Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Helen Thomas

On May 27 Rabbi David Nesenoff asked Helen Thomas for her comments on Israel. She said: "Tell them to get the hell out of Palestin" and: "Remember, these people [Palestinians] are occupied, and it's their land; it's not German, it's not Poland's." Nesenoff asked her where they should go and she replied: "Home." And where is home, Nesenoff asked: "Poland, Germany... America, and everywhere else. Why push people out of there who have lived there for centuries?" This interview took place during the Jewish Heritage Celebration Day event at the White House.

These remarks by Thomas, who has had a long and distinguished career at UPI, and more recently at Hearst, have been subject to a lot of criticism. She just announced her retirement -- at age (almost) 90.

My first reaction to her statements was one of disbelief. It isn't that Thomas has been shy about about her opinions: she despised Bush (junior) and his VP Cheney, and made her feelings clear. She has long been an advocate of Palestinian rights and a critic of Israel -- opinions I share to some extent. But telling Jews they should go "home" -- in effect: "Go back where you came from" is a bit much. After all, it isn't that all Israelis come from Poland, Germany and ... America. A large proportion of Jews in Israel at the time of its creation were, in fact, long-time natives of the Middle East; thousands were living within its borders, and tens of thousands were driven from their homes in nearby countries. Since she is of Lebanese descent, and was a young adult when modern Israel was created, she had to know that thousands of Jews were living in Lebanon, Syria, Libya, Jordan and greater Palestine (administered by Britain). There have been estimates that close to half of the population of Israel around 1948 were from the Middle East and not from Europe. "Home" for these Jews was certainly not Poland or Germany or America.

What really rankled me, however, was the idea that Poland and Germany, "home" of the crematoria and death camps and murder in the shtetls could be described as "home" by Thomas. What a cruel joke!

What about America or Britain? Robert Frost, in "The Death of the Hired Hand" said:
“Home is the place where, when you have to go there, They have to take you in.” While the Jews were being rounded up, America and Britain were turning away shiploads of Jewish refugees at their ports, sending them back to their deaths in Europe, or to other countries. There were Jewish "quotas" here and in England and in other allied countries. So much for having to take you in.

I'm afraid that Helen Thomas was either being dishonest or on the verge of senility. Her retirement, sad-to-say, was timely.

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