As one cranky senior-citizen newspaper columnist -- wait, this isn't about me; I'm referring to Helen Thomas -- fades finally from public view, let us attempt politeness. Madame Thomas, after 89 summers, is, let's just say, no Clare Boothe Luce. Her, um, astounding statement about the Israelis -- the statement that got her dumped by everyone she worked for -- nonetheless frames an important question with some inadvertent precision.
The Israelis, quoth Thomas, should "get the hell out of Palestine" and go back to Germany and Poland "or wherever they came from."
Oh, really? And what then? Had the lady thought that one through? Has anybody -- especially those Westerners hyperventilating about the Israeli commandos' maritime encounter with the Gaza-bound "relief" ship -- bothered to wonder what might happen if Israel suddenly reverted to being plain-old Palestine?
Here's the main thing that would happen. The only Western nation in the Middle East would vanish. If such a prospect seems to suit Thomas right down to the ground, it ought to discombobulate most of the civilized world.
The people she thinks should return to "wherever they came from" have in six decades built a notable outpost of democracy, freedom, hard work, enterprise and -- not least -- true grit. This same outpost, it can't be pointed out often enough to Americans, more closely resembles the United States than it does most of the rest of the world. The Israeli is not exactly an American; nor is he exactly not one.
Throw the Israelis out of "Palestine" -- as the country was known in the days of the British Mandate -- or just strip them of the power they now exercise, submerging them beneath a sea of Palestinians, and you get ... the East. The West should think long and hard about dislodging Western ways from a quarter of the world more allied to dictatorship and suicide bombing than to the ideas of Thomas Jefferson. Not even Israel's early grounding in socialist ideals makes Syria or Egypt -- or Iran -- attractive by contrast. The Israelis vote on what they want. The Assads in Syria will let you know what you want when it's time for you to know. Then there's Iran's Ahmadinejad, a nasty piece of work indeed, with a gift for election theft, as well as repression.