A Lion in Daniel's Den
STR Column by Jim Davies, published on July 19, 2010
The abrupt termination of the distinguished, six-decade career of Helen Thomas, after she expressed her opinion about Jews on May 27th, has something fishy about it. There are layers of deception to be uncovered, and since nobody else has removed them, I will make the attempt. You read it here first.
Until that day, there had been no more highly respected member of the "White House Press Corps," that club of sycophants who faithfully convey to a grateful public such pearls of wisdom as may drop from presidential lips. She was the heir of Walter Cronkite--yet was no mere scribe; she has a mind of her own, and was expert in the art of posing tough questions to pompous people. Ten presidents knew better than to under-rate this acerbic reporter, and for 60 years she got away with it; possibly to convince the public that there is at least someone who questions authority.
She never really did that, though; her "tough" questions were all carefully inside the statist box. She would probe whether government policy was wise in the circumstances, but she never questioned whether government should have a policy at all, or even exist at all. I doubt whether she even dreamed of doing so; such a thought would be far too radical. In the splendid phrase used by George F. Smith in his Flight of the Barbarous Relic, she was concerned only with dirt, not with dynamite; locating dirt says the system should be cleaned up, whereas using dynamite zaps it altogether. It strikes the root.
Yet on May 27 she appeared to throw all her well-built reputation away, ending her career in disgrace. Why?
The occasion was a party in the White House and its garden, to celebrate "Jewish Heritage." The ground was thick with the children of Israel. There could not possibly be a mistake; if you harbored any anti-Semitic sentiment and were invited, this was the time to keep it strictly to yourself, for to do otherwise would be a gross discourtesy.
One of the guests was a Rabbi from New York called David Nesenoff, and he brought along his video camera. He posed her a few questions, there in the garden and with camera rolling, and Helen Thomas could not possibly have been unaware that her replies were on the record and could readily reach the world via YouTube. Later, Nesenoff wrote in The Washington Post that his questions were courteous and "gentle," and I'd agree with that--but judge for yourself; the 60-second bombshell is right here. Aware perhaps that Thomas is a critic of the Israeli state, he asked her what she thought about Jews.
In reply she said they should leave Palestine, which belongs to the Palestinians, and go back home.
"Oooh" said Rabbi Nesenoff, and in his Post article he observed that we now live in a "post-Oooh world." "Where?" he asked. To "Poland, and Germany, and America..." said this doyenne of Establishment journalism.
Thomas was quickly fired for her indiscretion, if that's what it was, after apologizing for having "crossed the line." But there was no evidence of remorse in the apology, no sign that she did not still hold the belief she had expressed. At age 89, she might well have crafted an apologia such as "I'm so sorry, what was I thinking, I must have suffered an attack of senile dementia." Or, "I was shockingly ill-mannered, I must have drunk too much Presidential champagne." But she didn't. She had merely crossed a line, said things that should have been left unsaid, wrongly uttered a shibboleth. Broken some unwritten rule.
Notice first that Thomas did not say that the State of Israel should never have been formed, in 1948, or that it should now be dissolved; I would have agreed with all of that, for I believe every State should be dissolved, that they are all gross affronts to the human right of each individual to own and operate his own life. I oppose the State of Israel, and those of Lebanon and Syria and Egypt and Iraq and Iran and France and Britain and the US of A. Scrap them all, I say, as soon as you possibly can, all the miserable 200-odd lot of them, for they place humanity in slavery, degradation and desperate danger. But, to send Jews "home" to Poland, to Germany? Not so fast. The German State slaughtered about six million of them, and the Polish one had reversed its traditional policy of tolerance. Today Jews may be welcomed in each, but they are strange places to call "home."
So Thomas was going way beyond opposing the US government's policy of support for the Israeli State--which has brought us so much grief--she was expressing disrespect for Jews per se--and she was doing it publicly, in a garden full of Jews, into a camera operated by a Jewish Rabbi. She must have had a purpose. What was it?
One possibility is that she had decided it was (at 89!) time to retire, and resolved to do so not quietly, but in a way that would be long remembered, crowning her iconoclastic reputation. That would fit. Yet if so, that reputation will be tarnished. It's all very well to go out with a bang, but her remarks on May 27 were seriously rude, hurtful to a lot of innocent people. So I doubt if that was all.
Another possibility is that she wanted, before fading from the scene as we all eventually must, to shock public opinion into recognizing that US policy towards Israel is a disaster that will bleed the country to death. If so, she chose a horrid way to do it, but may have left a valuable legacy; for it is indeed very high time to toss that policy on the scrap heap. If it doesn't lead to Armageddon, it will surely continue to ruin most of what Americans have achieved, by bogging us down into an interminable series of unwinnable and increasingly expensive wars.
So, let's pass over the ill manners and the probable wish for notoriety, and consider the view on its merits. Would the world be a better place if Jews quit Israel?
It would certainly have been a much more peaceful place if the State of Israel had never been formed. In the late 1940s, world opinion was deeply sympathetic to Holocaust survivors, and if they had made their individual ways to the land they believed God had given them, three millennia earlier, there is no basic reason why the indigenous Arab population could not have absorbed them. Jews have proven many times they are industrious and smart, so had they done that, I suppose it likely that after a few years they would have been playing a prominent part in the Palestinian economy. However, there were a couple of obstacles in the way of that peaceful development: firstly since 1919 the British had been exercising a "mandate" to "rule" in that land, and would not allow such spontaneous immigration; and secondly, the Jews wanted not just to live there but to operate a Jewish State. And that meant taking control--from the Brits, and from the Palestinian residents whom the Brits were supposedly protecting.
The British got the job because in 1917 their government had publicized the "Balfour Declaration" expressing support for the idea of a "Jewish national home" in Palestine. They worded it carefully; it did not refer to a "State" but to a "national home," a term left undefined. Zionists of that day certainly desired such a home, but not a State, which some felt might endanger Jews remaining in the Diaspora. In 1917 the Brits were desperately fighting Germans, and used the Declaration as a propaganda tool; they knew it would win them support among Jews everywhere; in the USA and Russia--but also in Germany itself. The Declaration was printed up in Yiddish and scattered over Germany so as to motivate Jews, especially those in the army, to favor the British cause. It was and is certainly popular among Jews, and was addressed to Lord Rothschild, who had at the time some influence in arranging financial support for the British war expenses. That's a factor that seems mysteriously to have been overlooked by the otherwise informative report on TotallyJewish.com.
I know of no direct evidence to prove it, but it's possible that this trick did have some of its intended effect on the loyalty of Jews in Germany to that State's cause. If it did, we have a most interesting chain of cause and effect:
- British politicians made a rash promise to help their urgent war aims
- German Jews accordingly became less loyal to their government, helping it lose the war
- later, Nazis blamed German Jews for back-stabbing in 1918 (this is fact, whether at all justified or not)
- those politicians later gained power and systematically exterminated millions of Jews, starting with German ones
- moved by the horrors of that Holocaust, world opinion favored dislodging Palestinians and setting up a Jewish State in 1948
- the Middle East has been a sizzling powder keg ever since and continues to destabilize the world
So in the end, Balfour's idea wasn't all that smart. But this is what happens, when otherwise intelligent people miserably fail, like Helen Thomas, to question the wisdom of having governments and states. Her exit from the journalistic scene was dirty, but not dynamic--as it might have been.
Would Jews be well advised to quit Israel? Rationally, that seems to me quite a good idea--and it would be a really good idea for them to make the choice rationally, instead of being influenced by sentiment based on religious myth or tribal culture. They are living in a State committed to maintain its existence as such while surrounded by hostile neighbors, one of whom has leaders who say Israel should be swept into the sea and who may shortly acquire nukes. I would not be eager to hitch my wagon to such megalomaniacs. In Rabbi Nesenoff's words, "where" to go? Oddly enough, Poland or Germany may not be bad choices. Poland has been hospitable to Jews for far longer than it was anti-Semitic, and in the light of the post-WWII publicity, it's likely to stay that way. Germany, likewise and more so; there was no more anti-Semitism there a hundred years ago than there was in France, Britain and America, but given the appalling record of 1933-45 which it has to live down, I'd say that Germany may be more hospitable a place for Jews to live, for the next lifetime or three, than any other country. Finally there is always America, which already has as many Jews as does Israel; although I'm not sure how far US government immigration policy has improved since the incident of the MS St. Louis.
But of course, it must always be an individual choice, not to be "sent" by anyone, nor influenced by what politicians do or say. And that was the central factor that Helen Thomas missed.