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Old-School Anti-Semitism: The Anachronistic Bigotry of Helen Thomas

Posted: 08/01/2013 5:21 pm

The recent comment on the death of nonagenarian White House correspondent Helen Thomas illustrates again the differences between ancient and contemporary anti-Semitism. Helen Thomas infamously said in 2010 that Jews should leave Israel and go back to Germany and Poland. This was pure laine, dyed in the wool anti-Semitism. Never mind that the United Nations set Israel up as a homeland for the Jews and that the League of Nations Mandatory Power in the country, Great Britain, had promised Palestine as a homeland for the Jews without compromising the rights of the Muslims and Christians, and that the previous governing power, the Ottomans, had allowed Jews to settle there in significant numbers and had not generally made them feel unwelcome. Ms. Thomas wanted the United Nations constitution of the Jewish State of Israel revoked, and Israel's seven million Jews driven from Israel by force, presumably by a mode of travel no more commodious than in previous uprootings of that people, such as those in the countries to which she wished to return them. If they had been, as they infamously were, crowded into cattle cars for their one-way passage to the death camps in Germany and Poland, let them be overwhelmed and subdued and packed into containers like sardines for return to those countries which they fled in terror and where half the Jewish people of the world, six million souls, perished in the most abominably wicked conditions during World War II.

Ms. Thomas was showing her age. Such anti-Semitism is of another era, when Jews were widely thought a secret clique of crooks, conspirators, usurers, and in their obscene religious rites, bloodsuckers and satanic ritualists. This was a much more robust brand of a familiar view than the current diluted gruel which normally only holds that Jews should merely be reduced in the influence they have in the United States, and all the worm-eaten chestnuts about control of Hollywood and the U.S. national media should somehow be curtailed of truth, and the tedious and troublesome country of Israel should simply become a united Palestine where everyone would live as brothers. Of course, thousands of years of violent hostility would simply end, surcease and anodyne, when Muslim Arabs were just given most of the country the Jews have built and the Muslims have tried for 65 years to destroy. This more modern anti-Semitism rarely seems to hold that Hitler actually had it right and that the Jews should be exterminated, ex officio as Jews and without exception for age, sex, distinction, or physical condition. And it would be unjust to assimilate genocidal views to such people. But Helen Thomas, seems to have been of the old school, a charter subscriber to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. When Helen Thomas made those comments three years ago, on the White House lawn on Jewish Heritage Day, a long-repressed cri de coeur in her ninetieth year, she was banished from the White House press corps, fired by her agent, and deserted by her co-author. Her name was removed from her traditional chair in the White House press room; and she was purged as a winner of her alma mater's Tolerance Award, and from the list of recipients of the Professional Journalists' Award. President Obama deemed her remarks "indefensible." Thus encouraged, Ms. Thomas told Playboy that the "Zionists own Congress, the White House, Hollywood, and Wall Street." There was even some agitation in Congress to cut off aid to the Palestinian Authority because it had given Ms. Thomas an award (though it certainly seems that that was one commendation she had earned).

When she died, Mr. Obama called her a "true pioneer," and Mika Brzezinski called her her "role model." (Her father, former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, suggested that American war planes shoot down Israeli aircraft if they launched a raid against Iran's nuclear program, and has made it abundantly clear for decades that he is no philosemite, but there is no reason to believe that he would have much sympathy for Helen Thomas' draconianly unnuanced views on the Middle East either.) It may be that Helen Thomas did something for the media and the role of women in media; though I always thought she was a tedious old windbag. And she and everyone else is entitled to dislike any sectarian or ethnic group, and even to wish them ill. But no serious news organization should have engaged such a person to report and opine on matters where her bigoted views of Jews in important positions in the United States, and her desire to have the State of Israel expunged and its Jewish population deported, would be certain to poison and distort her professional performance. And the double standard whereby the least, vaguest, most derivative hints of bias against African-Americans or Muslims are scorched out like carriers of leprosy amid window-rattling ululations of "Unclean!," while coddlers of genocide like Helen Thomas are showered with awards and honors for 60 years, should cease. (There was an immense outcry when Rolling Stone ran Boston bombing accused Tsarnaev on its cover.) Standards of prejudice should be uniform. Bigotry is ineradicable, but in sensitive places of public trust, it can be tolerated to a limited point, and uniformly discouraged beyond that point.

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  • With John F. Kennedy

  • With Richard Nixon

  • On Nixon's trip to China

  • This file photo shows reporter Helen Thomas as she

    WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 19: This file photo shows reporter Helen Thomas as she questions former US President Ronald Reagan during a press conference at the White House 19 March,1987 in Washington, DC. This was the first press conference that Reagan had held since 19 November 1986, six days before the disclosure that profits from arm sales to Iran were diverted to the Contras. (Photo credit should read DON RYPKA/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Helen Thomas

    Helen Thomas, correspondent and White House bureau chief for United Press International, leans against a wall with her hand to her mouth as she awaits transcripts of President Richard Nixon's resignation speech in the White House press office, Washington D.C., 8th August 1974. (Photo by Pictorial Parade/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

  • MAR 5 1976; CORRESPONDENT HELEN THOMAS; Praised President for openness.;

    MAR 5 1976; CORRESPONDENT HELEN THOMAS; Praised President for openness.; (Photo By The Denver Post via Getty Images)

  • US President Bill Clinton answers question from re

    WASHINGTON, : US President Bill Clinton answers question from reporter Helen Thomas, 30 April during a press conference at the White House in Washington, DC. Clinton spoke on variety of subjects including the economy, the ongoing investigation by independent counsel Kenneth Starr, tobacco legislation and the embargo on Cuba. AFP PHOTO/LUKE FRAZZA (Photo credit should read LUKE FRAZZA/AFP/Getty Images)

  • US President BIll Clinton (C) and President-elect

    WASHINGTON, : US President BIll Clinton (C) and President-elect George W. Bush(L) speak with reporter Helen Thomas(R) during meetings 19 December, 2000 at the White House in Washington, DC for discussions on the transition to power on 20 January 2001. Bush will meet later with US Vice President Al Gore, the man he defeated in the election. AFP PHOTO/Paul J. RICHARDS (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Laura Bush Hosts Preview Of White House Christmas Decorations

    WASHINGTON - DECEMBER 5: White House correspondent Helen Thomas watches as a musician play a 1938 Steinway piano in the Grand Foyer at the White House December 5, 2002 in Washington, D.C. First lady Laura Bush hosted a media preview of the decorations that focused on presidential pets. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

  • President Bill Clinton meets with President-elect George W. Bush

    383509 02: President Bill Clinton, right, meets with President-elect George W. Bush in the Oval Office at the White House while press reporter Helen Thomas ask questions December 19, 2000 in Washington, DC. Bush and Clinton had an official meeting on Monday for the first time since the presidential elections. (Photo by Dirk Halstead/Liaison)

  • Retired White House correspondent Helen Thomas sta

    LOS ANGELES, UNITED STATES: Retired White House correspondent Helen Thomas stands in the press gallery at the Democratic National Convention in the Staples Center 17 August, 2000, in Los Angeles, California. AFP PHOTO Paul J. RICHARDS (Photo credit should read PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)

  • US President Bill Clinton (C) listens to the music

    WASHINGTON, : US President Bill Clinton (C) listens to the music of Earth Wind and Fire joined by former UPI White House reporter Helen Thomas (L) and Her Royal Highness Lalla Meryem (R), sister of King Mohammed VI of Morocco, at the White House 20 June, 2000 in Washington, DC. (ELECTRONIC IMAGE) AFP PHOTO/Tim SLOAN (Photo credit should read TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Snow Blankets East Coast

    WASHINGTON - FEBRUARY 7: White House correspondent Helen Thomas gets out of a utility vehicle after catching a ride from the front gate to the briefing room at the White House February 7, 2003 in Washington, DC. An overnight snowstorm left four-six inches of snow in the Washington, DC area. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

  • Grid Iron Dinner

    WASHINGTON, D.C. - MARCH 26: Journalist Helen Thomas attends Grid Iron Dinner on March 26, 1988 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./WireImage)

  • 04/26/98 - Hilton Hotel - BRIEF DESCRIPTION: White House Correspondents Dinner - UPI's Helen Thomas

    04/26/98 - Hilton Hotel - BRIEF DESCRIPTION: White House Correspondents Dinner - UPI's Helen Thomas wipes a tear as she is awarded the first Helen Thomas Award, at the White House Correspondents Dinner. - Photo By Frank Johnston TWP (Photo by Frank Johnston/The Washington Post/Getty Images)

  • 15th Annual Glamour Women of the Year Awards - Arrivals

    Helen Thomas during '15th Annual Glamour Women of the Year Awards - Arrivals at American Museum of Natural History in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Jim Spellman/WireImage)

  • US President George W. Bush waves next t

    Washington, UNITED STATES: US President George W. Bush waves next to (from left) Helen Thomas of Hearst, comedian Stephen Colbert, Terry Hunt of AP, First Lady Laura Bush, as Tom Curley of AP looks on at the start of the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner 29 April 2006 at the Washington Hilton Hotel in Washington, DC. AFP PHOTO/Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Ronald Reagan Speaks With Press In Oval Office

    WASHINGTON - UNDATED: (NO U.S. TABLOID SALES) U.S. President Ronald Reagan greets the press, including Helen Thomas (C), in the Oval Office during a press conference in the White House in Washington, DC. (Photo by David Hume Kennerly/Getty Images)

  • White House Press Secretary Ari Fleische

    White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, who has served US President George W. Bush 2.5 years since taking office, smiles after saying 'Good-Bye' to the Senior White House Correspondent Helen Thomas(L) who has covered every US President since John F. Kennedy as he chats with reporters during a White House Press Room farewell party 14 July 2003 in Washington, DC, his final day serving as White House Spokesman. AFP Photo/Paul J. RICHARDS (Photo credit should read PAUL J.RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)

  • White House Press Briefing Room Closes For Renovations

    WASHINGTON - AUGUST 2: Senior White House Correspondent Helen Thomas reads the newspaper while sitting in her chair in the White House press room August 2, 2006 in Washington, DC. The White House Press Corps will leave the facility in the West Wing of the White House while the 1970's era work spaces and briefing room are updated in a renovation that is estimated to take up to nine months. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)

  • Veteran White House reporter Helen Thoma

    Washington, UNITED STATES: Veteran White House reporter Helen Thomas (C) and other members of the press gather for the final press briefing in the James Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House 02 August 2006, in Washington,DC. The Briefing Room, as well as the press working spaces, are being renovated. Reporters who cover the White House are being evicted this week from their dingy, depressing digs in what was once the West Wing swimming pool area, for what is set to be a months-long renovation. AFP PHOTO/Jim WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

  • US President George W. Bush (C) shakes

    Washington, UNITED STATES: US President George W. Bush (C) shakes hands with reporters as he speaks with veteran White House reporter Helen Thomas (2nd L), and other reporters during the final press briefing in the James Brady Press Briefing Room, at the White House 02 August 2006, in Washington,DC. The Briefing Room, as well as the press working spaces, are being renovated. While journalists have complained for years about the crowded, dirty conditions and the absence -- until actor Tom Hanks stepped in -- of a proper coffee machine, their chief fear is of not being allowed to return. White House spokesman Tony Snow, asked to address that concern on Wednesday, played off the fact that the blue-curtained briefing room was built over the swimming pool last used by a US president when Lyndon Johnson was in office. AFP PHOTO/Jim WATSON (Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Journalists Return To White House Briefing Room

    WASHINGTON - JULY 11: (AFP OUT) Long-time White House correspondent Helen Thomas takes her seat on the front row of the remodeled James S. Brady Press Briefing Room in the West Wing of the White House July 11, 2007 in Washington, DC. The briefing room was closed for about one year to update broadcast technology, remove asbestos and remodel the space. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

  • Veteran White House reporter and columni

    Veteran White House reporter and columnist Helen Thomas poses for photographers as she leaves the White House in Washington, DC, 16 October 2007. AFP PHOTO/SAUL LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

  • President Obama Makes Surprise Visit To White House Press Corps

    WASHINGTON - AUGUST 04: U.S. President Barack Obama (R) brings surprise birthday cupcakes to celebrate the birthday of White House veteran correspondent Helen Thomas (L) in the White House briefing room August 4, 2009 in Washington, DC. August 4 is also the birthday of President Obama. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

  • President Obama Makes Surprise Visit To White House Press Corps

    WASHINGTON - AUGUST 04: U.S. President Barack Obama (R) kisses White House veteran correspondent Helen Thomas (L) as he brings surprise birthday cupcakes to celebrate her birthday in the White House briefing room August 4, 2009 in Washington, DC. August 4 is also the birthday of President Obama. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

  • 2010 White House Correspondents' Association Dinner

    WASHINGTON - MAY 01: Reporter Helen Thomas (C) arrives at the White House Correspondents' Association dinner on May 1, 2010 in Washington, DC. The annual dinner featured comedian Jay Leno and was attended by President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama. (Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)

  • Obama Holds Press Conference On BP Oil Spill

    WASHINGTON - MAY 27: Veteran reporter Helen Thomas (C) asks her question to U.S. President Barack Obama during a news conference at the East Room of the White House May 27, 2010 in Washington, DC. Obama announced an extension on the moratorium for deepwater oil drilling for six months. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

 
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