Anti-Israel Does Not Mean Anti-Semitic

If one good thing can come out of the Helen Thomas brouhaha, it would be questioning the meaning of the term "anti-semitism."

I have gone back and forth on the whole Thomas affair. One point that has always been clear to me is that her statement was "anti-Israel." A second is that she should not have been fired for shooting off her mouth (being "pro-Israel" should not be a requirement to hold a job in media or anywhere else). And, third, is that her statement, while anti-Israel, was not anti-Semitic.

Anti-semitism is the dislike of Jews. There is nothing in her intemperate remark that indicates that she does not like Jews. In fact, I know that she is not prejudiced against Jews and has worked and socialized with Jews her entire life. She would not discriminate against Jews in hiring. She would not ban Jews from some theoretical "Helen Thomas Country Club." She could not care less if Jews moved in next door. And "Helen Thomas University" would not have a quota on Jewish students.

Jews who know her well say she is entirely without prejudice against Jews (or anyone else).

But she clearly does not believe Israel should have been established in 1948. So what. Both the State and Defense departments opposed the establishment of Israel because they thought a Jewish state in the midst of the Arab world would mean nothing but trouble. Many Jews who lived in what was then Palestine (like Martin Buber) opposed the establishment of the state. So did the now incredibly anti-Palestinian American Jewish Committee.

Sixty years later Helen Thomas still feels that way.

I think she's wrong. Israel exists and, no matter what should or shouldn't have been done in 1948, it is ugly to suggest that the six million Jews of Israel should "go back to Poland" (even if she didn't mean it literally). But uttering a few repugnant sentences about the State of Israel does not make a person anti-Semitic. Nor would a whole book or ten books making that point. It makes the person who says or writes them anti-Israel -- which is nothing more than a statement of disdain about a foreign nation. If a person can dislike or even hate Germany, or Japan, or Poland, or France, or Mexico, he or she can dislike or hate Israel.

If she had said that American Jews should "get the hell out of America," that would be anti-Semitic. But Israel-bashing is quite as permissible as Palestinian-bashing. The only difference is that the second is a popular position that earns votes and campaign donations (see Schumer, Chuck). The first can result in getting fired.