, too, is reminiscent of the Hitler years, when Jewish suffering amused the Nazis."

Siegman clarified, "Of course, even the most objectionable Israeli policies do not begin to compare with Hitler's Germany. But the essential moral issues are the same... So, yes, there is reason for Israelis, and for Jews generally, to think long and hard about the dark Hitler era at this particular time. For the significance of the Gaza Flotilla incident lies not in the questions raised about violations of international law on the high seas, or even about 'who assaulted who' first on the Turkish ship, the Mavi Marmara, but in the larger questions raised about our common human condition by Israel's occupation policies and its devastation of Gaza's civilian population. If a people who so recently experienced on its own flesh, such unspeakable inhumanities cannot muster the moral imagination to understand the injustice and suffering its territorial ambitions—and even its legitimate security concerns—are inflicting on another people, what hope is there for the rest of us?"

Maybe nobody states it better on Helen Thomas's 'candid' and careless; unacceptable response:

"No one can be so dumb as the Washington press core."... try Ralph Nader's point of view; video on realnews.com.

Too often, it is a catatonic media that remains silent and can be counted on to present such carefully constructed questions they rarely question, anything at all?

How many of Thomas's colleagues spoke up in her defense...one unacceptable comment and you're in the dumpster? One remark should kill a career of asking questions no one else ever dared to ask?

So maybe, mainstream media, press core regulars, should be writing church bulletins for the local ladies aid society?