Back to Back: the Helen Thomas affair
Posted by worriedlebanese on 11/06/2010
You’ve undoubtedly heard what happened to Helen Thomas! She resigned after making a comment on Jews having to go back to Poland and Germany. In case you haven’t heard the story, here’s the video that started an avalanche of reactions in cyberspace with some extolling her as a martyr of the jewish lobby, and others congratulating themselves for debunking an antisemite (or even a nazi) and applauding her disgrace.
All this started in Washington DC, so why is it relevant to us, Lebanese? Well, Helen Thomas’s family hails from Lebanon… But that never brought Helen Thomas any attention in Lebanon. So how can one explain all the attention she got in our media? Let’s see what three editorialists have to say about it:
Michael Young, “Arabs shouldn’t weep for Helen Thomas“, Daily Star (june 10th): ” It’s never pleasant to see someone self-destruct”. The argument that “she was pushed out of her job because of criticism from the ‘Jewish lobby’” is “nonsense. The condemnation was universal, and rightly so”. The editorial focuses on Helen Thomas’ words: “They should go home” to “Poland, Germany, America and everywhere else”. He looks into their significance in an American, Jewish and Arab context.
Michael Young makes it clear that he is no fan of Helen Thomas, and he obviously has scores to settle with her for her adamant opposition to the neo-con worldview he shares with the previous American administration. His arguments are familiar to all pro-peace activists. But he never states the obvious, how hypersensitive the US is to anything that touches Jews/Israel. Had Helen Thomas said something similar about the chinese of Malaysia for instance, we probably wouldn’t have heard anything about it.
Badr al-Ibrahim, “Helen Thomas, the voice that cries in the wilderness of America” (in Arabic), al-Akhbar (june 10th): “When it comes to Israel, freedom of expression becomes a sin for which one is reprimanded”. The editorial focuses on “censorship”: “Free media is a slave to a corrupt political ideology, and it suffers in this case from the same ails than the media in the « Unfree world »: double standard, partiality, deviation from objectivity, and a rejection of intellectual diversity, as well as actively helping the government suppress opinions, criminalise them and force “expiation” on those who express them”.
Badr al-Ibrahim is far from convincing. Comparing the freedom of expression that is enjoyed in the US to the one that is prevalent in the Middle East is simply preposterous. Every society has “its issues” and can be hypersensitive when they are discussed. But that has nothing to do with state censorship, and is not always related to the existence of a lobby.
For more details about what happened, check out Hicham Hamza, The Helen Thomas Affair (in French), Oumma (June 9th) for whom Helen Thomas “resigned herself to leaving office because of the uproar caused by her radical critique of the State of Israel. Back on the underside of a timely political-mediatic diversion”. In his view, the affair is “a degression designed to divert the attention of the American public from the real issues of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis”, and he presents all the info he gathered in this perspective.
Sure, some people have pushed that issue as a divergence mechanism. But this doesn’t explain everything. Helen Thomas did say what she said, and it wasn’t even accurate (most Israeli Jews do not come from Poland and Germany, a larger number comes from the Middle East and North Africa). And this would have hit the cyberspace sooner or later making the same splash.