Here in Washington, a video getting huge traffic on the Internet is on an obscure Web site called RabbiLive.com showing Helen Thomas, the well-regarded presidential press corps' member, in an unguarded moment. Thomas' fearless candor is what brought her to that front seat in the gaggle in the first place, but this time her outspokenness proved unfortunate.
In an interview with Rabbi David Nesenoff, Thomas suggested a remedy for tension in the Middle East over occupied Palestine would be for Israeli citizens to "go home" to Germany or Poland. The words evoked the worst atrocities against members of the Jewish religion in history and were deeply regrettable. The incident resulted in the loss of her White House credentials.
Before you could say "huh?" Thomas was being called an anti-Semite by critics on the right, as WomanUP colleague Nisha Chittal discusses here. For the record, I no more believe Helen Thomas is anti-Semitic than I believe she is responsible for Al and Tipper's split.
She is nearly 90, and what took the comment beyond an embarrassing geezer gaffe was the memory of European Jews who fled to the "Promised Land" during the Holocaust before Israel was recognized as a nation over 60 years ago.
Thomas' remarks displayed impatience at Israel's intemperate, aggressive posture toward its (sometimes hostile) neighbors. That frustration is shared by many -- including more than a few Americans of Jewish heritage. Decades of preparing against enemy attacks, imagined and real, have made the Israeli army a mean and lean fighting machine. The unfortunate Palestinian people have been their unlucky adversaries in many of the conflicts that resulted.
Careless remarks notwithstanding, Helen Thomas is an icon and an institution as well as a shining role model for women in our political arena. She served honorably and professionally for five decades before being sacked Monday. Speaking for the "leading female journalists" who write on this forum, I wish we all could have such long and illustrious careers.
There's no reason to expect a quiet exit for someone who lived her life speaking up, but I bet Thomas wishes hers had been a bit more graceful. Nevertheless, though inelegant, her departure is noted sadly. In response to countless repetitions of "Thank you, Mr. President," I want to reply: Thank you, Helen Thomas.
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