I have always loved Helen Thomas, and still do. She is the epitome of what a reporter should be. Her decades at the White House allowed for the nation to have better information, and closer scrutiny of issues that otherwise would not have been made as clear to the citizens.
I am one of those who actually watched the press conferences from the days of President Ford onwards, and enjoyed them. When a teenager I thought asking a pointed question of a national leader was perhaps one of the best jobs one could have. Over the years I was drawn to Helen Thomas and her contemporary, Sarah McClendon, who also had a very frank, and impressive journalistic style. Those two ladies could make any press conference quite grand. When it came to Thomas I am not sure what first attracted me. It may have been her recognizable face, her first question to start the conferences, or her insistence at getting an answer to the actual question that she posed. The one thing I quickly grew to love was that even in the midst of serious issues being discussed, when it came to Helen and Sarah, memorable moments were just waiting to happen. Holding those we elect accountable can be informative and fun. They proved it.
Then came the statement from Helen Thomas that to some has knocked the planet off its axis.
What Helen Thomas stated about who should live in Palestine last week is not that jarring if one thinks about it beyond the confines of the last roughly 60 years. I think the Balfour Agreement in 1917 was the start of a wrong path. I am not sure, but suspect that Thomas might share that view. Having said that, I think the whole Middle East is remarkable for the complexity of cultures and politics, and I wish for a resolution that is fair for those who were displaced and treated as second class people in their own lands.
But having stated what I think, or what Thomas said, is not anti-Semitic. It runs counter to Israeli policy for sure, but that is different from being against a group of people. I differ with Israel all the time, but never have I made statements, or do I feel in my soul, anti-Semitic in any way. I just don’t. I do have strong pro-Palestinian feelings, and know that a homeland with full rights is essential for long-term peace. To pretend, as many do, that policy in the Middle East is sane or rational just because Israel desires it is misguided and costly. That has been proved over and over again.
For Helen Thomas it was costly to say what she did. She may not have been as artful in all her words as she might have been, but the foundation of the fact that Palestine was taken from the Arabs is not in dispute.
Israel does now exist, and we need to work at resolving the issues that result from this fact.
Just as those words are true, so are these that follow.
Helen Thomas will always be the reporter’s reporter. She will also now be a lightening rod.
All in all, a damn fine life she can be most proud of.