Helen Thomas: The Proto-Palin

A guest post from my father, a former Washington correspondent

by Sanford Watzman

I didn’t know Sarah Palin then but I did know Helen Thomas and, believe me, Helen was a Sarah. I’m going back some 45 years when, as a correspondent for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, I would sometimes attend a White House news conference. I used to have two gripes: (1) these sessions seldom produced any real news; (2) I had to nonetheless sit through posturing by some peers, particularly Helen. Not once did I hear her ask a question that elicited worthwhile information. Rather, she specialized, even gloried in, being annoying.

O.K., she wasn’t as glib or as sexy as Sarah. But she pushed the woman thing all the way to the top of the White House Correspondents Association., and later McCain did the woman thing, not wanting a macho sort to rival him (little did he know!). Kind of scares you, doesn’t it, were Sarah to reach the top of the ticket in 2012? But the real link between Helen and Sarah was that neither had anything really to say, yet won a certain cachet.

Helen must have confused my son Haim. Should he go back to Poland from Israel? His mother June may or may not be a Polish Jew. But who knows? The boundaries shifted so often then that Haim couldn’t possibly know where his true ancestral home is. And God forbid! Remember the postwar pogrom at Kielce in Poland? Convinces you, doesn’t it, that even today it makes sense to be a Zionist.

11 thoughts on “Helen Thomas: The Proto-Palin”

  1. Well, I think “Go back where you came from” is something to say, whatever its merits. She’s also harangued the White House spokesman about the causes of Muslim terrorism against the US. Not appropriate at a press briefing, but that was also something to say, and I think correct as well.

    My own pet peeve: Just once, I’d like to hear these people tell Israeli Jews to go back to Morocco or Yemen where they came from. Just once.

  2. I think it was past time for Helen to bow out, I understand she had told someone that the only way she would leave her seat of privilege would be feet first. As it turns out, she went mouth first.

    But of Israel – I’ve been pondering the concept. It truly is a miracle that it exists. If you think of the events, the ingredients that came together to make it happen it is a phenomenon without precedent – a nation of what had been for centuries a powerless (in the collective) people.

    But after creation – the paradox.

    There is no way out of it. I don’t mean that Israelis would necessarily want out, but the state is now in essence an unsinkable battleship. It’s as if a genie had said, “yes, I will give you your state but there will be a price. Just as you once were the eternal wanderers as individuals, so now you will be eternally under siege as a collective, though you may have any weapon you want and in any quantity. In the creation, you will gain the land, but the price is the Palestinians eternally chained to you, who will cause you to be the very thing you fled for centuries…you must become what you reviled. You will have power but you are condemned to use it oppressively.”

    Can’t you almost hear it being said – what will it gain (a people) if they should gain (a land) but lose (their) immortal soul?

    So Israel has a future – it exists and will exist – but at the cost of always wearing and using the iron boot? A home, but only as a prison warden, an eternal dictator to others? A home, but at the cost of always sounding the alarm? But the alarm…wasn’t that always near to Jews throughout history? And as the world moves toward multi-culturalism, Israel must by definition be exclusive and rejecting, a move backward in national development. Please tell me it is. Don’t break this heart that believes if only one thing has been learned by our species it is that all can be brothers and sisters!

    So I take the opposite tack from Helen Thomas. I ask is price is too high? Come be my neighbor along with so many Jews who have full freedom to worship or not, to wear the attire they wish, to speak the language they want in a country that, though it will always have its troglodytes, also has an overwhelming majority who do not wish their neighbors ill and, most important, a young generation of all cultural backgrounds that is fiery in its defense of multi-culturalism.

    If you say no then I see only one way off the battleship and that is to make the country essential to those around it, a vital dynamo for the region. But this can’t happen without risk and that risk requires backing off from being the nation that pre-empts, the nation that decides for other countries what they may or may not be allowed to have, the nation that must guide the legislators of a powerful nation to keep funds and arms flowing to it.

    The state exists. The helpless are no longer. But the meek, the trusting, those who were abused and killed for being that way…now become those who are first to defy, first to slap the face of the other, first to make demands, first to strike? It is the most cruel of sentences.

    Is that the fulfilled promise of the promised land?

  3. From Cliff:

    ” In the creation, you will gain the land, but the price is the Palestinians eternally chained to you, who will cause you to be the very thing you fled for centuries…you must become what you reviled.”

    To say this is taboo. One of this blog’s creators (don’t recall which) once said on the blog that America was inherently pluralistic through immigration, while Israel was created through a conserving impulse. Of course, the pluralism in America has mostly always been under attack, including now. Resolution comes through social economic necessity (or at least “the easist path”). Resident Arabs will have to make that necessity. They will not be liked when doing so.

    My family background is American Jim Crow South. But I was not raised there. I wonder what my views would have been if I had. One of the indirect functions of free speech is to force us to encounter how other lives have been formed. I have noticed that those supporting exclusivism have no wish to know of the other. And I most very likely have this too, as a survival strategy, but just don’t want to see so. Survival confronts itself: you are here–I too.

    I would suggest the promise of the promise land is always unfulfilled–but still is a promise. Sort of like YHWH Himslef.

    Thanks for being out there.

  4. I will preface this by saying that after a point I felt sorry for Richard Nixon ( which dates me). I feel bad for Helen Thomas- what an awful way to end a career, to leave the stage. She has asked so many bold wake-up questions over the years that the rest were afraid to ask. But finally in the end she let slip what possibly is long held feelings or subconscious feelings about Jews OR perhaps simple anger at the present situation. Or maybe it was ( I think it was) the situation made her feel she could let go.

    I never thought of her as Lebanese. We don’t think this way here by and large. The reporter might have then been quick enough to have asked her if she should accordingly go back to Lebanon. Her indiscretion was not only or even maybe about loss of inhibition that may afflict older people, but maybe the emergence of her tribal self which most of us have but keep in check.

    For what it’s worth- I feel sad for her.

  5. Bravo Helen Thomas,
    It takes one gutsy old lady to speak the truth. Helen you remind me of another gutsy old lady who said Hell No I won’t sit at the back of the bus.

    Finally an American journalist says what the rest of the world knows, that Palestine is an occupied county. And by people of the world I mean the peoples of Africa, Europe, Asia and Australia.

    We all feel sorry for you living in the USA, as your media is not unbiased or free.

    The greatest holocaust in History took place in the Americas, over 60 Million American Indians slaughtered and their land stolen.

    And Yes Australia, we have our own shameful past with the holocaust of the Aboriginal people.

    But unlike America, Australian’s and our media acknowledge the past and encourage all our citizens to acknowledge the truth, and as a people we say “Never Again”

    Israel and its American backers seem to say “Never Again…to us” and seem set upon revenge, and attack anyone who dare suggest that the King has no clothes.

  6. Suzanne, your remark about never thinking of her as Lebanese is something we all should consider.

    As a kid I didn’t receive any indoctrination about Jews or any other group, for which I am thankful to my parents. The result was that at an older age when I had learned a little something of the world, I would find out that this or that person was of some ethnic group and I had the same reaction you did – surprise.

    Now where does the surprise come from if not this thought – “that person doesn’t conform to what I have come to expect from the group that he/she is part of” We are thrown off balance and want to reconcile the group and individual.

    So aren’t our brains putting things in reverse order? We strive to place the individual in the group instead of revising our view of the group based on the real, live individual that we know!

    Which is why, if we could only take people one at a time without the “background”, would it be possible to be anti-Semitic or anti-anything else? Anyone who starts in on the Jews or the Italians or the Blacks might as well have a neon-sign on his forehead flashing “I’m a fool” because if you know individuals of any group you know they aren’t part of some monolithic communal brain that has one outlook.

    It’s a full time job for meta-cognition (thinking about how we think) to police our own brain, watching out to catch it at what it loves to do.

  7. What bloody hypocrisy by the US media about what she said!

    We all know what she meant – that the West Bank has been illegally settled by Jewish immigrants (ironically not from Germany and Poland) and that they should leave.

    I, for one, will miss her non-MSM questions, as last exemplified by her attempt to have Obama discuss Israel’s possession of nuclear arms.

  8. Hesus, I didn’t need Helen Thomas to tell me that the West Bank is occupied. What I did need was for her to keep the antisemitic remarks out of the observation. It just facilitates dismissing everything she said. She could have made a dramatic point. Instead she just looked like an bigot.

  9. I just found this article on Haaretz and you can imagine others similar elsewhere :

    Dear Helen Thomas, we Jews aren’t getting the hell out of anywhere anymore
    Anti-Semitism is just the way it is, like a natural law; none of our efforts will absolve us of our real sin: existing and overcoming.By Sara K. Eisen

    So you can see what kind of response Helen Thomas’s remark evokes in those Jews who feel eternally under seige. The need this as fuel for their psychosis.

  10. quoted by Suzanne just above:

    “none of our efforts will absolve us of our real sin: existing and overcoming”

    Can this not also be claimed by the illegal Mexican immigrant to the United States? Existing and overcoming are owned exculsively by none. Evolution makes certain of this. What we do, in our group ideologies, is assert otherwise, this becoming our form of existing and overcoming.

    I saw a recent Charlie Rose program which featured an author who followed a US army station in Afganistan over many months, through several return trips (his book is titled “War”). He wanted to know, he says, why some hunger to return to that environment, re-enlisting or volunteering for such duty. At first, he said, he thought it the adrenalin high. He concluded later that, overall, it was something else: the essential necessity of each platoon member in defense of their post. Nowhere else is your presence more important. Charlie Rose asked, “Don’t you think the enemy feels the same way?” A brief “yes, probably” in reply, unelaborated.

    Existing and overcoming, made essential by the existing and overcoming of others. My success is your sin. So evolved Homo sapiens sapiens.

  11. I find it interesting that Sanford Watzman living in the US has more of a problem with Helen von Thomas statement than Haim does

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