by Carol Smaldino, CSW
After my initial anger and dismay of the ditching of Helen Thomas, who for me and others stands not only for freedom of speech but for responsible journalism, I tried to take a few steps back and ask out loud what might be some of the deeper issues at work.
As a Jew -- an ambivalent one as my readers might have already have guessed -- I approach this topic with a set of biases, something we all tend to do but few of us will admit. And, since political correctness too often controls the face of politics, one would think that Ms. Thomas's sophistication might tell her that, for Jews of the Holocaust, Germany and Poland are not home. If anything, Germany was the home embraced by millions of Jews who assimilated only to have their chosen homeland betray them mercilessly, whereas Poland, for most Jews who speak of it, was never fully a home.
Yet, going a step further, how on earth did Israel become home to displaced and yearning Jews who determined that their Biblical home would be the only choice for them? In the ease with which many will hate and have hated Jews for their residing in territory that was not theirs except in one bible, can we remember that no such grand decision could have ever been made by them?
The debate around Helen Thomas reminds me of a scene from the last half hour of the epic 1961 film A Judgment at Nuremberg. The movie is most often recalled as an uplifting true tale of the rejection of a mass mentality that insists on obedience ahead of integrity. Those too young to remember the whole film still know that Nuremberg was the place where it was decided that obedience of orders did not negate one's human responsibility or ethical judgment.
However, there is a scene in the last half hour that I had forgotten until I caught the movie on TV a couple of weeks ago. It depicted Spencer Tracy as the lone honorable judge who defied the quasi orders, not of the Germans, but of the Americans who brought messages from Washington that a guilty verdict would be very inconvenient and perhaps politically dangerous.
Why, you might ask? Well, political times had changed between the end of World War II and the trial. The Cold War now out-shadowed any need for either justice or an honest delving into the causes of the atrocities of the Holocaust. By then, the powers that be decided that the United States needed Germany against Russia. After all, there were nuclear dangers to be faced.
Who had time for the trouble that holding Nazi's to account could cause? And, so as history recorded and the movie attested, although judgments were made at Nuremberg, we remember that time through webs of haze and propaganda.
Which begs the question: Would an America who didn't want to be inconvenienced from political backlash over alienating our new best friend, Germany, have (without ulterior motives) agreed to Israel taking its "just" place next to neighbors who felt invaded by its presence and determined from the start to annihilate it as a nation?
Those of a certain age might recall that time of history as one when incomplete evidence and a craving of blame ruled the headlines. Joe McCarthy led the big hunt for Communists and proof of blind patriotism was required much like proof of pure blood was required by Germany a few decades before. Such extreme love of country can yield obedience to the harshest rules.
Lest we forget, such blind obedience and revisionist nostalgia was the foundation of Nazi success in Germany, so be wary of any patriotism that denies reason or responsibility.
Even as a Jew, I am not sure about Israel's right to be where it is, just as I am not sure of America's right to be on a land possessed and honored way before our own takeover. Whatever one's view, there is no easy answer.
What we need now is honest discussion that panders neither to the Jewish population in America or in Israel since, that would be the same as what our government did with regards to a Germany -- a country we couldn't "afford" to offend.
So I submit that it is wrong to shame Helen Thomas, who, throughout her life has been one of the only people to dare to offend those who needed it. Perhaps she could have stood being a tad more "diplomatic" in her remarks. And although her words shocked me, I say with true reverence for all that she has given that we cannot afford the rule of political correctness by which America uses Israel.
Neither can we afford to blame the Jews for a national policy that defends Israel with the knee jerk defensiveness or for motives of military and religious needs. (Think: How many Evangelicals would it take to make Jesus come again without a Jewish presence in Israel?)
Helen Thomas did us the favor of saying out loud that which many of us have been thinking. For those of us who believe that it is death not to both remember and absorb history, scapegoating Helen Thomas is an act of violence.
In a world too small for any scapegoats, Helen Thomas is not a hero because of the suffering heaped on her today rather because of what she has given to us over a lifetime. Those willing to hate her need to look at the hate inside themselves; the hatred all too ready to run with the blame of the moment.
It is our addiction to blame and not Helen Thomas, that is our problem.