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 Her agency dropped her and an invitation to give the commencement speech at a Maryland high school was withdrawn.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)