Tuesday, June 8, 2010

On feeling very, very slight sympathy for Helen Thomas

Helen Thomas (the so called "Dean" of the White House Press Corps) made among the more blatantly stupid comments I've ever heard by a public figure when she told an interviewer that Jews should "go back" to their homeland and leave Israel

What "home" did she mean?

Germany and Poland, apparently.

"Well," my best friend quipped, "in fairness, Helen, we did give Germany one hell of a shot..."

Thomas' comment fits in with three forms of gargantuan dumbness.

1) Historical.

See my friend's comments above.

It's one of those sad things that I've noticed since 2000 -- there are plenty of people on the extreme left who seem to be either completely unaware of the historical circumstances surrounding Israel's birth (the Holocaust) or don't care.

But the, um, fraught history of the Jews in Europe is only one reason why this is a historically baffling thing to say. Does Thomas really believe that the Jews were never in the land of Israel? Does she think that the Jews are just ethnic Eastern Europeans who decided to turn away from Christianity? Does she think all the historical evidence of Jewish migration out of the Middle East and across Europe is a fraud?

It's too silly an argument to engage.

2) Moral.

It implicitly advocates ethnic cleansing.

Thomas wants people who have been born, lived, and died in Israel to be transported to countries they themselves have never been to before.

It's not a pro-Palestinian statement -- it's an anti-Israel statement.

I know people who want the Palestinians to have a state of their own. (I am one of them.) And I know people who favor a bi-national Israeli/Palestinian state. (I am not one them.) But Thomas isn't just advocating a Palestinian state --she wants to destroy any Jewish presence in this land. A sentiment which puts her in league with fundamentalist elements like Hamas, whose primary mission is in expelling Jews from Muslim land.

3) Practical.

Get real, Helen.

All that being said, it is slightly sad that in one bad youtube moment, somebody has chucked their whole career away. While I won't defend what she said, should schmucks like her be cast out of polite society? No, I don't think so. I think despicable thoughts and ideas should not forbid someone from doing their job. (It might be slightly different if she were a reporter -- but she's a columnist. She's entitled to stupid opinions.)

Moreover, they were the sentiments of an old woman. I'm sure that Thomas has been around the block enough to know the rules. She clearly did this to herself. But it was a little like listening to some frail old relative, from a very different era, sounding off on some topic like busing who doesn't quite understand just how bad they sound.

That being said, as Jonathan Chait points out, Helen Thomas was always a bit of a pain in the ass, with an overblown reputation. Nobody reads her any more. It is probably be an opportune moment to retire.