In a radio interview, former White House correspondent Helen Thomas acknowledges she touched a nerve with remarks about Israel that led to her retirement. But she says the comments were "exactly what I thought," even though she realized soon afterward that it was the end of her job.
"I hit the third rail. You cannot criticize Israel in this country and survive," Thomas told Ohio station WMRN-AM in a sometimes emotional 35-minute interview that aired Tuesday. It was recorded a week earlier by WMRN reporter Scott Spears at Thomas' Washington, D.C., condominium.
Thomas, 90, stepped down from her job as a columnist for Hearst News Service in June after a rabbi and independent filmmaker videotaped her outside the White House calling on Israelis to get "out of Palestine." She gave up her front row seat in the White House press room, where she had aimed often pointed questions at 10 presidents, going back to Dwight D. Eisenhower.
She has kept a low profile since then.
"(It was) very hard for the first two weeks. After that, I came out of my coma," Thomas said.
Rabbi David Nesenoff, who runs the website rabbilive.com, said he approached Thomas after he'd been at the White House for Jewish Heritage Day on May 27. He asked whether she had any comments on Israel.
"Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine," she replied.
"Remember, these people are occupied and it's their land. It's not Germany, it's not Poland," she continued. Asked where they should go, she answered, "They should go home."
"Where's home?" Nesenoff asked.
"Poland, Germany and America and everywhere else," Thomas replied.
"I told him exactly what I thought," she told Spears.
Spears said during the interview that some accounts left off her reference to America and gave the wrong impression that Thomas was referring to World War II.
"I was not talking about Auschwitz or anything else," she said.
"They distorted my remarks, which they obviously have to do for their own propaganda purposes, otherwise people might wonder why they continue to take Palestinian land," said Thomas, a daughter of Lebanese immigrants who over the years did little to hide her pro-Arab views. There was no explanation of whom "they" referred to.
When she soon began getting calls about her remark, "I said this is the end of my job."
She issued an apology, she told the radio interviewer, because people were upset and she thought she had hurt people. "At the same time, I had the same feelings about Israel's aggression and brutality," Thomas said.
Asked whether she's anti-Semitic, she responded "Baloney!" She said she wants to be remembered for "integrity and my honesty and my belief in good journalism" and would like to work again.
Spears said Thomas granted him the interview because the two had developed a friendship during previous interviews she had done with the station in Marion, 42 miles north of Columbus in central Ohio.
Their discussion also touched on current politics, particularly on women.
Thomas described Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton as "a hawk." "I thought women in politics would have more compassion, be more liberal," Thomas said.
As for Sarah Palin, Thomas said she believed the former Alaska governor and Republican vice presidential candidate was ambitious enough to run for president.
"That would be a tragedy, a national tragedy," she said, describing Palin as "very conservative, reactionary, unbelievable."
Asked about tea party-backed Republican Delaware Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell, Thomas responded with one word: "Frightening."
Information from: WMRN-AM, http://www.wmrn.com