House Arabs Only Defend Speech That Doesn’t Offend Zionists

By now, many people have heard about the repercussions of Helen Thomas’ comment:

“Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine […] Remember, these people are occupied, and it’s their land; it’s not German, it’s not Poland’s… “they should go home” to “Poland, Germany, […] America and everywhere else. Why push people out of there who have lived there for centuries?”

As can be expected, this remark led to a firestorm. Thomas apologized and subsequently retired from her long career. Her agency dropped her and an invitation to give the commencement speech at a Maryland high school was withdrawn.

Public reaction aside, let’s take a close look at the substance of what she said. She simply called for the decolonization of the Arab land of Palestine in the same sense that Algeria was decolonized of the French. She demanded the reversal of the historical wrong of settler colonialism. Her comment didn’t advocate for any kind of violence. In fact, she didn’t even demand that the Jewish settler community be “removed” or “expelled.” She only advocated that they “leave,” which implies a voluntary act.

Helen Thomas is not the first to note that all Palestine is Arab land. Gandhi stated:

Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French. It is wrong and in-human to impose the Jews on the Arabs… Surely it would be a crime against humanity to reduce the proud Arabs so that Palestine can be restored to the Jews partly or wholly as their national home.”

Even if we were assume for the sake of argument that Thomas’ comment was beyond the pale, doesn’t the First Amendment apply to her? Or does the Arab-American establishment only defend speech that doesn’t offend Zionists? The Arab-American leadership’s reactions to Thomas ranged from deafening silence to outright condemnation. It’s been three days since the controversy erupted. That’s plenty of time for anyone outraged by the attacks on Helen Thomas to voice objection and show solidarity.

American Arab Anti Discrimination Committee (ADC)

Although ADC had honored Helen Thomas in the past and hosted her as a speaker, the line was drawn at her remark. As of the date of this writing, ADC has issued no press releases defending Thomas’ fundamental right to free speech, not to mention the Palestinians’ right to full decolonization of their land. Neither did we receive as little as an internal email on ADC’s list encouraging members to stand by their brave fellow Arab. If ADC invites her back to speak or receive awards in the future, Ikhras readers will each receive a free hookah.

Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR)

The classical Islamic position is that Palestine is Islamic land, that Al-Aqsa mosque is the third holiest site in Islam from which the Prophet took a voyage to the heavens. Palestine obviously carries much weight with Muslims, observant and secular alike. However, CAIR has said nothing in solidarity with Helen Thomas. She might have won CAIR’s support if she were a rabbi.

Hussein Ibish: Nothing.

American Task Force on Palestine: A search for “helen thomas” reveals no relevant results.

Irshad Manji: Nothing.

American Islamic Forum for Democracy: Nothing.

Arab American Institute: We can understand Arab and Muslim groups’ reluctance to support Helen Thomas. Her comment, after all, offends Zionists in the same way slavemasters would be offended when called upon to free their slaves. Silence regarding Helen Thomas’ right to express an opinion, while not excusable, is understandable. So why would any Arab-American want to join the mob that is attacking her? In what the Arab American Institute’s James Zogby thinks is damage control, he volunteers that “Helen Thomas clearly misspoke,” that “It is a shame that her career ends this way” and that her remark was a “mistake.” Zogby could have stopped there but he went on to compare her remark to Rush Limbaugh’s “disgraceful and insulting comments about African Americans, gays, Muslims, and women” and “Pat [Robertson’s] bizarre pronouncements connecting the devastation of Katrina or Ariel Sharon’s stroke with God’s justice”.  Why is Zogby pouring gasoline on fire? Isn’t that the ADL‘s role? Would Zogby say it’s right and moral to impose the Jews on the Arabs? Does he in fact believe Palestine is German or Polish land? James, if you can’t support Helen Thomas’ right to free speech, at least IKHRAS!

While the Arab and Muslim American mainstream demonstrably failed to stand up for their fellow Arab-American’s right to express an opinion, we note that at least one Mexican-American group has succeeded where House Arabs have failed. This group’s solidarity with Helen Thomas is remarkable considering the Mexican-Americans community has enough to deal with; the struggle in light of the recent Arizona SB 1070 law. The below was forwarded to us on emaill:

On the day we in Mexico celebrate the Day of Freedom of Expression, Helen Thomas, a bright and daring journalist who until yesterday, had been reporting for the Hearst network of newspapers such as The San Francisco Chronicle, among others, and a reporter who before being forced out occupied one of the first seats at the press conference room of the White House, was fired or, as the current Chairman of the corporation put it:  “presented her resignation…” only for voicing her thoughts in regards to the criminal assault of the Israeli army against 19 human rights activists in the Mediterranean Sea that were in route to the Gaza Strip to carry humanitarian aid to the Palestine People.Besides the violation to one of the most sacred liberties a human being has such as the right of free expression, Helen Thomas was obligated to resign to her job, one she had been performing with brilliance and dignity for more than 50 years, and for this reason we affirm:  WE ARE ALL HELEN THOMAS, AND WHAT HAS BEEN DONE AGAINST HER HAS BEEN DONE AGAINST ALL OF US!

Patricia Barba Avila
Directora General del Consejo Nacional de Comunicadores Ciudadanos, A.C. (CONACC)
Titular del programa Desde la raíz transmitido por Radio La Nueva República todos los martes y viernes de 19 a 21 (hora del Pacífico) y de 21 a 23 (hora del Centro) [ingresar a Google y teclear Radio La Nueva República)
Jueza para el Tribunal Internacional de Conciencia (TIC) – Foro Social Mundial (FSM)

  11 comments for “House Arabs Only Defend Speech That Doesn’t Offend Zionists

  1. November 19, 2012 at 10:01 AM

    it had nothing to do with guts and evynethirg to do with sympathetic ideologies and being allies to the liberal cause.they knew even a hint of unbiased reporting is what sank kerry so they decided in mass to go full tilt behind obama.

  2. Tareq Boukai
    August 1, 2010 at 12:10 PM

    I know it is an old piece, but it is inaccurate and important to respond to.
    Many American Muslims commented on this issue and criticized those attacking Helen. As for her comments, she herself retracted them after realizing that they were not best articulated.

    Here is an example from a CAIR commentary.
    http://www.cairchicago.org/2010/06/09/huffington-post-ahmed-rehab-more-outrage-over-helen-thomas-comment-than-murder-of-us-citizen/

  3. July 4, 2010 at 6:15 PM

    ISRAEL’S BRUTALITY
    Israel’s sadistic cruelty has surpassed the monstrous behaviour of other notorious barbarians.
    The famous Israeli academic Yeshayahu Leibowitz described Israel’s mentality with the following statement: “Everything Israel has done since 1967 was either evil stupidity, or stupidly evil.”
    When asked about the Israeli army (the IDF) he replied: “they behave like JUDEO-NAZIS.”
    The persecution, harassment, torture, incarceration, and deliberate slaughter of thousands of innocent Palestinian civilians since 1948, has made the word “JUDAISM” synonymous with “BARBARISM”.
    Innocent Palestinian men, women, and children have been incarcerated for decades for no reason at all.
    Hundreds of D.U (Depleted Uranium) and Phosphorus bombs have been dropped on Gaza because the majority of the Palestinians voted for a Government that believes in justice and freedom.
    The Israelis make huge profits from the sale of Palestinian body parts.
    The Israelis have destroyed 70% of the homes in Gaza. To add insult to injury, they will not allow the importation of bricks and cement to Gaza! Hence the Israeli’s violent rage when they learned that the GOOD SAMARITANS were bringing bricks, cement, and medicaments, to the desperate Palestinians, in their HUMANITARIAN AID FLOTILLAS.
    ONLY A DESPICABLE BARBARIAN WOULD KILL A GOOD SAMARITAN.
    Barbarians should be ostracized by all righteous nations and all ethical people in the world.
    Len Giles

  4. June 21, 2010 at 12:44 PM

    so i want to say that i love the blog.

    a political project both independent and critical of the official Arab and Muslim organizations in this country has been needed for a long time.

    this post in particular runs the gamut of those organizations and correctly indicts them for their lack of will and vision of struggle for Arab and Muslim peoples in the US. while these inevitable failures can be traced to the class content of those organizations, it is also due to our failure to critically assess and craft anew the social ideologies that have defined Muslim and Arab movements in the past; i.e. Arab nationalism, Islamism, Communism, etc.

    i really like that you’re using Malcolm as a touchstone for this project. he represented a key break with the liberal people of color organizations of his time — the house Negroes — but more importantly for us — Arabs and Muslims — he embodied and built international international connections between national liberation struggles abroad and struggles within the US. for this is important, because much of the discourse within our communities has revolved around the question: what is our place in American society. this, no doubt, has been exacerbated by the role of white supremacy in the attacks by US empire, and the resulting civilizational discourse that’s ensued.

    Malcolm is also important because towards the end of his career he began the journey — like so many other black, yellow and brown revolutionaries of his time — to explore the relationship between nationalism and class struggle. our generation is going to have to take up this task as well.

    Malcolm plays a primary role in the way a lot of people of color and Muslims in this country imagine themselves and their ability to fight back. i hope you post some more on the importance and legacy of Malcolm for Arab and Muslim peoples, but also on other figures like Franz Fanon and Ali Shariati.

    this will be essential if we’re going develop concrete strategies of action, and successful organizational models of struggle.

    on that tip, you might be up on this, but over at Kabobfest there was a post on the Muslim Student Union’s disruption of an Israeli state official at UC Irvine. there’s a debate in the comments section over whether the MSU should have been leading this effort.

    it’s getting at those same questions of the role of Muslim peoples in the struggle, strategy, leadership, and organization.

    http://www.kabobfest.com/2010/06/uc-irvine%E2%80%99s-suspension-of-the-muslim-union.html

    a couple quick things on the blog, though. i know the blog is new and you’re probably engaged in some fine tuning, but i had a hard time finding the “about” page — could y’all put up a link to it on the home page. also, do y’all have an email address?

    thanks.

    • admin
      June 22, 2010 at 8:13 PM

      Brother Jubayr, thank you very much for your thoughtful, kind words. We also like your website. Feel free to link to us, and we’ll link to you. You’re right; we’re still applying the final touches before our format is completely set up. Our About page is: http://ikhras.com/?page_id=2. Here’s info about our logo: http://ikhras.com/?page_id=20. And our email is contact@ikhras.com.
      Sincerely,
      Your sisters and brothers at Ikhras

  5. Shamma
    June 15, 2010 at 1:08 PM

    KPH, first, let’s agree that Zogby disagrees with the essence of Thomas’ remarks. He clearly does not see that Jewish settlers should leave Palestine. He calls her remark a “mistake”. Second, he evokes Limbaugh et al. as people who say “disgraceful and insulting comments” and get away with it. How are people like Limbaugh, who says remarks that deserve “indignation,” relevant to Helen Thomas? Zogby is asking “how come an outrageous remark by Limbaugh doesn’t get punished the way Thomas’ shameful remark was?”. He’s equating the two morally and demanding that what he considers Thomas’ “shameful” remark be let off the hook as Limbaugh’s was.

  6. KPH17
    June 15, 2010 at 7:24 AM

    First of all, the 1st Amendment does not mean that you can say whatever you want and expect that there will be no consequences (just no legal consequences). Second, I just read Zogby’s piece on Helen Thomas and, unfortunately, the author of this blog (as with their interpretation of the 1st Amendment) completely misses the point. The article does not compare Helen Thomas’ comments to those of Limbaugh and company, it points out exactly what you claim it fails to point out…that comments that are mildly anti-Israel are treated as much more serious than abhorrent comments about other groups (i.e. blacks, gays, etc.). Furthermore, it takes people like Ari Fleischer and Sarah Palin to task for their blatant hypocrisy. Ms. Thomas’ comments were, uncharacteristically, emotionally charged and callous, but they should not taint an otherwise wonderful career.

  7. t.m.tuaima
    June 11, 2010 at 1:42 PM

    what i feel as palestenian that my issue is complicated by 3 factors:
    1-the abselute support of all means that usa giving to israel even if that contradict usa needs and benifits.
    2-the people who never till the truth because they choose to be with power side against the right of the major (victoms-palestenians),simply because they built there lives on liyes and to get the benifits of his position.
    3-the week arab nation especially in science and politics as well as the way how the represent themselves making them easly loosing a very clear rhights.
    Helen Thomas told what she beleave and every body with open mind also beleave i respect her and one day every body will understant that whatever hapen the right things will be dominant.

  8. June 10, 2010 at 11:54 AM

    Louis, whenever I bring up a substantive point, you always like to change the topic to something irrelevant. Is it so hard for you to address concrete arguments?

    Again, Ikhras approvingly quotes Gandhi that England belongs to the “English”, and that France belongs to the “French”.

    Do you agree with that, Louis? Do you approve of the murderous EU border regime that aims to keep Europe for the “Europeans”?

  9. June 10, 2010 at 8:35 AM

    For those puzzled by negative potential’s comment, he is like many German leftists confused about the issues in the Middle East. He sees it as a rivalry between two nationalisms and adopts a “plague on both your houses” approach. Fortunately, the rest of the left does not share his views.

  10. negative potential
    June 9, 2010 at 12:36 PM

    “Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French.”

    What an odd statement. Does that mean that Ikhras supports the horrendous structural violence perpetrated upon asylum seekers in Europe who don’t have the privilege of being born ‘English’ or ‘French’?

    How does one define ‘Englishness’ or ‘Frenchness’ or ‘Arabness’? Is there a gene for ‘Arabness’? or ‘French’ blood?

    What an odd Blut und Boden ideology.

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