Worried Lebanese

thought crumbs on lebanese and middle eastern politics

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.


9 Responses to “Back to Back: the Helen Thomas affair”

  1. j26 said

    Thanks for your work on this site.

    Her comments were used so quickly to direct attention away from the flotilla violence, and shift it back to a victimization narrative.

    But for me the more destructive diversion is how these endless media games work to divert attention away from an open discussion in the u.s. of the effects of america’s role in the conflict (and region) on itself. Of how the u.s. is making the people of the region pay for america’s inability to create for its own citizens a fair and sustainable economy that’s not addicted to oil or weapons. And also how america’s failure to act impartially for democratic or human rights is so toxic to itself.

    It seems like, for america, “leading” has become the ultimate escape from taking responsibility for the consequences of its actions and the biggest obstacle to creating a new role for itself, that places it on equal footing with others.

  2. lirun said

    WL – really?

    its a refined soft core conspiracy theory that works to some extent.. michael more dabbled in it in his 9/11 whatTHEf$ckumentary..

  3. Badr al Ibrahim and others are clearly entitled to their opinion that support the positions advocated by Ms. Thomas just as much as others had the right to disagree with her. What is sad about this episode is the attempt, the weak rationale I might add, used by Mr. Al Ibrahim to argue about double standards when it comes to the freedom of expression. The claim sometimes openly at other times implicit is that the Helen Thomas affair is similar to that sad episode of the Danish cartoons. No one can seriously take that position since the difference between disagreeing with a point of view is totally different that suggesting that an individual has no right to a particular point of view is that between night and day. I doubt it whether Helen Thomas will consider this case to be a freedom of speech case because it is not.

    • I’m not sure I’m following you GK.
      I agree with you that legally, it’s not a matter of “freedom of speech”… but that’s not a legal issue that’s being discussed.
      In Helen Thomas’ case, a person was shown the door because of an “opinion” (which includes a false allegation) she expressed privately. Legally, there’s no case against Thomas.
      Like you, I believe that most of Badr al-Ibrahim’s arguments do not hold. But I believe the central issue that bugs him does hold: For not other “International” issue would an opinion have had these “social” consequences; there are some red lines in every country that people cannot cross without paying a price for it.

  4. j.bamford said

    I fully agree with J26 and have always regarded the USA’s utterly corrupt government as a bully in a China shop…so willing to pull a stunt like the inside job of 9/11 and so many other criminal atrocities….on a global scale for decades.

  5. j26 said

    dear j bamford,

    i don’t think the usa’s government is totally corrupt, not at all. there are a lot of hard-working, dedicated individuals who serve at all levels. it’s not monolithic. it just seems that accountability has been so badly compromised, mostly by the way elections are financed and by the dominance of special interests and big media. elites end up being able to ignore what a majority of people may want, whether it’s foreign policy or health care. but i don’t think it’s secretly conspiratorial. it’s just the way power is being exercised. the system can tend to pressure people to disconnect from the real consequences of their actions.

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