Helen Thomas Incident -  reprehensible, unconscionable, and offensive - updated 3/28/2012

Sheila Musaji

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Helen Thomas Incident -  reprehensible, unconscionable, and offensive

by Sheila Musaji

As an American Muslim who has stood firmly for free-speech, I am confused.  I would like to understand how it is that any speech, no matter how hateful, aimed at Arabs and Muslims must be protected at all costs in order to defend our very identity as Americans, and any speech by an Arab or Muslim that goes against the grain must be repressed and their silence enforced.

Helen Thomas was attacked for a comment that she made.  A Rabbi from the website rabbilive.com ambushed Thomas as she was leaving a White House event.  He stuck a microphone in her face and asked her “if she had any comments about Israel”.  Thomas responded, “Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine.  Remember, these people are occupied. And it’s their land. Not Germany. Not Poland.”  The Rabbi then asked her “Where should they go?” and she said “Home”.  He then asked “Where’s home?” and she answered “They should go home, to Poland and Germany, America and everywhere else.”

There was indignation that she could say such a thing, accusations of anti-Semitism, and demands that she be fired.

Helen Thomas was the first woman President of the White House Correspondents Association.  She was the first woman to serve as the UPI’s White House Bureau Chief.  She was the first woman to serve as Bureau Chief for any wire service in the U.s.  She was the first woman allowed membership in the D.C. Journalists’  Gridiron Club, and ultimately became the Gridiron Club’s first woman President.  She has served more than 50 years as a White House correspondent.

And, even after all of this, no one asked her what she meant.  Just a small clip of video tape played over and over again, in most cases with the “America and everywhere else” not included. 

Helen Thomas decided to retire.  I hope that she will write something, or give an interview to anyone at all in the mainstream media who is interested in the truth, or in justice, or in the principle of free speech.  I would like to hear what she has to say.  And, I believe that the level of anger aimed in her direction has more to do with Arabaphobia than it does with anything else. 

Obviously there are many interpretations of what she meant.  My personal interpretation is that she was stating a fact - that Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem (part of Palestine) are occupied by Israel, and have been so since 1967.  Settlers who have illegally occupied homes and villages that are not a part of Israel have come from Israel and all over the world.  They need to leave, and go to Israel, or wherever they choose.  This is not some strange, or extreme idea, it is the opinion of most of the world.  She was not saying that Israeli’s should get out of Israel, only that they should get out of Palestine.

So, Helen Thomas said something that is only controversial in America where any criticism of Israel is forbidden, and for that it was “demanded” that she lose her position.  What Helen Thomas said was tame compared to what is said daily about Muslims and Arabs, and about which there is no concern at all.

As noted in our Alarming Statements collection on TAM (which contains hundreds such statements): 

Ann Coulter could say about Helen Thomas in 2005 “Press passes can’t be that hard to come by if the White House allows that old Arab Helen Thomas to sit within yards of the president.”  This bigoted statement which also infers that Arabs (even old ladies) might be a danger to the President and shouldn’t even be allowed to sit in the same room, went unremarked. 

Mike Huckabee could not only promote the idea of changing the Constitution so that it agrees with the Bible, but could also suggest creating a Palestinian state elsewhere in the Middle East, possibly Egypt or Saudi Arabia.

Rep. Richard Armey could promote expelling the Palestinians somewhere else, and say “I’m content to have Israel grab the entire West Bank.”

Jim Quinn could say on a broadcast of The War Room that “[t]here’s only one way to settle the Palestine issue,” and that “is to level it and then salt the earth so that nothing grows for a thousand years, because that’s how the Muslims would have treated each other, and did.”

Cal Thomas could accuse American Muslims of “the undermining of this nation from within … through deception, putting on a peaceful face while subtly plotting ways to bring America down.”  He could say that “Israel should declare its intention to transfer large numbers of its Palestinian residents to Arab nations. . .Eviction is a better avenue to stability. Will it happen? Probably not. Should it? Yes.” 

National Review Online’s John Derbyshire could say that he wants to deny Muslims entry to the U.S. and “expel foreign Muslim residents.”  He could also recommend “Expulsion from the West Bank and Gaza, those territories then incorporated into Israel.”

Rep. Michele Bachmann could call the American Muslims who came to pray at the Muslim Day of Prayer on Capitol Hill “terrorist sympathizers” and “Islamo-Fascist bastards”.

Glenn Beck could ask Rep.-elect Keith Ellison to “prove to me that you are not working with our enemies” for no reason other than Ellison’s being a Muslim.  He could also suggest the possibility that “when people become hungry, when people see that their way of life is on the edge of being over, they will put razor wire up and just based on the way you look or just based on your religion, they will round you up.”

Joy Behar could say on The View, in a discussion of who airline passengers should sit next to on a plane,  “You want somebody who’s calm, you don’t want somebody who’s reading the Quran as you’re going down.”

Neal Boortz could say on his radio program that because “Muslims don’t eat during the day during Ramadan” and “fast during the day and eat at night,” they are “sort of like cockroaches”.  He could call Islam a ‘cult’, and threaten to ‘Eradicate’ Muslims, and say that “it is perfectly legitimate, perhaps even praiseworthy, to recognize Islam as a religion of vicious, violent, bloodthirsty cretins.” 

Sen. Conrad Burns could refer to Arabs as “ragheads”

Rep. Saxby Chambliss could say that to combat terrorism officials should “Arrest every Muslim that comes across the state line” into Georgia.”

Rep. Virgil Goode could say “The Muslim Representative from Minnesota was elected by the voters of that district and if American citizens don’t wake up and adopt the Virgil Goode position on immigration there will likely be many more Muslims elected to office…”

Sean Hannity could claim that incoming Rep. Keith Ellison’s intention to use a copy of the Qur’an during the ceremonial photo op on the day of his swearing in “will embolden Islamic extremists and make new ones” and suggested that using the Quran for a swearing-in is comparable to using “Hitler’s Mein Kampf, which is the Nazi bible.” 

Mike Huckabee  could say “the international community should consider establishing a Palestinian state some place else.”  And, “The question is should the Palestinians have a place to call their own? Yes, I have no problem with that. Should it be in the middle of the Jewish homeland? That’s what I think has to be honestly assessed as virtually unrealistic.”

Sen. Inhofe could say that “our religion” guides our foreign policy, and that for example, “Israel has a right to the land because God said so.” 

Sen. Bob Kerry could “apologize” for bringing up Pres. Obama’s Muslim heritage because it was “insulting”.

Rep. Peter King could say that “85 percent of American Muslim community leaders are an enemy living amongst us” and that “no (American) Muslims cooperate in the war on terror”.

Charles Krauthammer could say that “the Qur’an inspires terrorism”.

Michelle Malkin could say “I stopped using the terms “Islamic fascist” and “Islamofascism” a while ago…because they obscure rather than clarify. The views held by the Muslim jihadis who want to destroy us are not marginal views held only by a minority of “Islamic fascists.”

Judge Roy Moore could compare the Qur’an to Mein Kampf.

KOA radio host “Gunny” Bob Newman could say that “every Muslim immigrant to America who holds a green card, a visa, or who is a naturalized citizen [should] be required by law to wear a GPS tracking bracelet at all times,” and that the government should “bug their places of work and their residences” and monitor “[a]ll mosques and community centers.”
Rep. Frank Lassee could say “Islam IS a religion intent on conquering the world. This global domination is preached and encouraged by Imams in mosques. And it is a central theme in the Koran, the Islamic Bible, and is an important part of their history.” 

Bill O’Reilly could promote “profiling of Muslims” at airports, arguing that detaining all “Muslims between the ages of 16 and 45” for questioning “isn’t racial profiling,” but “criminal profiling.” 

Marty Peretz, Ed. of The New Republic, could say “Frankly, I couldn’t quite imagine any venture requiring trust with Arabs turning out especially well.”

Sid Rosenberg an Imus anchor could say referring to Palestinians ”They’re all brainwashed, though. That’s what it is. And they’re stupid to begin with, but they’re brainwashed now. Stinking animals. They ought to drop the bomb right there, kill ‘em all right now.”

Michael Savage could say “[W]hen I see a woman walking around with a burqa, I see a Nazi,” adding, “That’s what I see—how do you like that?—a hateful Nazi who would like to cut your throat and kill your children.”  He could say “What kind of religion is this? What kind of world are you living in when you let them in here with that throwback document in their hand, which is a book of hate. Don’t tell me I need reeducation. They need deportation. I don’t need reeducation. Deportation, not reeducation.”  He could say ”Arabs aren’t really human and most Americans would just like to drop a nuclear bomb on them - any of them”, and “these people” in the Middle East “need to be forcibly converted to Christianity” in order to “turn them into human beings.”

Rep. Tancredo could say [that] you cannot integrate some people into your society.”

If there is no problem at all with these journalists, media pundits, and representatives of our government saying such things about Muslims and Arabs, then why is it not possible for Helen Thomas to express her opinion, especially since that opinion may be interpreted in more than one way, and no one bothered to ask her what she meant?  Most of the comments quoted above about Islam, Arabs, and Muslims can only be taken one way, and it is very clear exactly what was meant, and it isn’t pretty.

These are only some of the comments made by government representatives and media personalities.  Comments by Christian clergy people and Jewish rabbis have been even more extreme. 

Is anyone at all outside of the Arab and Muslim communities outraged?  Do they find any of these statements reprehensible?  Should any of these folks apologize, or be forced to resign?  Of course not, because Arabs and Muslims simply don’t deserve the same respect as other human beings.

Ari Fleischer, Robert Gibbs, Rahm Emanuel and all the rest of those who made such strong statements condemning Helen Thomas and demanding that she be fired really need to examine their consciences, especially if they are not willing to make just such strong demands of all those attacking American Muslims, American Arabs, and Islam.

And, Rabbi David Nesenoff, who was responsible for the video of Helen Thomas’ remarks, has himself made an offensive video ridiculing Mexicans.  You can see the video here.  He also believes that there is a Palestinian state for the Arabs to go to and it is Jordan.

How is it that Helen Thomas’ statements are “reprehensible”, “unconscionable”, and offensive”, she “must apologize” and not only must lose her job, but should never work again anywhere when all of those who have so viciously attacked Arabs, Muslims, and Islam are just exercising free speech. 

Something is very rotten, hypocritical, and bigoted.  Something is reprehensible, unconscionable, and offensive, and it isn’t Helen Thomas.

This is not the first time that Helen Thomas was pilloried for something she said.  In January of 2010, at a White House Press Conference, Thomas asked regarding the Abdulmutallab case “And what is the motivation? We never hear what you find out on why”, she did not receive an answer (or at least not any answer that made any sense).  See Pat Buchanan and Ray McGovern Answer Helen Thomas’ “Why” Question for a detailed account of that incident, and many links to other articles on this question of WHY?.

UPDATE June 17, 2010

Having removed Helen Thomas from the journalism scene, the Israel Lobby is now working with its agents on the Wall Street Journal editorial page to eliminate the Helen Thomas Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Society of Professional Journalists.  Read Paul Craig Roberts full article here.  Roy Greenslade reports that her speaking and book publishing agency will no longer represent her, and a high school where she was scheduled to be the graduation speaker has cancelled her speech.  As he noted “It is one of those rare occasions in which one can see clearly how people in America who are willing to express anti-establishment opinions are demonised, marginalised and finally excluded from public debate.”

Also, this month, after the Israeli attack on the Gaza Flotilla:  At a White House press briefing, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs held this line, and was confronted by veteran reporter Helen Thomas for refusing to assign responsibility in the raid, which left nine people dead.  Thomas sternly asked Gibbs: “The initial reaction to the flotilla massacre, deliberate massacre, an international crime, was pitiful. What do you mean you regret something that should be so strongly condemned, and if any other nation in the world had done it, we would have been up in arms? What is this ironclad relationship where a country that deliberately kills people and boycotts every aid and abet… the boycott?”

UPDATE July 9, 2010

Octavia Nasr of CNN was fired because of a comment she made about the death of Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah.  She said in a tweet “Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah . . . . One of Hezbollah’s giants I respect a lot.”  After all the uproar she also wrote a clear statement explaining her tweet in full.

Octavia Nasr joins Helen Thomas and many others whose voices may not even be heard.  The most detailed response to this incident is that of Glenn Greenwald here in which he lists numerous such cases.  Juan Cole also notes that US Ally Maliki & Octavia Nasr Both Praised FadlallahStephen M. Walt, Matt Duss, Jack Shafer, Andrew Sullivan, Mathew Ingram, Scott McConnell, Michael Arlington, and many others also point out the hypocrisy in all of this. 

UPDATE December 5, 2010

Wayne State University has for many years offered an annual “Helen Thomas Spirit of Diversity in the Media” Award.  This year they are “retiring” that award because of Helen Thomas’ remarks at a Diversity Conference in Dearborn this week as well as her previous comments.  According to an article in Common Dreams “Thomas said at a diversity conference that “Congress, the White House and Hollywood, Wall Street are owned by Zionists. No question, in my opinion.”

UPDATE 3/28/2012

It seems that they are not through punishing Helen Thomas yet.  She has been denied a table at this year’s White House Correspondents Dinner.

Thomas, a former WHCA president who covered 10 administrations before retiring from Hearst newspapers in 2010 over controversial comments about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, was initially told by WHCA that she could purchase two tickets to the annual glitzy dinner. (The two-ticket offer still stands and Thomas is welcome to attend the dinner with a guest).

But in late February, Thomas sent a letter to WHCA board members asking for “the full board to consider [her] request” for a table. In the letter, Thomas said that she wanted to celebrate with her family and friends the 50th anniversary of women journalists getting the opportunity to attend the dinner—a breakthrough she helped achieve during the Kennedy years.

The board acknowledged having received Thomas’ letter in a Monday email to White House reporters, which included the minutes to its March 16 meeting, but ultimately decided to deny her request.

Reuters’ Caren Bohan, the current WHCA president, explained in an email to The Huffington Post why Thomas would not be granted her own table at the event.

“The board decided in 2010 to set a policy that, as a courtesy to past presidents only, they would be eligible to purchase two tickets even if they are no longer covering the White House,” Bohan wrote. “Usually, people need to be members of the WHCA to purchase tickets on behalf of their news organizations.”

I doubt if there are any members who are brave enough to reserve a table for Thomas and her family, but it would be encouraging to see this happen.  Please write WHCA online http://www.whca.net/​contact.htm, phone them at 202-266-7453, and/or fax them at 202-266-7454.




The Ambush of Helen Thomas. Gary Leupp http://www.counterpunch.org/leupp06082010.html
The assault against the Arab/Islamic media, Ray Hanania http://www.theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/the_assault_against_the_arab_islamic_media/ 
Cashiering Helen Thomas, Ralph Nader http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article25725.htm
CNN Caves In, Stephen M. Walt http://walt.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2010/07/08/cnn_caves_in
CNN Caves To Right Wing Neocons By Firing Its Mideast Reporter Octavia Nasr, Matt Duss http://thinkprogress.org/2010/07/07/nasr-cnn/
CNN’s Octavia Nasr: Another Victim of America’s Thought Police , Abbas Barzegar http://www.huffingtonpost.com/abbas-barzegar/cnns-octavia-nasr-another_b_641380.html
Defending the First Amendment and Freedom of Expression, Stephen Lendman http://www.theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/defending_the_first_amendment_and_freedom_of_expression/Facebook caves in to pressure and threats on Israeli-Palestinian Dispute, Ray Hanania http://www.theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/facebook_caves_in_to_pressure_and_threats_on_israeli_palestinian_dispute/ 
Farewell Helen Thomas, Paul Woodward http://mondoweiss.net/2010/06/farewell-helen-thomas.html
Free Speech and Civic Responsibility, Tariq Ramadan http://www.theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/free_speech_and_civic_responsibility/
Free Speech and Political Spin: The Cases of Helen Thomas and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Dr. Robert D. Crane http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/free_speech_and_political_spin_the_cases_of_helen_thomas_and_mahmoud_ahmadi/
Hearing Helen, Darrell Dawsey http://detroit.blogs.time.com/2010/06/08/hearing-helen/?xid=rss-topstories
In Defense of Helen Thomas, Davis Fleetwood http://blogs.alternet.org/davisfleetwood/2010/06/07/in-defense-of-helen-thomas/
In Defense of Helen Thomas - On Apologizing to Apologists, Paul Jay http://www.commondreams.org/view/2010/06/07-6
Intellectual Book Burning in a Totalitarian Democracy, John W. Whitehead http://www.theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/intellectual_book_burning_in_a_totalitarian_democracy/
Look who’s asphyxiating free speech now http://blogs.hindustantimes.com/cutting-the-edge/2010/07/11/look-who%E2%80%99s-asphyxiating-free-speech-now/
More outrage over Helen Thomas comment than Murder of U.S. citizen, Ahmed Rehab http://usa.mediamonitors.net/content/view/full/75268
Nasr firing is yet another shameful capitulation to the lobby, Scott McConnell http://mondoweiss.net/2010/07/nasr-firing-is-yet-another-shameful-capitulation-to-the-lobby.html 
Octavia Nasr fired by CNN over tweet praising late ayatollah, Peter Walker http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2010/jul/08/octavia-nasr-cnn-tweet-fired
Octavia Nasr’s firing and what The Liberal Media allows, Glenn Greenwald http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/glenn_greenwald/2010/07/08/media 
Octavia Nasr loses right to free speech http://thestir.cafemom.com/in_the_news/106190/octavia_nasr_loses_right_to
The special pair of spectacles, Shahzad Aziz http://www.theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/the_special_pair_of_spectacles/ 
Helen Thomas, Old Journalism Ambushed by the New One, Hani Almahadoun http://www.huffingtonpost.com/hani-almadhoun/helen-thomas-old-journali_b_604635.html
Helen Thomas a victim of American media bias, Ali Younes http://arabnews.com/world/article62975.ece
Helen Thomas and “Objective Journalism”, Ken Silverstein http://harpers.org/archive/2010/06/hbc-90007185
Helen Thomas: In Appreciation, Paul Craig Roberts   http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article25733.htm
Helen Thomas Is Out of Work - Good Thing We’ve Got A “Free” Press Here, Richard Greener http://www.huffingtonpost.com/richard-greener/helen-thomas-is-out-of-wo_b_603618.html
Helen Thomas Resigned, will Chuck Schumer? http://www.loonwatch.com/2010/06/helen-thomas-resigned-will-chuck-schumer/
Helen Thomas went over the top, but why is she gagged in the land of the free? http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/greenslade/2010/jun/08/freedom-of-speech-usa 
The Outrage at Helen Thomas, Allison Weir http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article25667.htm
Palestine to Move to Dallas-Fort Worth: Dick Armey’s Bold Plan, Alexander Cockburn http://www.counterpunch.org/cockburn0508.html
Speak Your Mind. Lose Your Job - Why Octavia Nasr and Dave Weigel shouldn’t have lost their jobs, Jack Shafer http://www.slate.com/id/2259923/ 
They’re All Grovelling and You Can Guess the Reason, Robert Fisk http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article25956.htm 
Twitter Firing Was A Mistake For CNN,  Stephen M. Walt http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=128404393
Twitter Forces Media to Confront the Myth of Objectivity, Mathew Ingram http://gigaom.com/2010/07/08/twitter-forces-media-to-confront-the-myth-of-objectivity/
U.S. Security Council veto on Israeli settlement activity - a contradictory message, Ray Hanania http://theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/u.s._security_council_veto_on_israeli_settlement_activity_-_a_contradi
We Need More Opinion In News, Not Less, Michael Arrington http://techcrunch.com/2010/07/08/we-need-more-opinions-in-news-not-less/