Nothing has depressed me more this week than the Helen Thomas affair. If you cannot have a controversial opinion after living on the planet for nine decades then when can you have one?
Thomas had to “retire in disgrace” after she said the Jews should leave Palestine. But she knows a bit about what she was talking about. All her working life she has watched the disaster that has unfolded in the region since Israel’s independence in 1948. In an age where media allow governments to get away with lies about “the peace process” for a journalist of almost 70 years standing to lose her job when she call a spade a spade even when it’s a particularly dirty shovel, is particularly odious.
Where as Palestinians can trace a 2,000 year old link of habitation with their land, the Jewish Diaspora of Europeans, Russians and Africans have been there at most a 100 years. The Jews must reach into their religion to find their ancient connection with Israel. And given how they have battered the original inhabitants into submission, It takes little wonder to imagine a Palestine which is a lot more of a Holy Land without the xenophobes that now administer the country in Jerusalem (a capital recognized by no other country).
Thomas is no fool. She knows she has no power to change facts and knows full well that the Israelis are going nowhere. She has seen first hand how US support and military hardware makes the Knesset well-nigh invincible. With the blessing of every president since Eisenhower (the first of 11 presidents Thomas reported on) Israel have increased their strangehold on Palestine. Thomas could see only too well how they turned the West Bank into a mess of powerless Bantustans and how they have bombed the Strip back into stateless inertia.
So when this knowledgeable near 90 year old is asked a leading question by a Jewish rabbi “Any comments on Israel?” it is hardly wonder she should reply “I think the Jews should get out of Palestine.”
It was the use of the word “Jews” that hung her. If she had said “I think the Israelis should get out of Palestine” it would have been perfectly valid and free from the hoary charge of “anti-Semitism”, a cliché that shows no understanding of what a Semite actually is.
Perhaps Thomas realised this or perhaps she didn’t. She is 89 years old after all. But she did quickly realise was how much an the effect her words would have on the mediated public sphere, given she is a product of it. She chose to fall on her own sword rather than have to constantly justify a position that is so anathema to the US mainstream.
Thomas’s Cassandra-like words exposed her to a path of political deviance. That is unsustainable in any path of American public trust which is based on the media lie that Israel is never wrong.
But she is old enough to remember another event in the same year as Israel’s independence. In 1948, the Russians imposed a wilful blockade on West Berlin aimed at starving it out of political existence. The western powers led by the US defeated it using a combination of outrage and ingenuity.
The blockade of Gaza deserves similar outrage regardless of your feelings about the legitimacy of the Hamas Government. 400,000 people are being systematically starved by a government in a brutal piece of collective punishment. In any other context, this would be called genocide. Shutting an old woman up won't make it any better.