Former White House correspondent Helen Thomas, 89, who was fired last year after making controversial comments about Israel, told Playboy magazine in a feature interview that her comments were misinterpreted by the media, but that she stood by her critique of Israel.
Playboy contributing editor David Hochman interviewed Thomas in her Washington DC home for a full-length feature in Playboy magazine, giving Thomas a chance to explain herself. Her career of over 50 years as a White House correspondent came to an abrupt end last May when Rabbi David Nesenoff approached Thomas with a camcorder outside the White House and asked her what she thought of Israel. Thomas responded “I think they should get the hell out of Palestine.”
When asked, in a followup question, where she thought they should go, Thomas said that they should go home to Poland, Germany and the other countries where they came from. In the Playboy interview, she explained the statement, “ What I meant was they should stay where they are because they’re not being persecuted—not since World War II, not since 1945. If they were, we sure would hear about it. Instead, they initiated the Jackson-Vanik law, which said the U.S. would not trade with Russia unless it allowed unlimited Jewish emigration. But it was not immigration to the United States, which would have been fine with me. It was to go to Palestine and uproot these people, throw them out of their homes, which they have done through several wars. That’s not fair. I want people to understand why the Palestinians are upset. They are incarcerated and living in an open prison.”
Hochman asked Thomas if she knew how controversial her statements were, she said that she was “going for broke”, because she was fed up with how the Palestinians had been treated for decades. She said, “Sure, the Israelis have a right to exist—but where they were born, not to come and take someone else’s home. I’ve had it up to here with the violations against the Palestinians.”
In response to a question about Palestinian violence and suicide bombings, Thomas told Hochman, “Of course I don’t condone any violence against anyone. But who wouldn’t fight for their country? What would any American do if their land was being taken? Remember Pearl Harbor. The Palestinian violence is to protect what little remains of Palestine. The suicide bombers act out of despair and desperation. Three generations of Palestinians have been forced out of their homes—by Israelis—and into refugee camps. And the Israelis are still bulldozing Palestinians’ homes in East Jerusalem. Remember, Menachem Begin invented terrorism as his MO—and bragged about it in his first book. That’s how Israel was created, aided and abetted by U.S. money and arms.”
Thomas has always had a reputation for being a tough reporter who was not afraid to ask difficult questions to whoever was in power in the White House, questioning Bush policies of extraordinary rendition and torture, as well as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. When she was fired last year after her controversial comments, most of her former colleagues distanced themselves from her, although a few reporters did stand by her.
In the interview with Playboy, Thomas railed against what she called the Zionist lobby in the US, which she claims controls what happens in Congress and the White House. But when confronted about her legacy, and how she will be remembered when she dies, Thomas began crying, saying that the obituary writers would remember her as an anti-Semite, but that would not be an accurate rendering of her life and her beliefs.
When asked how she would like to be remembered, she said, “As the person who asked why. That’s what I want as my epitaph: ‘Why?’ It’s always been my favorite question, even though it rarely gets answered. As I said before, because of what happened recently, people are going to remember me a certain way. The truth is, I don’t hate anybody. I care deeply about people. I care for the poor, the sick, the lame, the harmed, those who’ve been treated unjustly… I’ve always cared about what happens in the world, and I think what the Israelis are doing is wrong. We have to care about our fellow man, and we don’t. Somehow we’ve lost that sense. It’s become almost a sin to care. But we are all God’s children, right?”