Friday, 11 June 2010

Helen Thomas bites the dust

In any context Helen Thomas, the veteran 89-year old White House journalist blundered dramatically in her recent statement to, as Sarah Palin would describe it, a gotcha reporter.

The ensuing outcry after Thomas insisted that the Israelis should "get the hell out of Palestine" and go back to "Germany and Poland" resulted in her being removed from her venerable front-row perch at the White House. In addition, there are growing demands to rename some of the lifetime awards dedicated to her. So what are we to think? How many people firstly knew that Helen Thomas was an Arab-American? She is but that is irrelevant to her contribution to American democracy. In a career that spans 60 years, she does not deserve to be judged by a statement that she makes at 89 years of age, even though she is no less responsible for it. She is without doubt one of the pillars of American democracy. That is not a statement to make lightly. She was the check to balance the secrecy of the executive branch in the United States. Simply watch her in action with President Bush the junior:

She is widely known as the First Lady of the White House press corps and has challenged sitting Presidents, Democratic and Republican, since John F. Kennedy. Fidel Castro remarked several years back to a question from USA Today about the difference between U.S. and Cuban demcoracy: "I don't have to answer questions from Helen Thomas." It is easy to cast her aside and toss her out with yesterday's has-beens, but whether we like it or not, her impact on journalistic integrity and independence will outlive her and continue to influence American and global media.

There is no denying that her remarks were both ill-advised and offensive. However, in her mind, I believe, she was still thinking anachronistically in the 1940s when Jews from Poland and Germany were emigrating to Palestine and were soon to displace its indigenous residents. For whatever reason, she has not changed her thinking on Israeli citizens since that time, promoting what would be tantamount today to ethnic expulsion.

The flip side of this is of course that the Palestinians are not permitted to return to the villages from which they were expelled in 1948 and 1967, while a person who subscribes to the Jewish faith can emigrate from Brooklyn to live in that person's old house. Also troubling, but not really newsworthy.

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