Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Paul Jay Enlisted to Defend Helen Thomas

I'm sure I don't need to remind anyone about the recent Helen Thomas fiasco.  The Huffington Post has been covering it with gusto, and that includes publishing opinions on both sides of the issue. The original Helen Thomas article has amassed over 17,000 comments (wow!) but today I'm going to be focusing on a blog post by Paul Jay called, "In Defense of Helen Thomas-On Apologizing to Apologists." I find that to be quite an ironic title, seeing as how Mr. Jay is basically apologizing for the anti-Semitic comments of Ms. Thomas. I'm sure he in turn would in turn accuse me of being an apologist for Ms. Thomas' detractors, and around and around we would go on some kind of "apologist ferris wheel."

Anyway, before we get started here is the Helen Thomas video again. If you have already seen it, I suggest you see it again and realize analyze every word, because it will be important later:

Now in the days since this video has gone up, Thomas and her defenders have done the usual dance of the public figure when they are caught saying or doing something dumb: Apologize for saying it, say she said it but didn't mean it, then claim she was misinterpreted. Thomas herself has apologized, and now here is Mr. Jay to say that though we all misunderstood what she thinks, she's actually right. In his article he displays an incredible talent for reading Ms. Thomas' mind as well as the usual anti-Israel psuedohistory.

Mr. Jay begins with a backgrounder on Ms. Thomas and then proceeds to distort the events around which the video took place:
"On Friday she was asked by a guy who stuck a video camera in her face for any comments on Israel and she said, "Tell them to get the get the hell out of Palestine. Remember, these people [the Palestinians] are occupied and it's their land. It's not Germany, it's not Poland." She was asked where they should go and she answered, "They should go home, to Poland, Germany and America". The video has been making its way around the Internet....This was said days after the Israeli attack on the aid flotilla that killed at least nine activists as their boat sailed in international waters."
 Okay first of all, Friday was June 4th,  but that wasn't when she made the remarks.She made them on May 27th after a Jewish Heritage Celebration event. This is important because Mr. Jay has tried to spin the story that she only made it in response to the May 31st flotilla raid, but clearly that isn't true. A little background research could have prevented this mistake, assuming it wasn't made intentionally. Further, it wasn't "a guy who stuck a video camera in her face," it was Rabbi David Nesenhoff who approached for an interview. Mr. Jay's interpretation of the story would seem to indicate that it was some kind of tabloid reporter who did this, and yet again, that isn't true.

Mr. Jay continues by quoting her apology and lamenting that she continues to bear the brunt of attacks from politicians, including Ari Fleischer. Mr. Jay's sterling defense against Fleischer's remarks is a counter-attack of his own: 
"Perhaps Fleischer should also add that he is someone who knows something about apologies . . . being the leading apologist for the Bush administration as their war led to the deaths of at least one million Iraqis."
Oh, good comeback. Having a different political point of view on the Iraq War is quite different from making anti-Semitic comments. Not that I think Mr. Jay is completely wrong, but it's quite ironic that in an article apologizing for Ms. Thomas he is accusing Fleischer of being an apologist. He also repeats this "glass houses and stones" defense with Lanny Davis. But it is in the middle of the article that we get the really good stuff:

"Thomas was not talking about Jews that lived in the region from Roman times. If she had been given more of a chance to explain herself, rather than the 30-second sound bite traveling around the web, she might have made it clear that she also wasn't referring to the thousands of Jews who lived in Palestine prior to 1948....What Thomas clearly did say she was talking about was Jews that had come from Germany, Poland and America."
What? Who is Mr. Jay to tell us what Thomas did and did not mean to say? All we have to go on is the video, and in that video she said that "the Jews" should "go back to Germany and Poland." If she had meant just the Ashkenazi Jews, that is what she would have said. Now, if Mr. Jay had spoken with Ms. Thomas and provided an interview in which she had clarified her comments, that would have been fine. But she didn't clarify her comments, she only apologized for them.
What that means is we have Mr. Jay acting as an apologist (there's that word again) for Ms. Thomas, desperately trying to tell us that she was misinterpreted and that we are supposed to trust him to give us the real story. If Ms. Thomas didn't want us to think she was referring to all of the Jews of Israel, she should have made that clearer. If she was really misinterpreted, she should be the one to tell us that. Not Mr. Jay, who continues with his off-topic pseudohistory:
"As is well known, this state was created in the process of expelling thousands of Palestinians from their lands, people who had nothing to do with the European genocide against the Jews. You cannot say the same about the Anglo-American countries that for much of the '30s were quite happy to equip Hitler with cars and machinery. Quite content to shut their mouths as Hitler began an ethnic cleansing that would end in barbaric genocide."
1. We have already dealt with his Palsbara interpretation of history here, here and here. So I'm not going to spend any more time countering it.
2. That being said, the fact that Mr. Jay took his article in this direction is interesting. Because it is an attack on Israel's legitimacy (just like Helen Thomas said), so we are supposed to conclude that he agrees with her. Mr. Jay is saying the Palestinians are really the rightful owners of the land and that the Jews are punishing them unfairly for the Holocaust. So which is it, Mr. Jay? Is Helen Thomas misunderstood, or is she right? You clearly seem to think she is right but you just told us she was misinterpreted. You need to pick a point of view and stick with it. But let's move on:
"At any rate, we all know what's going on here. The hyper-pro-Israel lobby, in both parties, hasn't much liked the fact that Helen Thomas dares to speak up and question that most sacred of topics, and right from the front row of the White House Press Gallery. Heck, she had the gall to ask President Obama about Israel's "secret" nuclear weapons. She even asked the current White House spokesman why the US had not condemned the Israeli attacks on the aid flotilla. No wonder they want her the hell out."
What is this, an MJ Rosenberg article? I thought the tin-foil hat conspiracy theories were strictly his department! Anyway, what Helen Thomas did here was saying that Israel shouldn't exist. That's not "questioning a topic," and it's not "criticizing Israel" as her HP defenders love to claim. It's calling for ethnic cleansing and the destruction of a sovereign state as well as a US ally. And that is why people in the US government are condemning her. You'll notice no one cared when she talked about the nuclear weapons or the aid flotilla. But you're right, let's all just pretend that AIPAC put her on the hit list. It's much easier that way.

One last thing to demonstrate:
"I said in my last blog, not all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitism - but some is. Helen Thomas' isn't."
Gee, yet another Great Anti-Zionist Strawman. Helen Thomas said Israel shouldn't exist. That's not any more criticism of Israel than saying Barak Obama is a Muslim is criticism of his policies toward the Gulf oil spill. It's not disagreeing with what he does, it's an attack on who he is. The same way Helen Thomas (and Mr. Jay) are attacking what Israel is.


  1. Yup. Anti-Semitism is the last remaining, politically correct bigotry on earth. Had Thomas made a bigoted statement about blacks - would an article have been published on HP defending what she said? We know the answer to the question and Thomas did not criticize Israeli policy. She criticized Israel's right to exist. There are those who try to obfuscate issue. Its perfectly clear and should be to the Paul Jays of the world.

  2. Could she have been referring to this type of thing ... illustrated in the blog below -- "Touchdown"? Touchdown from where to where? Confusion seems to be the order of the day on this topic -- with a whole lot of runaway statements made all over the place in the meantime.

    In any case:

  3. curious why you left out the following from Jay's piece: "Do I think all Jews (that came after 1948) should get out of Palestine? Well, no more or less than Europeans should get out of North America, or the Portuguese should get out of Brazil, or the British should get the hell out of Australia. There does come a point where such things are simply not possible.

    There's really no need anyway, there's plenty of land and resources. The only issue is, are the rights of the people who owned the land before colonization going to be respected now; is there proper compensation; do they have the right to self-determination and so on.

    In the case of the Palestinians, what Israel needs to do has been made very clear in UN resolutions and in the demands of the Palestinians. In spite of the illegal blockade of Gaza, almost no one, including the Hamas representative I interviewed a few weeks ago, says the Jews have to get out. Ok there are some that say it, people get very angry after 62 years in a refugee camp, but what most Palestinians want is to live as equals with Jews in a truly democratic state."

  4. Anonymous #1:
    All we have to go by is what she said. She didn't specify settlers and didn't tell "the Jews" to go back to "Israel," did she? We know by now that "Palestine" can mean whatever the Palestinians and their supporters what it to mean. When they want to be perceived as people who just want a state of their own, Palestine is the WB and Gaza. But when their leaders talk to their own people about it and when their supporters cheer at anti-Israel rallies, Palestine is "from the river to the sea." Thomas does not specify which version of Palestine she meant, so *you* can't put words in her mouth.

    Anonymous #2: I left those out because they are not particularly controversial viewpoints. Except for when he claimed the Palestinians wanted a one-state solution without citing. Very interesting.

  5. No, you left them out because the are unsuited to your agenda.

  6. The part of Jay's comment that wasn't included consisted of A) whining that it's not possible for Israel to be destroyed at the present time, B) Palestinians are always right, all the time, up to and including their desire to overcome Factor A, establish a "secular binational Palestine", and get rid of Israel that way and C) a wonderful anachronism about the officially-legal blockade (proof that the UN sometimes recognizes the truth). In short, this analysis was not intended to be PR or hand-holding for Mr. Jay. If you don't like that, tough.