This month, instead of a “truth in strange places” award, I’m giving an “inconvenient truth” award, to the once revered but now reviled Helen Thomas, for this exchange, as reported on Democracy Now:
- RABBI DAVID NESENOFF: Yeah, and any comments on Israel? We’re asking everybody today. Any comments on Israel?
HELEN THOMAS: Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine.
RABBI DAVID NESENOFF: Ooh, any better comments than that?
HELEN THOMAS: Remember, these people are occupied, and it’s their land. It’s not Germany, and it’s not Poland.
RABBI DAVID NESENOFF: So where should they go? What should they do?
HELEN THOMAS: They could go home.
RABBI DAVID NESENOFF: Where is their home?
HELEN THOMAS: Poland, Germany—
RABBI DAVID NESENOFF: So the Jews—you’re saying Jews should go back to Poland and Germany?
HELEN THOMAS: —and America and everywhere else. Why push people out of there who have lived there for centuries?
Ms. Thomas’ expression of her honest opinion had several unfortunate effects. Personally, it marked the end of her career as a White House reporter. In general, the resulting spin storm eclipsed, in the US at least, the outrage of Israel’s violent attack on an unarmed convoy bearing relief supplies for Gaza, where millions of Palestinians are enduring near-concentration camp conditions.
Government and media in this country conveniently ignore the reality of the Palestine/Israel situation, which in many respects eerily parallels the European subjugation of the Americas: White people with a sense of entitlement helped themselves to territory long held by darker-skinned people, couldn’t understand why this created resentment among the natives, and then used their superior technology and tighter organization to violently suppress native resistance to European invasion.
The further irony in the case of Palestine as a “Jewish homeland” is that, just as Hindus, Buddhists, Zoroastrians, Mithraists, and many Christians in the zone of Muslim conquest ultimately became Muslim, so many of the original Jews of Palestine became Muslim, and now find themselves oppressed, in the name of “Israel’s right to exist,” by Jews with only a very distant genetic tie to “the Jewish homeland.”
Don’t get me wrong–I was brought up Jewish and have a deep appreciation for its tribal, earth-based traditions. Whatever European roots my family had were erased in the Holocaust. I am further aware that the Holocaust wasn’t solely the construction of a few perverted Germans. They were aided and abetted by anti-Semites all across Europe, especially Eastern Europe, where anti-Jewish riots after the Second World War made it clear that the Nazis had tapped into a deep, long-lasting prejudice with their genocide.
But nobody really asked the Palestinians. With all the furor about “illegal immigrants” in the US these days, it’s surprising that so few people get it that Israel was populated in part by–illegal immigrants. Even those who entered legally were allowed in by the British, who had the power to enforce their rule over Palestine and paid little more than lip service to the needs, wishes, and feelings of the native population.
I don’t have time this month to explore this explosive, expansive topic as much as I’d like, but I will say that Helen’s suggestion that the Jews in illegal settlements in Palestine (which I think is part of what she meant by “Israel should get out of Palestine”) should go back to their countries of origin has some merit. The standoff between Israel and the Arabs needs to be de-escalated. Israel’s piratical attack on the Gaza relief convoy, relentless oppression of its native people–the Palestinians–and many other provocations I wish I had time to go into (can you say USS Liberty, boys and girls?)–have made Israel into the pit bull of the Middle East, with the USA as its enabler. No wonder people can entertain the notion that the Israelis planted explosives in the World Trade Center! They make the North Koreans look laid-back and friendly.
But I digress….thank you, Helen Thomas, for daring to speak the truth. I’m sorry you’ve been pilloried for it, but that just shows how closed the discourse in our “free society” really is. We can get to peace and honesty from here, but we’ve got a lot of work to do.
music: Steve Earle, “Jerusalem“