Veteran White House Correspondent Retires after Controversial Israel Comment

11 Jun 2010

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Veteran White House Press Corps reporter, Helen Thomas, retired after 60 years. She was the most senior White House correspondent -- her stellar career covering nine presidents from John F. Kennedy to Barack Obama. Her resignation comes in the midst of a blaze of condemnation from establishment critics and the White House after she made the controversial remark that Israel should "get the hell out of Palestine."

Thomas is no stranger to controversy and has a fierce reputation for speaking truth to power. Her legendary candour is well known. 

According to Chris McGreal who reported on Thomas’ resignation in the Guardian newspaper, "Fidel Castro was once asked to define the difference between democracy in Cuba and the United States. ‘I don't have to answer questions from Helen Thomas,’ the old revolutionary replied."

Thomas is widely respected for standing up to President George W. Bush on the question of America’s invasion of Iraq.

Her remarks about Israel were made at a White House Jewish heritage celebration when Rabbi David Nesenoff unexpectedly stuck a camera into her face for an impromptu interview, asking amongst other questions: "Any comments on Israel? We’re asking everybody today. Any comments on Israel?"

Her response was, "Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine… Remember, these people are occupied, and it’s their land. It’s not Germany, and it’s not Poland."

Pressed further for comment, Thomas responded that Jews should go back to Germany, Poland and America.

She has since apologised for her statements on her website: "I deeply regret my comments I made last week regarding the Israelis and the Palestinians. They do not reflect my heart-felt belief that peace will come to the Middle East only when all parties recognize the need for mutual respect and tolerance. May that day come soon."

Her apology was insufficient for establishment critics who bayed for her blood, leading to the 89-year-old’s retirement. According to Democracy Now, "Ari Fleischer, President George W. Bush’s first press secretary, whom Helen Thomas had grilled many times, led the campaign for her ouster."

Many view the circumstances surrounding her retirement as a tragic end to a courageous career. Progressive media analysts lament the fact that Thomas' sharp tongue drew such strong criticism in Washington, while Israel’s killing of nine activists aboard the Mavi Marmara (part of the recent Gaza aid flotilla) resulted only in perfunctory disapproval.

Progressive media analysts such as Paul Jay, Robert Scheer and others, have defended Thomas, arguing that while her remarks are regrettable, they are also rooted in her deep frustration about the nature of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict in which Israel continues to violate Palestinian rights with impunity.

Scheer writes, "What the Thomas affair allowed was the repeat incantation of the Holocaust as the excuse for punishing not the Europeans who committed those unspeakable crimes, but rather the Palestinians, who had nothing whatsoever to do with what remains as the greatest moral stain on the history of people claiming to be civilized. It was not Palestinians or Muslim fundamentalists who ran the crematoriums, but rather highly educated and mostly Christian Europeans."

Jay argues, "It's way past time that we can discuss Israel and Palestine without the McCarthyite witch hunt atmosphere that has ruled for sixty years."

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