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.
Yes, true enough, the Obama administration's position on Israel isn't throw 'em out, in the Thomas manner; it's trade territory for "peace." One difficulty here is that Hezbollah's policy as to dealing with the Israelis is pretty much the Thomas policy: Kick 'em out; send 'em back to "wherever they came from." This, you might say, augurs poorly for peaceful satisfaction of Palestinian grievances. Compromise -- a useful Western tactic in bargaining, whether politically or commercially -- isn't a characteristic of the Arab/Palestinian approach to dealing with Israel. The reason Middle Eastern "peace talks" seem never to go anywhere is that some of the parties to the talks think the word "go" applies only to the Jews.
It would be silly and sentimental to hold up the Israelis as little plaster gods. Even in Old Testament times -- thumb randomly through the Pentateuch for a top-drawer view of the human condition -- their forebears were wont to blow it! If it comes to that, don't we all blow it? Yes, the mighty United States can't even balance its budget.
We hold up the Israelis not as models of human rectitude but as that which is rare in the modern world -- friends, allies, co-conspirators in the freedom game.
But if Madame Thomas got her way, wouldn't that make the Middle East somehow all right? Hardly. The first datum to contemplate would be the American sellout that made possible the subjection of Israel to Arab designs. The second datum would be the unslaked bloodthirst of Israel's enemies -- their hope for revenge, their joy in jihad.
Oh, yes, fine; go on and throw freedom-loving Israel to the wolves. Just don't expect anything good to come of it. Good comes only randomly from folly, cowardice and malice -- and then only as a warning never to repeat the experience.