07 June 2010

Helen Thomas

The Washington Post | Martin Weil | Helen Thomas agrees to bow out as commencement speaker at Walt Whitman High

Veteran journalist Helen Thomas, who recently made controversial comments about Israel and Palestine, agreed Sunday not to appear as commencement speaker at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda. [...]

Thomas, 89, who has covered the White House for decades, provoked criticism by her response in an impromptu video interview that was posted online. In a brief comment, she said Israelis should "get the hell" out of Palestine and go to places including Poland, Germany and the United States.
Wow. There's not a worse high school in Washington to have to speak at after saying something like that. Whitman, my alma mater, has a very high Jewish population, and has a high proportion of students and parents who are politically aware enough to have very strong opinions about a great many things.*  These combine to form a sizable subset of the community who is extremely nationalistic when it comes to Isreal.

* Not necessarily informed enough to have rational, supported opinions, but informed enough to be dangerous.

This happens to be the prime reason I am uninterested in the whole Israel/Palestine/Arab epic brouhaha. A very vocal subset of my high school strongly believed that anything and everything the Israeli government did was 100% justified in every particular because {the Palestinians did it first/did it more violently, they have a family member who was killed by a terrorist, the Holocaust was terrible, etc.}. When less than full support for Israel is explicitly equated with anti-Semitism you're left with a very boring and frustrating environment for discussion, so I more or less abandoned interest in the geopolitics of the Levant when I was 13 or 14.
In an interview, Whitman parent Raisa Slepoy said, "I don't know why anybody would ask a person like that to speak at a commencement ceremony . . . especially where there's a pretty large Jewish population."
Practically, Slepoy is right. It's a sad commentary on the world, though, that people (on all sides) tend to equate "being Jewish" with "support for the government of The State of Israel."
"You know," [Patricia O'Neill, president of the Montgomery County School Board] said, responding to a question, "one worries about freedom of speech." But she added, "The biggest concern is this is the kids' day, and nothing should be a distraction."
How many times do people like me need to make the point that there is a world of difference between not inviting someone to use your stage and abridging freedom of speech?


  1. #1: Watch the video again. She never said that "Israelis" should "return" to Germany and Poland; she was instead referring to Jews.

    #2: It is unlikely that "anyone and everyone" would support Israel no matter what. But to test that theory, you should look for Israeli behavior that is similar to Arab behavior, and see what the Jewish reaction would be. For example, what was the Jewish reaction to Israel initiating genocidal wars against Arabs? Or the reaction to firing rockets, without provocation, at Arab civilians?

    Oh wait, those things never happened...

  2. Now you're missing what I said. I didn't say everyone supported Israeli no matter what they could conceivably do. I said that a fraction of people supported them no matter what they had actually done. These people, sadly, were vocal enough that they dominated the terms of debate.

    (This isn't limited to Jews supporting Israeli of course. There are trade unionists that are convinced everything unions want is a great idea, free marketeers that think whatever a corporation does is dandy, mainland Chinese who think... you get the picture.)

    If I was forced to choose a side in this situation I'd probably throw in with the Israelis too, but they aren't perfect. You can't defend whatever bad thing FOO they have done with "the Arabs did bad thing BAR." That doesn't get you anywhere.