Helen Thomas' Exquisite 'Weimar Moment' Reflects Progressive America
There is never a call for an emergency session of the UN Security Council after a suicide bomb goes off in Israel or after a deluge of Hamas-fired rockets falls on Sderot. After Chinese riot police randomly shot 140 Muslims last month, no one called for a Security Council meeting, a meeting of the UN Human Rights Council, or even an international investigation. The day-to-day executions in the Islamic world because of sexual preference do not rise to the UN’s level of outrage. The treatment of women has raised such concern in the UN that Iran has been placed on the UN Commission on the Status of Women. As Dennis Prager said, you can’t draw an absurd analogy to that because it is the ultimate absurdity.
The UN’s obsession with Israel is well known, but less obvious is the obsession with Israel found in our progressive churches and community organizations.
In our local communities, the peace and justice crowd and interfaith ministries have endlessly and compulsively pursued the question of the “occupation” of “Palestine,” but here are some topics that you will never see them showcase: “Celibacy and Pedophilia: Are the Two Related?” -- a Sunday afternoon forum at St. Mary’s Church. “Presbyterian anti-Catholicism as a Prelude to the Troubles in Northern Ireland” -- a Sunday evening buffet at St. Andrew’s Church. “Luther and the Nazi Movement: Did Martin Luther’s anti-Semitism set the stage for the Holocaust?” -- a Sunday afternoon potluck sponsored by the St. Mark’s Lutheran Church Peace and Justice Committee. “Will Sharia Replace the Constitution?” -- an event sponsored by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, dietary restrictions observed.
I dream of driving down the road and seeing one of those on a religious billboard, the way you do see: “Condemning Israel: An Open-Minded Forum." But of course, it is only a dream.
Because of such events, nearly everyone these days seems to be an authority on the Middle East, at least on the popular Israel-bashing version of the Middle East. Even so, it is still somewhat surprising to hear Neal Conan, on Talk of the Nation the other day, when he was doing his show on Helen Thomas’ exquisite Weimar moment, not correct a caller named Lina, who proceeded to say that Palestine existed before 1948 and Israel is an occupying power. This is the convoluted history I hear from people who go to Sunday potlucks on the Middle East or stand in Berkeley shrouded in black and carrying signs for the Middle East Children’s Alliance. Conan, who usually politely corrects his callers’ inaccuracies, let this one play on. Why?
In my opinion, here is what Neal Conan should have said.
Actually Lina, before 1948, it wasn’t called Palestine. It was called the British Mandate of Palestine. Ironically, the Jewish people of the mandate period were called “Palestinians,” while the Arabs were called “Arabs.” Even the Palestine Post, now the Jerusalem Post, was a Zionist newspaper. The Palestinian Regiment that fought for the British in World War II, Lina, was made up primarily of Jews, even before it was renamed the Jewish Brigade. The Arabs, under the leadership of the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin el Husseini, actually threw their lot in with the Nazis. During the war, Haj was Adolph Hitler’s personal guest in Berlin, where he fantasized about another Holocaust — in Mandate Palestine. He promised one during the 1948 war.
The Jews have had a continual presence the land of Israel since Abraham left Ur and settled the land. Since 1840, Jews constituted the largest single group in Jerusalem, a time when Native Americans in California still controlled much of the state. Californians have far and away less right to their property than Jews have to Jerusalem.
The Arabs came as conquerors in the 7th century. They conquered the land from Christians. Starting with the increased migration in the 1840s of Jews to “southern Syria,” which it was called when the Ottoman Turks ruled the land before World War I, Jewish development brought in Arab migrants, from such countries as Yemen and Egypt, seeking work. Should they and their descendants get the “hell out of Palestine”?
As for Helen Thomas, Lina, yes, she has freedom of speech, but the First Amendment applies to the government censoring and punishing speech. Private organizations routinely censor speech that is considered racist, sexist, homophobic, or just downright stupid and offensive. As a society, we too find certain forms of speech offensive and will express our outrage. Have you forgotten Don Imus? How about Kathy Griffin’s "Suck it, Jesus" moment?
As Helen Thomas knows, sending Jews back to Germany and Poland is the equivalent of religious cleansing, not to mention the imagery of sending them back to countries from which they were sent to death camps. Or did she mean they should go back to Auschwitz?
Most Israeli Jews do not come from Europe, but from the Middle East, from Arab and also Muslim communities that expelled them after 1948. So should these Jews be sent back to Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Iran or Helen Thomas’ ancestral Lebanon? And we know what would happen to them when they got there, don’t we?
But the erudite and sophisticated Neal Conan said none of the above, because to do so would challenge the faux but politically correct version of Middle East history taught in our schools, embedded in our psyches, and worshiped in our progressive churches.
I have long been acquainted with the progressive “good people” who routinely go to those interfaith and church-sponsored lectures on the Middle East. They are compassionate in the extreme for Arabs who were displaced by the Arab-initiated war of 1948. They can wax eloquently on the history of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict with information taken right off the Saudi embassy’s web page. And they have become self-proclaimed experts on the differences between U.S. generated “grants” and “loans” to Israel.
I have never yet heard them show compassion for an Israeli child killed by a suicide bomber or concern for the people of Sderot living in a perpetual state of siege. Somehow they sing in a chorus where everything Israel does is wrong and everything the Arabs do can be rationalized or justified.
The “good people” don’t know that Palestinian nationalism arose as a reaction to Zionism and that Arabs calling themselves “Palestinians” only occurred in 1968 when Yassir Arafat replaced Ahmed Shukairy as head of the Palestine Liberation Organization, which previously had been a front for Egypt’s hegemonic adventurism. Shukairy himself said that everyone knows that Palestine is nothing but southern Syria. Ironically, Palestinian nationalism follows Zionism by nearly a century, but don’t mention that at the peace and justice sponsored pot luck. It doesn’t settle well with the notion of Palestine as occupied land.
Helen Thomas’ candor reminded me of Marge Schott, the often indiscreet late owner of the Cincinnati Reds, who was quoted as saying that Hitler "was good in the beginning, but went too far." An interview with Schott could produce other quotes that generated national outrage, like her condescending and racist reference to her “million-dollar n*****s.” Yet in much of Cincinnati, where a long strain of racism persisted, people tacitly supported Schott because she said what they thought and felt but were afraid to voice. Similarly, I fear it is more than her long career that generated such active collegial support for Thomas.
We live in an age where the media seem to conveniently forget that the blockade of Hamasistan is legal and Hamas has declared a war of ultimate destruction against Israel. The media has declared the blockade an impediment to peace and lionized the club-swinging and knife-wielding terrorists aboard the Turkish-flagged Marmara as “peace activists.” Reuters has just been caught again falsifying photos, this time cropping a knife from the hand of a Palestinian terrorist standing over a bleeding Israeli commando, whose blood was also cropped. After all, knives, clubs, and blood don’t go with Reuters’ view of “peace activists.” And much of the media have conveniently forgotten the difference between propaganda and journalism.
So an independent Jewish state trying to adhere to the principles of liberal democracy amid a sea of kingdoms and despots bent on its destruction does not sit well with the UN, the peace and justice crowd, or the mainstream media. In Berkeley, the only city outside the Vatican with its own foreign policy, there is debate about whether to condemn Israel for its actions in stopping the Marmara. There will be no debate over the forty-seven South Korean sailors killed by North Korea, the 140 Muslims gunned down by Chinese riot police, or the everyday violations of human rights in the world of Sharia.
Helen Thomas spoke what a vast number of people think: the Jews should get the hell out of Palestine. After all, those “good people” at the progressive church potlucks believe Jews are going to hell anyway. What difference does it make if they get there a little sooner?