07 June 2010

Palestine: The Forbidden Thought

Helen Thomas's apology for her off-the-cuff comment on the Middle East is better proof of her need to retire than the statement she apologized for. Either way you look at it, the elderly doyenne of the White House press corps has demonstrated that she says things she doesn't mean, and that's unacceptable from someone commissioned to press the White House and its representatives for the truth of things. Either she's confessed to senile whimsy that borders on anti-semitism or she's uttering obligatory apologies that are patently insincere.

A younger reporter would probably find herself banned from the press room for making similar remarks, but that theoretical person should be more willing to defend her remarks than Thomas has been. Her career-ending comment was to the effect that the Jews should get the hell out of Palestine and go back to where they presumably came from, Europe or the U.S. It's an outlandish comment, but I question whether hostility toward Israel should implicitly disqualify a journalist from a place in the White House press corps.

The objective fact is that only a megalomaniac can fantasize Israel out of existence. Any event resulting in a second diaspora or mass expulsions of millions would be a greater humanitarian injustice than any original offense on Israel's part. The Zionist entity often annoys me, too, and I resent the attitude in my own country that treats Israelis as heroic pioneers or surrogate Christians (fulfilling God's will in any event) while treating Arabs the way we used to treat Native Americans. American unwillingness to see history through Arab (if not Muslim) eyes is a kind of bigotry in its own right. But the Arab viewpoint is no more the objective one than the Zionist viewpoint. A Palestinian might ask if any other nationality has ever been treated the way they've been, and the historian can point to the dominant populations of the Hapsburg empire who at the same time as the Muslims lost the satisfaction of being able to call certain lands theirs. The birth of Czechoslovakia and the rebirth of Poland, for instance, probably came as psychic shocks to Germans who considered those lands and their peoples as part of their patrimony, or more simply regarded them as their homes -- and who waged a monstrous war to reclaim them. It can be argued that the Balfour Declaration was qualitatively different and more pernicious to the extent that it was an invitation to people to settle and take over a territory rather than a liberation of an established subject population, but Palestine was never really empty of Jewish people. What can't be argued, I'm afraid, what no one has a right to claim, is that Palestinians have no right to regard the Zionist ascendancy as an injustice. That goes as well for those people in the wider world who choose to sympathize with the Palestinian Arabs; they have every right to hate Israel the same way other people hate Islamist Iran or Kimite North Korea. They can be criticized for intemperate or just plain stupid remarks, but a liberal society has an obligation to indulge the opinion or the attitude. Thomas has made the issue moot by retiring, but whether she has retired in disgrace is subject for further debate. The real subject of that debate is whether Americans can take sides based on conscience (or maybe even on prejudice) in disputes between foreign countries without being subject to penalties in professional life.

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