Jessica SieffOn my off time, I write for a film Web site out of Indianapolis.

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Jessica Sieff: Who’s afraid of Helen Thomas? Everyone, apparently

Published 7:48pm Thursday, June 17, 2010

Gearing up for the Waterfront Film Festival last week, I dreamt that I was coming out of a movie and someone asked me what I thought about it.

I told the person the movie was pretty much the worst movie ever made and then suddenly everyone was yelling at me and I had to quit the site.

My dream is Helen Thomas’ nightmare.

The 89-year-old who has been covering the White House since John F. Kennedy’s administration abruptly announced her retirement after a video of her spouting remarks against Israel to a rabbi visiting the White House quickly went viral.

Thomas, who is Lebanese and as far as I know has never denied having pro-Arab views, was asked by the rabbi visiting the White House, “What do you think about Israel?”
Thomas replied she felt “they should get the hell out of Palestine” and “go home” to Poland, Germany or America.

Wait a second, Alexander Graham Bell, hold the phone.

You mean someone with pro-Arab views on the situation (the situation being a big cluster-bang of “I hate you,” “I hate you back twice”) thinks Israel should not exist and the Jews who live there should get a move on out?

What. A. Shocker.

Guess what? I’m as pro-Israel as pro-Israel gets – and I don’t think it’s right, what happened to Helen Thomas.

Mostly for two reasons.

First of all, I’ve been known to shoot off at the mouth.

Journalists may hit their keyboard or their notepads in a cloak of objectivity – but underneath, we still see the world and we still find in the midst of it our own opinions.
We should be afforded those off the record just as much as anybody else.

I am not surprised one bit at Thomas’ comments. And if I were to have a conversation with her, I’d have a few choice words for her beloved “Palestine” that I’m sure would keep us from ever being friends. And I’m sure she would not be surprised by me, either.
That is the nature of the conflict. Both sides are very well aware of their enemies.

Secondly, the harshness in which political players reacted to Thomas’ comments sort of confuse me a little bit.

Just hours before any headlines even broke about Thomas, the big story was the United States’ dissatisfaction with Israel’s handling of a flotilla filled with supposed innocent people going to Gaza who, strangely enough, just so happened to be fully capable of attacking an Israeli commando team boarding ships by helicopter.

Oh – but Helen Thomas needs to leave the White House press, so never mind your quick shake of the finger, United States.

I’m a bit more offended by the blatantly sensationalized video Rabbi David Nesenoff posted on his blog.

Off-the-cuff comments were turned into a produced, vicious rant, complete with loud, ridiculous music on the intro.

Rabbi Nesenoff should take note: sensationalism to breed hatred is not really the Jewish or Israeli way.

Immediately, Thomas was under fire from friends, colleagues and even former press secretaries. She apologized, said she made a mistake and regrets her comments. She probably doesn’t. And so what?

It’s her belief that her land is being occupied.

Personally speaking, it’s my belief that her belief is a load of crap.

But I certainly wouldn’t feel it warranted to come under a bunch of fire for that opinion and I wouldn’t apologize for it, either.

When Nesenoff asked Thomas what she thought about Israel, he likely knew exactly what her thoughts would be. He even goaded her on. Yet he was supposedly so surprised she’d say something like that.

Thomas was always viewed as a respected journalist, up until last week. She has a right to her opinion – so long as that opinion doesn’t make its way into her news pieces. I don’t see why her job should ever have come into question.

Do I understand how many might take her comments as offensive? Yes. Do I think those comments are stupid? Yes. Am I surprised by them? No. Do I care what Helen Thomas thinks Israel ought to do? No twice.

It’s in my opinion that the Jewish way is above petty hatred.

It would be a shame to start stooping to such a level.

But hey – if you want to throw stones, there’s this little strip of land on the west side of Israel just off the Mediterranean Sea. You can get there by boat.

Jessica Sieff reports for the Niles Daily Star and Edwardsburg Argus. E-mail her at

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