Helen Thomas: Easy Target

As Doug noted Saturday, Helen Thomas said the Jews should leave Israel and go back to Germany and Poland.  She quickly came under fire and has already been dumped by her speaking  agency and had a former White House spokesman call for her firing as a Hearst columnist.

Now, I’m no fan of Helen Thomas.  I thought she was an over-the-hill embarrassment during the Bush Administration.   The George H. W. Bush Administration.   She’s a lousy columnist and holds some rather bizarre views on a wide variety of subjects.  And, despite her being a pioneer who has refused to go away, I don’t think she should have a place reserved for her in White House press conferences, much less in the front row.

All that said, I’m with John Cole and Stacy McCain — a rather rare alignment of the poles! — in thinking it rather unsporting to continue piling on a crazy old woman for saying outrageous things.  The sky is blue.  Water is wet. Helen Thomas is a nut.

Beyond that, I’m befuddled that so many bloggers are so enthusiastic about getting someone fired over airing controversial views.   That’s the nature of our enterprise, isn’t it?

Further, while I don’t agree with Thomas’ policy position here, aside from being woefully misinformed about the origin of much of the Israeli population, why exactly is it beyond the pale? She’s not calling for Jews to be exterminated or even forcefully evacuated, merely that they “go home.”   That most of them are home, in the sense that they were born in Israel, makes the statement vapid.  But so horrible that the likes of Craig Crawford have to disassociate themselves?  Hell, I’ve heard more than one American Jew express similar opinions.

UPDATE: This is largely irrelevant now that Thomas has “retired” as a columnist.   But many are taking the most uncharitable possible view of Thomas’ remarks — that she was advocating “ethnic cleaning” or supporting the Holocaust — and attributing any defense of her as condoning that sentiment.  If that’s what Thomas meant then — and this shouldn’t need to be said — I of course condemn it.

But modern day Germany and Poland are not killing Jews.  So, the plain meaning of Thomas’ words are simply that she wishes that the Jews would “go home” to a perfectly safe place and thus magically end the stand-off that exists in the region.  It’s a ridiculously dimwitted notion, for reasons expressed in the original post, but not an odious one.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Ethan says:

    I don’t necessarily think her comments make her an anti-semite. There are many hasidic jews who don’t believe in the state of Israel either, although for different reasons.
    I know many people who think Israel is usually in the wrong, in the numerous conflicts that arise,  who are not anti-semites.
    I think Helen Thomas just has the same problem they do, they don’t know the history of the area.
    One friend of mine didn’t know that the original area of Palestine originally included what is now Jordan. When I told him that he had to re-think his position.

  2. mike says:

    to me Helen Thomas represents another has-been journalist from the old guard that needs to be put to pasture. She is a good reason why I don’t like the MSM any longer. She needs to move on. Seeing politicians and others kow-tow to her just shows how entrenched the MSM is with politicians.She is a shoddy journalist and a nut; why does anyone tolerate her?

  3. Amber says:

    The fact that Helen Thomas has been around for so long as a Journalist, should give what she says some weight.

    I’m glad she made that statement, because, for some reason, Israeli human rights violations against the Palestinians are just sort of glossed over. Israel has been committing horrible acts of oppression against the Palestinians for decades. Israeli soldiers contiue to harrass and murder Palestinians on a daily basis. Israel has diverted water away from Palestinian lands and Israeli soldiers routinely shoot holes into Palestinian water towers as it is “illegal to capture water that falls from the sky” making life for the average Palestinian very, very difficult.

    The Jewish settlements are illegal under the Geneva Convention. They’re living on stolen land. Stolen with bulldozers and bullets.

  4. Everyman says:

    I think my favorite part of this whole debacle (flotilla, then Thomas) is that liberals, most of whom I believe are idealists with entirely humane intentions (I am indeed a card carrying liberal myself), have decided that Palestinians live in a vacuum. Essentially, from what I can tell, the narrative is that after the Holocaust, all of these European Jews moved to Israel, stole all of the infrastructure that now makes Israel a thriving economy, and then went ahead and beat the crap out of the defenseless Palestinians before locking them up. It’s an interesting narrative, if grossly disingenuous and inaccurate.
    There also seems to be a much greater sense that Jews should just get over the Holocaust! It’s in the past! Now that it’s over, why the hell can’t they move back? Well, now that England is religiously tolerant, why don’t Anglo-Americans move back? Or the Irish now that there is no famine? I can see how so many could easily gloss over Thomas’ comments as a silly mistake, but they need to be taken more seriously if for no other reason than that her words, whether she meant them as they were taken or not, were appalling to a community that doesn’t just imagine what it would be like to exist as endless refugees or how an ethnic cleansing of themselves might occur. In “historical time,” the Holocaust was practically yesterday.
    I support Israel (I’d say “Israel’s right to exist,” but let’s be perfectly clear on this point: Israel is a sovereign nation with nuclear weapons. They’re here, they’re…Jewish, get used to it! It’s irrelevant whether or not they should or should not exist, because they do), and I also support the end of the blockade and, hopefully consequently, humane, legitimate lives for the innocent citizens of Gaza (ie anybody not in Hamas, otherwise known as the people suffering at the hands of Hamas).
    These two positions are not even remotely mutually exclusive. This is not a zero-sum game.

  5. john personna says:

    I live in sunny California.  Many of my friends and neighbors come from countries with “committed strifes” – strifes they wanted to opt out from.  What I hear, perhaps filtering for technical errors, is that more people should opt out.  If they are tired of waiting for … ” all parties [to] recognize the need for mutual respect and tolerance. May that day come soon.”

    It’s one thing to support peace in the middle east, it’s another to support multi-generational war in the middle east.  Whatever her faults, Helen sure wasn’t the one supporting the permanent war dynamic.

  6. Paul says:

    I think a major part of this is the ‘Germany – Poland’ comment.  There is only one meaning to that – back to Auschwitz, which is where another of the charming ‘humanitarians’ on the boat told the Israelis to go.   Or, alternatively, if Thomas is unaware of the resonance of her words, she has no right to present herself as a knowledgeable journalist, and should go away and read some twentieth-century history.  Had she have said that Moslems in, say, England, should go back to Pakistan she would have not lasted ten seconds in the Press Corps.  But, of course, Jews are different…….

  7. Father Ted says:

    Amber, your propaganda makes it hard for me to be a Democrat. How long have you lived in Israel? What you are saying about water is the common myth the unfamiliar world buys from the media that need to sell it. One cannot be anti-Israel and not anti-Semitic. Helen Thomas can say what she does, and so can I. Amber, you and Helen Thomas are unmeasured in both your bigotry and ignorance. Certainly, it is personal.  When you hit home, or try to hit my home with an unprovoked missile, you make it personal. Were either of you as passionate as you are educated, you would know that.

  8. john personna says:

    FWIW Paul, I didn’t take it to mean “back to 1941.”  Am I optimistic in thinking that Germany and Poland are functional democracies today, with some baseline human rights?  One man one vote?

  9. john personna says:

    Ya know, we’ve got at least two battling “politically correct” views here.  One is that you’ve got to support Israel in the long war.  Another is that you’ve got to support the Palestinians in the long war.
    That “Break it up, put down your guns, walk away” is politically incorrect is really, really, sad.

  10. Maggie Mama says:

    Uhm, wasn’t Jesus a Jew?  Was He an occupier, Helen?

  11. steve says:

    “One cannot be anti-Israel and not anti-Semitic.”
    Sure makes it hard to criticize Israel if that is true. Probably why a lot of people avoid the topic.

  12. G.A.Phillips says:

    Another socialist who hates the Jews, whats new?

  13. Steve Plunk says:

    Sure, leave the little old lady alone, she’s half batty and used to be a good journalist.  Sorry, she sits in on every WH press conference and has column, if you get those things you have responsibilities to live up to and she has failed.

  14. Highlander says:

    Those damn Jews….

    Can’t an American Liberal Icon like Helen,just speak her mind in peace.?

    American Jews,look at her face when she is speaking on the video. 
    This is what your fellow goyim liberal travelers really think of you in the dark place of their souls( ut-oh….I forgot you secular liberals don”t have souls!)

    After they get your help on taking out Israel, then they will tend to you. Soul or not Soul.

  15. Brett says:

    <blockquote>Now, I’m no fan of Helen Thomas.  I thought she was an over-the-hill embarrassment during the Bush Administration.   The George H. W. Bush Administration.   She’s a lousy columnist and holds some rather bizarre views on a wide variety of subjects.  And, despite her being a pioneer who has refused to go away, I don’t think she should have a place reserved for her in White House press conferences, much less in the front row.</blockquote>
    Why didn’t her newspaper firmly tell her it was time to retire 10-20 years ago? I’ve seen columnists and writers who were solid well into old age, but Thomas is so over the hill she’s snorkeling at the bottom of the ocean.

  16. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    I am shocked at the comment of people like Amber who feel the Palistinian rights are being trampled.  Had they recognized Israels right to exist the problem could be resolved.  I can assure people like Amber had any other nation had to endure what Israel has had to endure during its existance, the human rights of those trying to kill its citizens would have been dealt with in a far more harsh manner than what the Israelis have.  Israel won, in fair combat, the territories of Gaza and the West Bank.  For the sake of peace, they returned that territory.  Were I in charge, I would do to the Muslims what they intend for the Israelis.  I would drive them into the sea.

  17. akw says:

    You don’t see a problem with Thomas’ refusal to acknowledge the fact that the Jews are in Israel today as part of a UN mandate?  You don’t see a problem with Thomas’ assertion that the Jews should “get the hell out?”   You don’t see a problem with Thomas’ proposal that the Jews “go home” to the countries where their families were slaughtered?  Helen Thomas is also an apologist for Hezbollah and Hamas – I guess you have no problem with that, either.
    What would you think if. say. Jake Tapper declared that the African Americans in this country should get the hell out and go home to Africa?

  18. john personna says:

    I suppose it puts a slightly different slant on things to know that, coming from a Lebanese Christian family, Ms. Thomas’ kin were there, perhaps a long time, before Israel was born, and a culture of permanent war erupted.  (wikipedia: helen thomas)

  19. Grewgills says:

    <blockquote> One cannot be anti-Israel and not anti-Semitic. </blockquote>
    One can be against the actions of a state or the current government a of a state and not hate the people of that state.  Your argument is simply the cowards way out of having to justify the actions of Israel.
    Palestinians are also semitic.
    I am curious how many here are incensed by the comment of Huckabee and others that the Palestinians should leave the occupied territories and go to Jordan or other ME states.

  20. Brett says:

    Yuck. The new formatting is screwing with my posts. Let’s test –
    There’s no preview anymore, either! This comment system sucks.

  21. Brett says:

    Had they recognized Israels right to exist the problem could be resolved.
    You mean, had they recognized, back in 1948, the “right” of Israel to a majority of the territory in spite of the fact that Jewish landownership and land occupation (and Jews were quite obviously the group Israel was intended for)  covered a minority of the land in question? Including land that had a majority Arab population, like most of the land in the Negev that the Partition would have given to Israel?
    Maybe, but I don’t blame them for rejecting it.
    Israel won, in fair combat, the territories of Gaza and the West Bank.  For the sake of peace, they returned that territory.
    How, exactly, have they “returned” the West Bank?
    And if we’re counting Right of Conquest, then the Palestinians are an occupied populace that have every right to resist occupation, violently if necessary.

  22. tom p says:

    Hmmm… Helen T speaks ill of Israeli Jews (not even US citizens) and is soon gone. Mark Theisen says, “Torture them all!” and can’t beat off the job offers.

    We are twisted…

  23. Castaneda says:

    Everybody seems to have forgotten that Israel recently slaughtered thousands of innocent Lebanese (old men, women, and children) bombing them while they were trying to get to safety because TWO Israeli soldiers were kidnapped. NOT KILLED, KIDNAPPED. Now wonder Ms. Thomas wants the Israeli government to go away. It’s time the US stopped rubber stamping everything Israel does no matter how reprehensible. There are plenty of rational Israelis who do not support the actions of their government. The cameraman who got shot in the forehead by the soldiers, the American who was DELIBERATELY run over by an Israeli soldier and of course died. Her name was Rachel Corrie like the second humanitarian ship (from Ireland) they boarded. What about the fact they shoot ten year old little girls at close range or a mother and her 4 year old boy trying to run to safety from one of their assaults. They kill 10 innocent Palestinians for every Jew killed. The combatants they put in jail. Wake up and smell the oppression. They continuously take more and more Palestinian homes and endlessly build illegal settlements. The Israeli government answers to no one. They don’t follow the treaties they sign. They’re not worth the paper they are printed on.
    They wouldn’t have so many enemies if they stopped the slaughter. Palestine is David versus the giant Israeli Goliath, only they don’t win anything. Young boys get shot for throwing stones at their tormentors. If Israel respected anyone else, they would not have so many enemies. Get over yourself already. Ten eyes for an eye will never win you friends. Nobody is asking them to go back to Nazi Germany. In case you didn’t notice, it doesn’t exist. But it’s about time they took down that obscene wall, let food and water in, and negotiated a truce.
    The only reason Israel is where it is is because they oppress everyone else. There are plenty of populations that have been persecuted that move on and establish a better place for everyone to live. They do the right thing and start treating everyone like human beings. You’d be surprised how well that works. But the Palestinians have solid reasons to be angry with the Israeli government, Make reparations for all the injustices inflicted and after a while most people will be able to move on.

  24. James Joyner says:

    There’s no preview anymore, either!

    Amusingly, the preview was intended as an anti-spam measure rather than as a quality control feature.  But Akismet does well enough with spam control that the preview struck me as an unnecessary annoyance for commenters. Andthe new system should be WYSIWYG, making preview redundant.

    I have added a blockquote and some other options on the menu, which should help.

  25. Janet says:

    I agree with Castaneda and Amber.  They should get out of Palestine.  Its sad and disgusting to hear how people think that the Israelis accused of murder for dropping down on the flotilla out of the sky and killing nine people, whose names by the way have been suppressed lest we care about them…the accused should run their own investigation.  People actually take this seriously.  Are they above reproach?  Why do we sit still for this outrage?  Who was really behind 911?  I wonder.  Investigate 911.

  26. Troy says:

    I think Helen Thomas hit a home run with her statement and remarks about the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the treatment of the Palestinian people. I am not Anti Semitic but I am and have been for a long time now anti Israel. The funny thing is I am not in the minority with most US non Jewish citizens. We hate the fact that the State of Israel was ever created, It has been a disaster and the cause of more world wide bloodshed than any decision made by our country in the history of our country. If it was up to me (and I’m not alone on this) we should impose sanctions on Israel and cut off all aid (we give more aid to Israel than any other country in the world, yet their are more Jews in the state of New York than in all of Israel) until they relinquish a Regan for Palestinians to live (including Palestine itself), and compensate monetarily all displaced Palestinians in or out of the refugee camps, some of which have been displaced since 1948.
    Atrocities committed in the name of the continuing establishment of the state of Israel are on the scale of what the Nazi’s did to the Jews in WW2, so shame on Israel. and shame on us for letting them get away with it. I am not Arab or of Arab decent. I am not a liberal nor do I have any love for radical Muslim Bullshit, But the land grab of the Palestinian region in 48 and establishment of a country to a people at the expense of another people was just plain wrong, even a child would agree.
    It’s to late to just “give it back” now I do admit. That would be as hard as the US giving back all the land to the Native Americans that we stole from them. But the US has to admit that the butt of almost all our problems in the Middle East begins in Palestine, and that Israel should leave Palestine for the Palestinians!! Make due with whats left, and the rest if to numerous that may of come from other country’s, can just go home, just like Helen Thomas said. I applaud her statements and she should not have to apologize or retire for them, at last pole, that’s how most NON Jewish Americans feel but had no voice, until Helen “hit a home run” with her words!