Helen Thomas’ comments about European Jews in Israel/Palestine leaving and returning to Poland or Germany reflects an unfeasible view of the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It has also been argued that those comments are anti-Semitic, and I can see that. However, I think the general underlying point that she has continued to make over the years is that the U.S.’ policies towards Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are biased and give Israel a great deal of leeway in dealing with their Palestinian problem. It’s unfortunate that those who are vocal about opposition to U.S./Israeli policy can also tend to espouse opinions that reflect anti-Semitic views or misconceptions. I think free dialog about U.S./Israeli policy and actions is extremely important and both those who seek to suppress it by lobbing red herring claims of anti-Semitism AND those who voice actual anti-Semitic views in their opposition to Israel should not cloud the discussion.
I have expressed the view that underlying fundamentalist Christian doctrine has tended to drive U.S. policy regarding Israel, and that doctrine happens to dovetail with some extreme Zionist beliefs. This is not a situation of “Jews controlling the world”, it’s a situation of religious beliefs that happen to intersect. Christian doctrine is not all that informs U.S. policy towards Israel, of course. It is an extremely complicated situation and doing research on the history of the conflict is something I highly recommend, and something I am constantly learning about. It’s unfortunate when religion is intertwined with government, as is the situation here, because criticism of the government of a country can be construed as attacks on the people of the country and their religion. This is the case with many Middle East countries. Criticism of Israel should not preclude criticism of how Hamas is handling the situation on the Palestinian end. Violence on both sides is unacceptable and incompatible with making gains towards a Palestinian state.
What’s unfortunate about the current Helen Thomas controversy is that these off-the-cuff anti-Semitic comments overshadow the many important confrontations she’s had with various White House Press Secretaries over U.S. policy on Israel, in which she has raised issues that are rarely discussed in the mainstream media. She hasn’t made a secret of her criticism of U.S./Israeli policies in the past. But these recent comments are disappointing because she included in her criticism the idea that European Jews should leave Israel. She makes the valid point that Israel is basically occupying much of the Palestinian territory, but sullies it with the statement that Israel should be dissolved and the land given back to the Palestinians, which is not only unfeasible but offensive.
We need honest dialogue about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and U.S. policy towards Israel, not the rhetoric of ideologues. I don’t believe Helen Thomas is an ideologue, however I don’t know Thomas personally so I really can’t speak for her actual thoughts behind these recent statements, whether she truly believes the solution to the conflict is what she advocated in these statements, and whether she secretly harbors some deep anti-Semitism that drives her beliefs. I just don’t know. Her opponents – already numerous before this incident and whose ranks are swelling – have described her as “a nut” and a “crazy old woman”, which is not only ableist but ageist and sexist. It’s not necessary to include this kind of bigoted derision of her age, gender and possible mental condition when decrying her statements, and it’s sad to see those who have been chomping at the bit to witness Thomas’ comeuppance throwing these kind of insults her way knowing that since public opinion is against her, they can finally say out loud what they’ve been thinking for decades.
I am not supporting what Thomas said. Those are her opinions. I’m advocating for reasonable people’s ability to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in an honest manner free of bigotry, ignorance or silencing on either side. A solution will never be found if we can’t agree that both the Israeli government and the Palestinian authority need to make changes. At the same time, we can’t apply one standard to the rest of the world and another to Israel.
[Links of interest: Brief History of Palestine, Israel, and the Israeli Palestinian conflict; A History of Israel]