I know—I’m a few days behind on the Helen Thomas controversy—but I wanted to reflect.
This was a little close to home. I respected the maverick side of Ms. Thomas even if her White House questions were often activist rather than journalistic. At one point I tried to see if she’d read Scandals for a possible blurb. Probably for schedule reasons, this never happened. I still respect Helen Thomas for her skepticism on, say, Iraq. Furthermore, it isn’t as if she is a Kluxer; she had and probably still has the proverbial Jewish friends.
But should Hearst’s newspaper syndicate have dropped her column after her bizarre comments to Rabbi David F. Nesenoff in a YouTube video? Absolutely. When Rabbi Nesenoff (photo below) received thousands of hate messages, this was yet further proof of the appropriateness of Hearst’s actions.
Alas, Ms. Thomas scrambled historical facts at the expense of Jews as a people, not just at the expense of the state of Israel, and I’ll take her remarks somewhat personally. Jews, of course, were in the Holy Land eons before the modern state came about. Furthermore, the inclusion of Germany in Ms. Thomas’s “go back to” comments was especially unsettling to me. Distant relatives on my mother’s side of the family vanished after the Nazis took over. Better for surviving German Jews and others from Nazi-occupied nations to have been able to make a fresh start. Some Poles even out-hated the Germans.
Another connection, also indirect, exists. My mother’s family knew the Jacobsons from Kanas City; and Edward Jacobson, President Harry S. Truman’s former partner in the Truman & Jacobson haberdashery, lobbied HST successfully for diplomatic recognition of Israel. You might say Mr. Jacobson contributed to Ms. Thomas’s Middle Eastern problem, and I’m glad he did. (Photo shows Truman receiving a gift menorah from then-Israel Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and Abba Eban, at the time the Israeli Ambassador to the U.S.)
Regardless, let’s not remember Helen Thomas just for her lapses—given the courage she showed on the job and given the trail she blazed for female journalists covering the White House—and I would argue against the renaming of SPJ’s Helen Thomas award even though I can easily understand the other side. Accept her apology regardless of its shortcomings, and let her retire gracefully. Forgiveness, as I see it, is part of Jewishness.
Coming up later today or tomorrow: More on the “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog” quote or nonquote quote from Harry Truman, to which I allude at the end of Scandals. Update: The new item is here.