08/01/2013 05:22 EDT | Updated 10/01/2013 05:12 EDT

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

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.

Helen Thomas, 1920-2013