Tiptoeing Around Helen Thomas

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]

  • http://quantumacceptance.wordpress.com AcceptanceWoman

    I agree that we need to find ways to have open dialog on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. It’s definitely a tactic of the Israeli government to play up the conflation of all Jews with the State of Israel to squelch disagreement. I speak from a place of love of the Jewish people (I’m one of them) and a desire for a safe, peaceful state in the land of Israel where all inhabitants can have freedom and economic prosperity. I know that sounds incredibly hokey — like, how could that ever happen? But the same could be said of conflicts the world over. I love Israel, and Jewish people, the way I love my family — they are my family, and I’ll stand by them, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love ALL people, and want what’s best for everyone. Blood may be thicker than water, but we need both to live. (Okay, someone else must have said that before.)
    I don’t know the best way forward, but I know that Israel has to stop acting as if international law doesn’t apply. Having been a victim might explain why you feel the need to act like a bully, but it doesn’t mean the world has to stand by and let others continue to be victimized in the process.
    I don’t talk about Israeli politics much because it is so divisive, but I’m feeling like I can’t stay silent any longer. I’m proud to be Jewish, and to have as many ties to Israel as I do (I’ve lived there, visited there, would consider living there again) but I am struggling to find a way to express what I feel without being labeled a traitor.
    When Israel says the whole world is against it — it’s not wrong — but the whole world isn’t wrong, either.
    I think a single, democratic, non-theocratic state is the only viable solution. I didn’t used to think so, but now I do. I also think as audacious as it sounds, it’s possible. I’m not sure what it would take to make it happen, but I think it’s the only thing that will prevent full-scale warfare and even more bloodshed on all sides.
    Thanks for writing about this with sensitivity.

    P.S. I wish I knew how to get you a radio show — I’ve been thinking about it. I think that a Fatosphere station on the internet would have plenty of content and maybe advertising, too. Any entrepreneurs out there wanna give it a try (and give Tasha an old-and-new-school ladies of hip hop show?)

    • http://www.redvinylshoes.com Tasha Fierce

      I appreciate your reasonable (imagine!) comments on a sensitive topic. I very much agree with you on most points, but I don't know if a single state would really work. I've never lived or been to Israel, though, so you're way more of an expert than me regarding the situation on the ground there.

      P.S. I wish I knew how to get you a radio show — I’ve been thinking about it. I think that a Fatosphere station on the internet would have plenty of content and maybe advertising, too. Any entrepreneurs out there wanna give it a try (and give Tasha an old-and-new-school ladies of hip hop show?)

      I would love that! Blip.fm is kind of a "DJ" type site. I don't think it's really a radio show, but you do get to make playlists and share them.

  • http://www.atchka.com Atchka!

    I agree whole-heartedly. I think that Thomas' unfortunate comments are along the same simplistic lines as the conservatives who think we should just ship all the Mexicans back across the border. It's a complicated situation that requires diplomacy, patience and intellectual honesty, and for all the great work Thomas has done in the past, she basically crapped it all away in one moment of unguarded frustration.

    Personally, I think Israel's government has been far more aggressive and oppressive than the Palestinians deserve. And US policy has only enabled both Israel and Hamas to draw deeper divisions (George W. Bush: "Hey, I gotta idea… why don't we let the Palestinians hold a vote on whether they want Hamas or the PLO… wait, they actually want Hamas? Okay, let's punish the fuck out of 'em!")

    I think the entire Israel/Palestine issue would be a relatively easy one to resolve were it not for the triple religious clusterfuck at the center of everything. But, as is the case with religion, it's most ardent (and powerful) supporters believe in an all-or-nothing solution, and a three-way tie guarantees nothing.

    Very thoughtful post.

    Peace,
    Shannon

    • http://www.redvinylshoes.com Tasha Fierce

      Personally, I think Israel’s government has been far more aggressive and oppressive than the Palestinians deserve. And US policy has only enabled both Israel and Hamas to draw deeper divisions (George W. Bush: “Hey, I gotta idea… why don’t we let the Palestinians hold a vote on whether they want Hamas or the PLO… wait, they actually want Hamas? Okay, let’s punish the fuck out of ‘em!”)

      I know, that was so bogus. Bush was saying he'd only deal with the Palestinians if they had a democratic election, and they did, and he didn't like the outcome. How you can be pro-democracy and yet wish to disregard the votes of the majority because you don't agree is beyond me.

      I think the entire Israel/Palestine issue would be a relatively easy one to resolve were it not for the triple religious clusterfuck at the center of everything. But, as is the case with religion, it’s most ardent (and powerful) supporters believe in an all-or-nothing solution, and a three-way tie guarantees nothing.

      Religion fucks up so much. I won't be shy in saying I very much dislike organized religion.

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  • http://www.redvinylshoes.com Tasha Fierce

    I really wish the true agendas of those Christians adamantly defending Israel's actions could be exposed, but it's not really something they talk about very much.