WASHINGTON -- That did not take long. Helen Thomas says Israelis should "get the hell out of Palestine" and should return to Germany, Poland and the USA and poof she is gone. She does not even leave a trace. Was it the rough language, or was it the offense to our ally Israel? I think it was the rough language. The remarks toward Israel were to be expected. If she had only said "heck," she might have stayed.
Her employer, Hearst News Service, announced her retirement. She has made a valiant effort to stay. She said on her personal website three days before that her words do not reflect her "heart-felt belief that peace will come to the Middle East only when all parties recognize the need for mutual respect and tolerance." Yet the damage had been done the day before, and so she was no more. Let that be a lesson to all young reporters. Say "heck."
The speakers agency that handled her, Nine Speakers, dropped her during the weekend. The high school that had her scheduled to speak, Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, Md., canceled her. Even the White House chimed in, calling her remarks "offensive and reprehensible."
The Israelis should not feel bad. Helen pops off lines like this all the time. I recall a dinner with her back in 1994. Former President George H.W. Bush was our host. She was her ingratiating self. Then she looked me in the eye and said: "You've got to admit. He is a very dear man." "Who, Helen?" I inquired. "Bill Clinton. He is a very dear man." Well, yes, I guess that is true if you don't get too close.
There was a very suggestive interview with Helen Thomas by the late Tim Russert back in 2007 that suggests her pull on official Washington and tells you much about her politics. After all, it was 10 or so minutes on CNBC.
Asked about Ronald Reagan, she was deceptive. "Well, it was interesting," she observed. She found him "very, very, likable," but "he definitely had an agenda and was a social Darwinist. 'If you can't make it, tough' was, you know, survival of the fittest. This is the whole approach."
As to why she said that Bush II was the worst president, she replied: "Well, at that time, I could see that we were going into a war, an unprovoked war, a pre-emptive war with Iraq, and I was very upset with that because I thought it was the wrong move. And just all of, you know, the lack of understanding about what was really going on in the Middle East and everywhere else."
But there was still Clinton to keep the home fires burning: "Well, I think there was a lot of excitement. But I think the Clintons had suffered a lot on the campaign trail and they had a lot of chips on their shoulders about the press. So I think there was a lot of excitement, but I think that the president and Mrs. Clinton didn't feel that the press was exactly with them." Syntax was never Helen Thomas' greatest strength, but you get her drift. Republicans are bad, Democrats good.
At the very end, Russert turned to the Middle East. She was asked whether her Middle Eastern background affected her thoughts on the area. "Of course," she said. "I mean, how would I now know as much as I do know about the Middle East, and how would by that interested? (Syntax again?) But that doesn't mean I'm unfair. I do think it's wrong to take somebody else's land and displace them."
So it was not anything about Israel that got her canned. It was that dread word "hell." Journalists had best use "heck." They can say what they want about Israel.