[THS] !!!! Helen Thomas: Freedom of Speech and the Zionist Albatross
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ths at psalience.org
Fri Jan 14 13:26:04 CET 2011
Helen Thomas: Freedom of Speech and the Zionist Albatross
By DIANE SHAMMAS
January 13, 2011 "Counterpunch" -- On January 8 the Society of Professional
Journalists Executive Committee voted to retire the Helen Thomas Lifetime
Achievement Award. The SPJs full board is expected to give their final approval
within 10 days. In the meantime, amidst the unrelenting backlash, Helen Thomas has
rebounded as a columnist for a North Virginian community paper, Falls Church News
The core criticism against Helen Thomas is not so much her one comment captured
on video May 27, 2010, or the subsequent round of comments shared at a diversity
workshop in Dearborn on December 2 that both Wayne University and the Society for
Professional Journalists assert is their reason for pulling her awards. Rather, it is what
all of the comments symbolize --an opposition to Zionism. Please how long do many
of us who fight against social injustice, including a growing number of anti-Zionist
American and Israeli Jews, have to engage in this tireless defense that we are not
against Jews or Israelis, but a racist ideology? A racist ideology that was responsible
for the ethnic cleansing of three quarters of the indigenous population of Palestine in
1948 similar in impact to the catastrophe of the dispossession of American Indians
and the redistribution of the tribal lands of the Five Civilized Tribes [1887 Dawes
Hurling accusations of anti-Semitism do not work for people, like me, who have spent
time in Gaza and the West Bank, and have experienced first-hand the devastating
effects of the siege, occupation, and collective punishment. I lived for four months in
the Gaza Strip, teaching university students and analyzing survey data on post-
traumatic youth and adults after what some refer euphemistically to Israels
2008-2009 War. In Bethlehem, everywhere I turned there was a sinuous,
omnipresent concrete wall that separates Palestinians from their agricultural lands.
Flashback images emerge where upon entering the Jewish settlement in Hebron I
was greeted with the words, Gas Arabs signed by JDL scrawled on a retaining wall.
Further on, there is Abrahams watering hole where Palestinians are forbidden to take
a dip. My Palestinian guide and a Palestinian student friend of mine could not enter,
but the settlers not knowing I was of Arab American descent allowed me to descend
the winding steps to the spring. The visceral racism sparked the recollection of my
fathers stories about his experiences in the Jim Crow South when he would travel to
the car auctions in Baton Rouge.
In the mid-1950s, Helen Thomas also had been to Israel. She visited former
Palestinian villages and met up with Palestinians driven from their homes in 1948. So,
what explains her protracted criticism of Israel in front of Rabbi Nesenoffs video-
camera? Schechters interview with Thomas provides some insight that for fifty years
she censored herself as a reporter but currently in her role as an opinion columnist
she perceived that she had a freer rein. One observer opined that Thomas
comments typify an oppositional response heard among persons of Arab descent .
Although not being in Helen Thomas skin, I can only offer a perspective as a fellow
Lebanese-Arab American. More than being oppositional, Thomas comments reflect
an accumulative anger and ire at an America that has not only vilified Arab Americans
in their media and immigration laws for over a century, but also with a U.S. foreign
policy that for over 60 years biases Israel and is complicit in perpetuating the
oppression against the Palestinians.
The criminal nonchalance of the international community in watching Lebanon go up
in flames during the 16-year civil war, and in 2006 hearing Condoleezza Rices
analogize Israels slaughter of 1,200 Lebanese civilians to the birth pangs of the
Middle East. And, the piece de resistance the U.S. occupation and wholesale
destruction of the high civilization of Iraq and the U.S. militarys abuse and torture of
the civilian population.
Like other ethnic groups in the U.S., Arab Americans have transnational ties to their
countries of origins. When Israel attacks innocent civilians in Gaza and Lebanon with
American made and donated F16s, phosphorus and cluster bombs, Arab Americans
psychologically absorb the assault and annihilation, because it is more than likely they
have close relatives and friends residing in these countries.
With well over a century of emigration to the U.S., Arab Americans have proven
themselves as loyal Americans, who like Helens parents and my paternal
grandparents sought and became U.S. citizens. Shortly after 9/11, Noam Chomsky
remarked that being anti-Arab, e.g., making overt racist comments against Arabs is
considered legitimate; whereas, being anti-Black or anti-Semitic, is not. This is not to
say, that racism does not exist against African Americans or Jewish Americans, just
that if racist remarks are expressed openly it is rightly denounced as unacceptable.
Lamentably, anti- Arab and anti-Muslim racism is not uniformly condemned in the
U.S. or abroad.
For example, where was the public censure of Ann Coulter when she remarked that
press passes cant be that hard to come by if the White House allows that old Arab
Helen Thomas to sit within yards of the President?
Numbering over three million in the United States, Arab Americans are asking for a
fair shake like any other U.S. citizen and a more balanced foreign policy towards
Palestine. Ms. Thomas outcry embodies a half century of frustration and mental
occupation that Arab Americans feel as their voices of historical truth is pilloried,
discredited, and dismissed as either delusional or Anti-Semitic. Are not Arab
Americans a part of Americas participatory democracy that as an under-represented
minority are penalized and ostracized when they speak out against social and political
injustice perpetrated against them and their sisters and brothers in the Middle East?
Ms. Thomas has apologized for her remarks to the novice interviewer/filmmaker
Rabbi Nesenoff. Yet, while defending Helen Thomas freedom of speech, the Society
for Professional Journalists deems her remarks as inappropriate and offensive. Why
then is it not considered equally reprehensible when Rabbi Nesenoff, a man of the
Book, has not apologized to the Mexican American community after a widely
circulated you tube, entitled The Mexican Weatherman pictured him delivering a
hokey and racist impersonation of a Mexican priest. Nesenoff justified his off color
comedy stint under the pretext of getting into the spirit of Purim. /1/ While for some
of us he was fanning the flames of anti-immigrant rhetoric that helped to fuel the
present climate of hatred behind the recent Arizona shootings.
In light of the enormous contribution that Helen Thomas has made to the field of
journalism, the context in which she spoke candidly should be rightfully recognized
and her media awards restored back to her name. Or does our countrys unwavering
allegiance to the Zionist ideology irrevocably trump and excoriate any truth-telling of
Diane Shammas holds a Ph.D. in International and Urban Education and Policy, with
a specialization in Arab American Studies. She is a lecturer in American Studies and
Ethnicity. She can be reached at dshammas at usc.edu
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