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Monday, June 07, 2010

Just go 'somewhere else'!

Try, if you can, to imagine the most inappropriate remark a person could possibly muster if approached by a prominent Rabbi outside a White House Jewish heritage event, and asked a softball question such as "What do you think of Israel?". 

I'm sure most people, knowing they were on the record, and conscious of the fact that they were being asked the question by a Rabbi at an affair celebrating Jewish heritage, would come up with a measured remark appropriate to the occasion which had nothing whatsoever to do with how they really feel about Israel.

Veteran White House correspondent Helen Thomas , the Doyenne of the Washington print journalist set, contribution to the day's festivities by responding, "Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine!"  She went on to say that the Palestinian people “are occupied and it’s their land”, and that Israelis should “go home” -- to Poland, Germany, America “and everywhere else.”

Refreshingly honest, no?

Her statements not only ignore the experiences of Jews in some of their European 'homelands' in recent history, but even worse; presupposes that Jews are modern interlopers in 'Palestine'... colonists who most be dislodged so that the peaceful indigenous people can finally live in peace.  She, like the Palestinians, denies any Jewish historical connection to this land... the archaeological record not withstanding.

I've been stewing for a few days about this statement, mostly because of how little substantive discussion/reaction it has garnered. 

It's as if some aging bejeweled dowager has inadvertently made a racist remark about 'those uppity colored people' at a fancy dinner party without noticing that some of the 'colored' wait-staff are still in the room circulating among the invited guests.  Everyone coughs a bit and checks their watch, and waits for the moment to pass so they can all pretend they hadn't noticed the social gaffe.  After all, doesn't every worthwhile joke begin with a furtive glance in all directions to make sure that only 'the right sort of people' are within earshot?

Normally I wouldn't think much about the rantings of a doddering old bigot who has kept her professional place more from sheer inertia than from any recent contribution to her craft.  After all, her longevity and stale resume aside, her eccentricity has caused her to be widely regarded as a combination of Minnie Pearl and everyone's crazy maiden aunt.

However, what seems to be troubling me most is that she is far from alone in giving voice to feelings which, for the sake of decorum, had traditionally been left for when the staff is out of earshot.

Take for example the instantaneous reaction to the Gaza flotilla raid.  Before the ships had even made port there was blanket and universal condemnation from Europe, Scandinavia, the third world... and, of course, the rest of the Middle East.  These statements stopped just short of accusing the IDF soldiers of harvesting the dead 'activists' organs and baking matzoh with their blood.

There was no responsible wait for solid information... no search for facts or confirmation... but rather, like an obituary that has been diligently prepared in advance, the condemnations were issued pro-forma at the first whisper of trouble so as not to miss the tide of international bile.

Likewise, the near universal outcry for an independent inquiry of the event is as predictable as it is troubling.  Would any European or Asian power submit to an international inquiry of its military missteps or accidents?  Would the U.S.?  Would England?  For that matter, I can't name one country that in recent memory has willingly submitted to such outside review of its actions? 

The U.S., Russia as well as many of the European and Asian powers have all had spectacular screw ups on the battlefield, as well as in pursuit of their national defense, whose civilian death tolls far exceeded that of the current Gaza flotilla snafu.  Yet each time one of these countries stumbles, as transparent, sovereign nations they are allowed to investigate themselves, learn their lessons and share their findings with the world at a pace that suits them.

Israel, on the other hand, is expected to submit its conduct, it's political/diplomatic decisions and in many cases its very sovereignty, to immediate international oversight... as if our very existence is in some way conditioned upon the tolerance and largess of others.

Even the very language with which Israel is discussed has begun to include previously taboo imagery.  Take for example the New York Times op-ed piece by Ross Duthat  whose unsolicited advice to Israel is to take a lesson from previous non-indigenous interlopers in the Levant - the crusaders - so that we might keep our foothold here at least as long as the medieval kings of Jerusalem and their Frankish knights.

He rushes to assure the reader of his honorable intent by saying, "The analogy between Israel and [the crusader kingdoms] is usually drawn by Israel’s enemies...".   And he even goes so far as to state that, "[the crusader states] were no less legitimate than the Muslim states they warred against — which had themselves been founded atop once-Christian territories." 

But interestingly, he stops short of reminding the reader of the inconvenient fact that before all of them,  this part of the world was controlled by those inconvenient Jews (a fact backed up by their own religious texts).

What many seem extremely willing to overlook is the fact that no matter on whose shores we washed up throughout the past 2000 years, there always remained a small garrison of Jews in the Holy land acting as a placeholder in the book of our unrelenting prayers to some day return.  And after each expulsion (even the ones as recent as 1929 and 1948 which were paternalistically referred to as being for our own safety), the world developed amnesia as to who had owned what.  Apparently only Arab claims are considered lasting and inviolate.

Not a day has passed in over two millennium where the yearning for Jerusalem and her environs has not passed the lips of countless Jews in every corner of the diaspora.  Yet our enemies - those who cynically claim an eternal bond with this land and our capital -  can't point to a single direct reference to Jerusalem in their holy books or liturgy.

To Helen Thomas, Ross Duthat, Turkey, Sweden and all of our other 'well-wishers' who keep urging us to concede, compromise and withdraw (yet again!), I can assure you that we know your game by now.  We're supposed to keep our eyes averted and remain silent as we pass within earshot of the rich and powerful nations of the world.  We're supposed to ignore the insults and assume you have our best interest at heart.

We Israelis are supposed to smile and nod appreciatively when we are offered vague and ill-conceived advice ... and above all pretend that if we will only agree to set aside our selfish obsession with our security, other wiser heads will see to it that our interests are protected.  Excuse me if I make the observation that this hasn't worked out very well for us so far.

"Drop the blockade", say the Europeans.  "Let us monitor the flow of goods into Gaza".  As if we could forget the peerless job the Europeans are doing monitoring the flow of rockets and other sophisticated weaponry from Iran and Syria into Lebanon (and into the waiting hands of Hezbollah... who we were assured would be completely disarmed).  Is that what you had in mind?  I thought so.

It may surprise our detractors, but most Israelis seek an accommodation of some sort with the Arabs.  We don't want to rule over anyone, and we certainly don't want to send our children to die in war after war.  But we aren't able to control both sides of this equation.  We can't make our enemies stop trying to kill us.  Heck, we can't even get them to change their charters which call unambiguously for Israel's destruction.

My advice to the rest of the world is that if this part of the world fascinates you so completely that you feel compelled to involve yourselves to the exclusion of bloodbaths, massacres, coups and military conflicts going on elsewhere in the world... maybe you can exert some pressure on someone else besides Israel for a change.  Like I said earlier... we agree with you on most issues.  It's the other guys who don't seem ready to stop shooting.

In the mean time, please stop trying to get us to 'go somewhere else'... to 'go back where we came from'... to 'go home'.  We're already there.

Posted by David Bogner on June 7, 2010 | Permalink

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I comfort myself in the belief that Helen was drunk or senile( What was she doing at an event to honor American Jews?).Israel is an easier target than Iran,and if not the flotilla,some other incident would have been seized upon to attack Israel,rather than deal with Iran.Compare with the reaction to the recent N. Korean attack.

Posted by: Ed | Jun 7, 2010 5:21:31 PM

Bravo, David. Our enemies and false friends won't listen, but it is nice to see it set out clearly. I just wish the Israeli Foreign Ministry would say this loudly and regularly.

BTW, it does appear that Israeli sources (the IDF? the FM office?) dropped the ball on this, hard. I have seen reports that foreign media DID attempt to get the Israeli side, but that the video which showed the commandos being attacked when they hit the deck was not released for hours after the incident.

Posted by: Russ Gold | Jun 7, 2010 5:29:51 PM

You've expressed very clearly what is at stake; even if I think that the IDF fell in the trap the enemies of Israel had set for it. As regards Helen Thomas her remark is a clear sign that she must be more senile than she looks. No one in their right mind would express such a thought where she did, at least not in such words. Which unfortunately does make her less of an anti-Semite. Or am I wrong?

Posted by: Ilana-Davita | Jun 7, 2010 6:38:39 PM

The thought of anyone outsourcing their security to the Europeans gives me shivers.

Posted by: Lisa | Jun 7, 2010 6:49:27 PM

While I agree with your general analysis, I think it's wrong to lump in Douthat, who was simply using history as an imperfect analogy, with Thomas, who has clearly shown her true anti-semitic colors. It dilutes your point to throw them into the same bin.

Posted by: Rabba bar bar Chana | Jun 7, 2010 6:55:14 PM

Helen Thomas has retired from Hearst Newspapers.

Posted by: Lynne | Jun 7, 2010 7:40:48 PM

And her speaking engagements are being cancelled left and right. "Notable people" such as Ari Fleischer have publicly condemned her. There should be definitely be more outpouring of condemnation, but it's definitely not being swept under the rug like that pesky North Korean torpedo incident.

Posted by: Alissa | Jun 7, 2010 9:10:30 PM

SNAFU: Situation Normal: All F@#^ed Up

Posted by: QuietusLeo | Jun 7, 2010 9:49:09 PM

One can already write the first sentence of her obituary:

"Helen Thomas, path-breaking female reporter who covered the White House for half a century but whose standing never recovered after she made some much-criticized observations about Israel, died today at...."

Posted by: Lisa | Jun 8, 2010 12:15:44 AM

יומיים לאחר שהתבטאה נגד היהודים ומדינת ישראל הודיעה הערב (ב') כתבת הבית הלבן הלן תומאס על התפטרותה מתפקידה כעיתונאית. את הודעת ההתפטרות של תומאס בת ה-89 מסר תאגיד התקשורת הרסט, שבו הועסקה.
this is taken from the Yediot Acharonot internet site.

Posted by: yaffa glass | Jun 8, 2010 12:36:40 AM

the previous comment says in Hebrew the Helen Thomas has resigned.

Posted by: yaffa glass | Jun 8, 2010 12:38:08 AM

As people get older, and in many cases nuttier, their underlying pathologies become more obvious. Too bad for her she couldn't keep that rabid dog in the cage till she died. And, of course, now we have a photograph of yet another one of Obama's dubious associations to run in the fall election campaign: http://media.photobucket.com/image/obama%20and%20hellen%20thomas/Pb43905/Helen%20Thomas/Helen-Thomas-Obama-Birthday.jpg

Posted by: Evan | Jun 8, 2010 1:27:46 AM

Uh oh. A liberal icon spews anti-Semitism. Cue the NY Jewish yellow-dog liberal angst: what to do? what to think?

My course is clearer. I have always valued a society in which everyone can put their cards on the table. Ms. Thomas laid one of hers down (although I recall it isn't the first time this one has been played).

I prefer my society's more varied opinions out in the open where we can see them. In that sense, I hypocritically hide behind a pseudonym, for the (relative) safety of the jobs of myself and my spouse. But it allows me to be more frank with the Internet society, of which I am an (partially) invisible member.

Now. What to do with Ms. Thomas? I hear she called it quits.

Now the question will be: Was she forced to resign by the JOOOOOOOOOS?!

argh. Some days, you can't win. ;o/

Posted by: Wry Mouth | Jun 8, 2010 9:38:59 AM

Very well written. We are home, at last.

Posted by: Ruth | Jun 9, 2010 6:31:24 AM

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