Obituaries for Helen Thomas, 92, the first woman to work as White House bureau chief for a news service and first female officer of the National Press Club, minimized her final quarter century as an anti-Jewish bigot. This included The Washington Post’s magazine-length, Page 1 “From front row, pioneering reporter pressed for truth” (July 21).
An anti-Israel, anti-Jewish “get the hell out of Palestine and go home to Germany and Poland” pronouncement — caught on video by Rabbi David Nesenoff — led Hearst Newspapers to announce her “resignation” in June, 2010. Obituary writers routinely noted that Thomas had apologized.
They omitted her Dec. 2, 2010, disavowal of the “apology,” which had not corrected Thomas’ false imputation that Jews were aliens in their ancient homeland. The Detroit News reported that, talking with reporters, she said, “I stand by it. I told the truth. …I paid a price but it’s worth it to speak the truth.”
She then reportedly declared, “we are owned by the propagandists against the Arabs. There’s no question about that. … Congress, the White House and Hollywood, Wall Street are owned by the Zionists.”
At a 1991 press conference, President George H.W. Bush denounced Saddam Hussein’s Scud missile attacks against Israel. Thomas, who virtually always labeled Israeli self-defense as anti-Arab aggression, asked:
“Mr. President, two days ago you launched a war, and war is inherently a two-way street. Why should you be surprised or outraged when there is an act of retaliation?” Bush replied: “Against a country that’s innocent and is not involved in it?”
At a White House press briefing in 2002, when hundreds of Israeli civilians — Jewish and Arab — were being murdered during the Palestinian “al-Aqsa Intifada,” Thomas asked White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer:
“Does the president think that the Palestinians have a right to resist 35 years of brutal military occupation and suppression?” Fleischer responded that President George W. Bush supported an Israeli-Palestinian peace process leading to a two-state solution, and the administration’s “focus is on peace between Israelis and Palestinians.”
Thomas persisted: “But does he think they have a legitimate right to fight for their land?” Fleischer replied, “Helen, I do not accept the description or the premise of your question and the manner that you asked it.”
In a 2004 speech to the Al-Hewar Center near Washington, D.C., a few days before the third anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Thomas, then 84, returned to her favorite obsessions: “Good evening, fellow terrorists … or is it evil ones? I simply say so because I presume that most of you are against the invasion and the occupation of Iraq.”
She said “during World War II, those who resisted the Nazi occupation were heralded for their resistance against tyranny. But when Arabs do that, do they get that kind of salute? The Palestinians who resist every day the tyrannical occupation are in the same boat ….”
During the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war in Lebanon, Thomas accused the Israelis and Americans of having “gone for collective punishment against all of Lebanon and Palestine.” The late Tony Snow, formerly a nationally syndicated columnist and then White House press secretary, replied: “Well, thank you for the Hezbollah view.”
In a 2007 interview on the radio program Democracy Now! Thomas told host Amy Goodman “if you were a Palestinian — and they were 85 percent in the majority when the British decided that that could be the Jewish homeland — I mean, what would you think?”
She claimed that the British had “no right to give [part of Mandatory Palestine to the Jews]. It was part of the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman Empire was falling apart. They [Great Britain] didn’t own Palestine. They got a mandate through the League of Nations, but they had no right to give it away.”
Washington Post reviewer Tom Shales said the HBO production Thank You, Mr. President: Helen Thomas At The White House omitted Thomas’ “stridency in criticizing Israel and defending its enemies” (“A Story With a Few Holes; Portrait of Helen Thomas Obscures Flaws,” August 18, 2008). According to Shales, “the film never hints at Thomas’ anti-Israeli rhetoric” or shows that “especially during the current administration, her ‘questions’ at press briefings have been more like tirades.”
When it came to Helen Thomas, colleagues generally avoided the hard questions.
Eric Rozenman is Washington director of the 65,000-member, Boston-based Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.