A year ago, the long-time doyen of the White House press corps, Helen Thomas, sparked controversy when she declared in a statement caught on video and which subsequently went virile, that Jewish Israelis should, "get the hell out of Palestine. They should go home to Poland, Germany, America and everywhere else." The furor that erupted terminated her White House news career amidst a cloud, sparking claims by Thomas and her supporters that this was another example of "Zionist media control," which supposedly curtails open discussion of the Palestinian perspective on the Arab-Israeli conflict. The interview Ms. Thomas has just conducted with Joy Behar on CNN places her views in a different context.
When asked by Behar if she regretted what some felt were the insensitivity of her past remarks, Helen Thomas stood by her call for Israel to, in effect, liquidate itself with the departure of all her Jewish citizens, to Poland and Germany in particular. When Joy Behar brought up the history of anti-Semitism in Europe and the destruction of the Jewish communities in those two countries during the Second World War, the same nations that Ms. Thomas wants the Israelis to relocate to, Thomas said in all seriousness, "there hasn't been persecution since that, since World War II. You don't take other people's land."
No persecution of Jews in Poland since World War II? No doubt, Helen Thomas will consider any questioning of her comments on CNN as an attempt to censor her criticism of Israel, or "misunderstanding" of what she meant, though I think the intent of her commentary is unambiguous. I would rather resort to the inanimate objectivity of history.
At the end of the Second World War, more than ninety percent of Poland's prewar Jewish population of three million had been annihilated. Contrary to Helen Thomas's claim, the remnant were not spared anti-Semitic violence and persecution. On July 4, 1946, in the Polish city of Kielce the false claim about the kidnapping of a child sparked an hysterical anti-Semitic pogrom that bore no difference from the worst outrages of medieval barbarism. Forty Jewish residents of Kielce were slaughtered in cold blood, after having miraculously survived the Nazi Final Solution.
Understandably, the Kielce Pogrom sparked migration of most of the Jewish survivors of the Holocaust from Poland, however a small community continued to exist. That did not save them from the continuing ravages of anti-Semitism. In 1968 a student protest movement opposing the Communist regime arose in Poland. In its effort to suppress the revolt, the Communist authorities unleashed an officially-sanctioned anti-Semitic campaign, which persecuted the remaining Jewish citizens of Poland, forcing most of them to flee.
The Palestinian-Israeli conflict is complex, and arouses passions on both sides. Serious intellectuals representing the Palestinian perspective have been able to articulate their point of view without seeking to delegitimize Israelis or distort or rewrite modern European history. In making her bizarre revisionist claims about Poland being transformed after 1945 into the ideal location for all the Jewish citizens of Israel, Helen Thomas does not advance the Palestinian cause, but to the contrary marginalizes it through alignment with extremist views based on historical illusions and fantasies. At the very least, this is not a cogent attempt towards redressing the legitimate grievances of the Palestinian people.
Finally, the grotesqueness and illogic of Ms. Thomas's remarks at least gives one the suspicion of an anti-Semitic attitude. Incredibly, in her interview with Joy Behar, Helen Thomas claims it is impossible for her to be an anti-Semite, since being of Lebanese background she is herself Semitic, while adding that the Jewish residents of Israel are really Polish and therefore not Semitic. In other words, in the worldview of Helen Thomas, anti-Semitism as an anti-Jewish phenomenon simply doesn't exist.
In his classic study on anti-Semitism, the renowned French existential writer, Jean-Paul Sartre wrote that, "anti-Semitism, in short, is fear of the human condition." In fearing historical truth, which includes the reality that anti-Semitism remained a potent and at times deadly force in Poland, Germany and throughout the Arab World (where most Israeli Jews, prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union, originated from), Ms. Thomas has publicly expressed herself in a manner that at least opens up the suspicion that she harbors anti-Jewish views. In the final analysis, one of the most heinous acts of bigotry one can engage in is to deny an entire people the reality of their past suffering and oppression. Ironically, Helen Thomas has engaged in the very act she accuses Israel of in its relationship towards the Palestinians.