Ari Fleischer was press secretary to an American president, not to some commissar or caudillo, yet his reaction to Helen Thomas' latest anti-Israel outburst would have been more fit for a totalitarian than a free society. He demanded that Hearst fire its White House correspondent, who'd probably been there longer than most of the furniture.
The idea of punishing a columnist for her views, however vicious, might befit some tinpot dictatorship, but it has no place in this country, where extremists do a more than adequate job of exposing themselves, thank you. Which is what Miss Thomas has just done. Followed by her apology and resignation, voluntary or otherwise.
Rather than demand Helen Thomas' dismissal, Mr. Fleischer -- and all those others outraged by her hissy fit -- ought to send her a thank-you note. Consider this mine. For years her animus toward the Jewish state could be read quite clearly between the lines of her columns, or even smelled. Now she's admitted it by using the old Go Back Where You Came From ploy against Israel's Jews. She said they "should get the hell out of Palestine" and "go home."
And where would that be? Miss Thomas answered: "Poland. Germany." The problem for the Helen Thomases of the world is that Israel is where the Jews came from -- a minor detail Miss Thomas seems to have overlooked.
Now at least there could be no excuse for reading Miss Thomas' prose as if it were untainted by her pet hatred. Not that her virulent views have ever been a secret from those who've followed her tantrums over the years, whether in her columns or during presidential press conferences. After one of her little tirades, another White House press secretary -- Tony Snow, a man of pointed understatement who is still much missed -- said only, "Well, thank you for the Hezbollah view."
What may be most impressive about Miss Helen's latest outburst is how little this hateful line has changed since it was being enunciated by Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, aka Der Grossmufti von Jerusalem when he was enjoying Herr Hitler's hospitality in Berlin during the Second World War. After its outbreak, the official leader of Palestine's Arabs, having opposed any compromise with the hated Jews before the war, took refuge in Berlin, whence he attempted to raise an Arab army to fight alongside the Nazis.
The man was all heart. In the summer of 1943, the mufti found time to write Hungary's foreign minister protesting a plan to let some of its Jews escape the Final Solution then under way in Europe. His letter expressed alarm that the Jewish Agency had managed to obtain "immigration certificates for 900 Jewish children to be transported [to Palestine] from Hungary accompanied by 100 adults."
The mufti warned Budapest that such action would "by no means solve the Jewish problem" and, if any Jews were allowed to leave, they be sent instead to . . . Poland, where their fate would surely have been sealed. The suggestion that Jews be sent to Poland is scarcely new with Miss Thomas.
Historical note: Kielce, Poland, was the scene of the first post-war pogrom in July of 1946, when dozens of survivors of the Holocaust returned there only to be massacred by a mob abetted by local authorities.
Helen Thomas was kind enough not to specify just where in Germany or Poland the Jews should go "back" to -- Dachau? Auschwitz? Europe is full of such spas that once catered to Jewish clientele. Miss Thomas didn't even mention Russia and the killing fields of Babi Yar.
But her point was clear enough: Jews are just interlopers who should get the hell out of the Middle East. Maybe she's never noticed that Hebrew, like Arabic, is a Semitic language. It's a mystery how anyone on reading the Old Testament can deny that this people has it roots among the nomadic tribes of the Fertile Crescent, but mere fact has never been a barrier to bigotry.
For years, indeed decades, all such fulminations from Arab spokesmen were dismissed as just rhetoric, propaganda to stir up the Arab street and the mobs it produces on order. Surely the leaders of Arab Palestine could be negotiated with; their strident tirades were just for show. When face-to-face negotiations between Israel and her neighbors, including the Palestinians, finally began in the 1990s, peace was supposed to be just around the corner.
It wasn't. Instead, it was the protestations of peace and goodwill that have proven transitory, and the hateful propaganda that has proven lasting. Even in the mouths of Americans like Helen Thomas.