The whole world surrounding Helen Thomas affair

Helen Thomas came under fire for saying Jews should get out of Palestine, but whether you agree with her statements or not, she touched on the central cause of the Israel/Palestine conflict – Jewish settlement. If Jews never settled in Palestine, none of the atrocities and tragedies long associated with Palestine never would have occurred. The uproar served to distract from the real issue – settler colonialism, the essence of Israel’s existence.

 It also revealed a culture of cowardice and immoral double standards that defines the political/media landscape. And it ensured a pro-Israel bias remains in place under threat of mass condemnation and humiliation.

Even if you are, as Dan Rather once put it, “a hero of journalism.”

It’s hard to know where to begin dissecting this farce.

Among the liars and idiots were made by Lanny Davis, former special counsel to and White House spokesman for President Bill Clinton, who said the following:

“Her statement that Jews in Israel should leave Israel and go back to Poland or Germany is an ancient and well-known anti-Semitic stereotype of the Alien Jew not belonging in the ‘land of Israel’ — one that began  2,600 years with the first tragic and violent diaspora of the Jews at the hands of the Romans.”

Ehhhh … hello? The Roman expulsion of Jews into the European diaspora didn’t occur 2,600 years ago, but between the Jewish revolts of 70 and 135 A.D. – between 1,875 and 1,940 years ago; he’s conflating the earlier diaspora of the destruction of the First temple in 586 B.C. with the later events that created the exile that Zionism sought to redress.

It’s a minor case of intellectual laziness, but one can see the intellectual contortion and historical conflation that drives those to smear Helen Thomas with lies of being antisemitic and advocating violence against Jews.

Another case of intellectual contortion is placing the roots of the Jewish state within the holocaust itself; I didn’t expect any mention of the Nakba – the ethnic cleansing that enabled Israel to come into existence – since the Jewish state’s legitmacy is upheld as beyond reproach, like a deity. But the historical whitewash wasn’t limited to the atrocities committed against Palestinians and Lebanese; it extended to Zionism itself. Despite this year being the 150th birthday of Zionism’s founder, Theodore Herzl, the uproar’s participants act as if there was no Zionist movement.

Neither Rabbi Shmuley Boteach nor Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen, for example, bother to mention its existence. Instead, Boteach pretends that anti-Jewish bigotry is mainstream in the United States, more respectable than antiblack/anti-Mexican racism:

“One can only imagine the uproar against Thomas had she said that all blacks should go home to Africa, or illegal immigrants to Tijuana,” he wrote. “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.”

Yes, Rabbi, that would explain the Anti-Defamation League head Abraham Foxman’s response; Shimon Peres’ advisor, Yoram Dori; or these Jewish reactions (sorry for being repetitive). More important than his seemingly irrational belief that attacking Jews is socially acceptable (didn’t she apologize and retire?) is the moral conflation between African-Americans/Mexicans on the one hand, and Jewish settlers on the other. It’s a distortion of the historical reasons for the Israel/Palestine conflict – and a possible reason why Zionism isn’t even mentioned.

Jewish settlement to Palestine began long before the 1940s – as far back as 1870, 26 years before Herzl’s book, the Jewish State was published and establishing modern Zionism. The settlement wasn’t forced like slavery, nor was it for economic reasons like Mexican migrants; it was for ideological reasons; influenced by antisemitism of the time, no doubt, but as the Jewish Agency website puts it, early settlers were motivated by “nationalist vision often combined with socialist ideals.”

They were chasing their ideals, not running for their lives. And they set out to colonize and establish a state over the wishes of the indigenous population; in short, they didn’t resemble your typical immigrant. They came, they saw, they conquered and expelling Palestinians was part of the deal from the beginning; it was foretold in Herzl’s diary, where he wrote:

“We shall try to spirit the penniless population across the border by procuring employment for it in the transit countries whilst denying it any employment in our own country.” It’s a policy that underpinned the Jewish National Fund’s activities throughout the years and the settlement in occupied territory today.

As Israel attacks aid convoys that bring relief from the blockade it imposed to punish the residents for voting in an organization they don’t like, voices that can speak loudly need to be heard. The morality of wishing for Jews to leave Palestine doesn’t compare to the actual destruction of Palestinian communities, either in 1948 or in Gaza last year. Unfortunately, by backtracking, Thomas – who is almost 90 – could have left as her legacy an act of defiance that could’ve inspired others to speak out and fight back.

That is the biggest tragedy.

Update: 6/15/2010

Rabbi David Nesenoff – the man who filmed Helen Thomas saying Jews should go back to Germany, Poland and America – had this to say about sidelining one of the most important living reporters today:

“”I was very surprised when Thomas told me that not only was she opposed to the two-state solution, but that she thought that the Jews should leave Israel and return to the final solution, more or less.”

My guess is less – way less. When asked of her opinion, Thomas said on camera that Israeli Jews should “go home…. To Poland, Germany…and America and everywhere else.” No, I don’t have a Ph.D in history (or anything else for that matter) but I’m almost certain that the final solution did not occur on American soil. The Holocaust that did happen was carried out by Nazi Germany in occupied Poland – in the 1940s.

Now, again I’m no scholar (I’m a college dropout, in fact) but I do believe the National Socialist regime that was both antisemitic and violent hasn’t been in existence since 1945. There was, like, a war or something. So sending Israelis “back to the inferno,” as Yoram Drori put in the Jerusalem Post, is sheer nonsense – there is no inferno. If there was, then explain the Israeli migration to Europe and other places.

Plus, if Thomas meant wiping out Jews, wouldn’t she have said so? She may be 89 years old, but by all accounts she’s an alert person who is aware of her surroundings, and I’m sure she was aware of who she was talking with; she’s also a courageous person who has put 10 presidents to task and asked tough questions, a job fewer reporters are doing these days.

As a person of Arabic-Lebanese descent, the celebration of Jewish Heritage Month against the historical backdrop of Israeli occupation, mass killing and destruction in Lebanon must’ve weighed on her mind and, along with the Gaza blockade and the attack on the flotilla, she probably snapped. After all, that didn’t happen 65 years ago – the occupation of Lebanon eneded in 2000 and the inferno of Palestine continues to this day.

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