June 6th, 2010
07:54 PM ET
13 years ago

Helen Thomas under fire for saying Jews in Israel should go back to Germany, Poland

Washington (CNN) – Lanny Davis joined Ari Fleischer Sunday in calling for Hearst Corporation to take quick action against legendary White House correspondent Helen Thomas for recently saying that Israel should “get the hell out of Palestine,” and that the Jewish people should go home to “Poland, Germany … and America and everywhere else.”

Thomas was also dropped by her agent Nine Speakers, Inc. Sunday, CNN has learned, and Craig Crawford, who coauthored “Listen Up, Mr. President” with Thomas, said in a blog post that he “will no longer be working with Helen on our book projects.”

Thomas has apologized for her comments that she made to Rabbilive.com about Israel.

Specifically, she was asked, “Any comments on Israel?”

“Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine,” she responded.

The interviewer then asked “Any better comments on Israel?” To which Thomas said, “Remember, these people are occupied and it’s their land. It’s not German’s. It’s not Poland’s.”

Thomas was then asked where the Jews in Israel should go and what they should do? Thomas responded, “They should go home” which the White House reporter identified as “Poland, Germany . . . and America and everywhere else.”

Thomas is considered the “dean” of the White House press corps after decades covering the presidency. The syndicated columnist for Hearst Corporation’s newspapers holds a privileged seat in the front row of the White House press briefing room where she regularly fires sharp questions on the major issues of the day at White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs.

In the apology posted on her website Friday, Thomas said she “deeply” regretted her comments. “They do not reflect my heart-felt belief that peace will come to the Middle East only when all parties recognize the need for mutual respect and tolerance. May that day come soon.”

But her apology was not enough for Davis, who served as special counsel to former President Bill Clinton.

“Helen Thomas, who I used to consider a close friend and who I used to respect, has showed herself to be an anti-Semitic bigot,” said Davis. “This is not about her disagreement about her criticisms of Israel. She has a right to criticize Israel and that is not the same as being an anti-Semite.”

Davis added, “If she had asked all Blacks to go back to Africa, what would White House Correspondents Association position be as to whether she deserved White House press room credentials - much less a privileged honorary seat?”

Previously Fleischer, who served as press secretary for former President George W. Bush, said Thomas should be fired because of her remarks. And in a statement provided to CNN Sunday he reiterated that demand.

“Helen's statement calling for the religious cleansing of Israel is reprehensible,” Fleischer said. “If this isn't bigotry, what is? What she said is as bad as someone saying all blacks should leave America and go back to Africa.

“Hearst Newspapers should do the right thing and let Helen go,” Fleischer added in the statement.

Update, 8:33 p.m.: The Anti-Defamation League has provided CNN with a written statement regarding Thomas' remark and apology. "Helen Thomas’s statement of regret does not go far enough. Her remarks were outrageous, offensive and inappropriate," ADL national director Abraham H. Foxman said in the statement. Foxman added, "Her suggestion that Israelis should go back to Poland and Germany is bigoted and shows a profound ignorance of history. We believe Thomas needs to make a more forceful and sincere apology for the pain her remarks have caused."

Filed under: Helen Thomas • Israel • Middle East • Popular Posts
soundoff (299 Responses)
  1. SW

    Helen ...

    You go girl!!! ... Time for someone to speak out!

    June 6, 2010 10:17 pm at 10:17 pm |
  2. F. Dorothy Halcomb

    Ms. Thomas' comment that citizens of Israel should "go home" should not be compared to some one saying "Blacks should go back to Africa".

    Blacks are not committing atrocities, genocide and terrorizing the USA as the Zionist Israeli government is doing to the Palestinians.

    The old Saudi King who pointed out that Jews should have been given a portion of Germany in compensation for the Holocaust was absolutely right.

    If the present Israeli government and some of their citizens cannot recognize the Palestinian government and live peacefully beside them, then they SHOULD go back to wherever they came from.

    June 6, 2010 10:17 pm at 10:17 pm |
  3. Julie-Texas

    I sit and wonder had she said that about Afircan Americans would she be then having a beer with the President already? She just lost her credibility with everyone.

    June 6, 2010 10:18 pm at 10:18 pm |
  4. kate

    When someone says something and voices their opinion we may choose to agree or disagree but when people disagree and voice that the person be fired and if a company complies this is a prime example that our freedom of speech amendment is censored and taken away from us. If you don't like what someone says voice your opinion, but if you call for action to be taken because someone has used their freedom of speech right then you are only promoting we have no freedom of speech. Remember we are America and do have this freedom and if you dont like it join a country that has taken that right away from people. There are plenty of them.

    June 6, 2010 10:18 pm at 10:18 pm |
  5. Edward

    She should be fired! Those remarks were disgusting and vile!

    June 6, 2010 10:19 pm at 10:19 pm |
  6. Jamie

    OK, most of my family is Jewish and I'm pretty sensitive to bigotry, but I don't understand why a political opinion on Israel is considered anti-Semitic. I don't agree with Thomas' opinion, but her argument isn't without technical merit and worst of all, it seems like she is being punished for expressing an unpopular opinion. Part of the point of the U.S. is that all points of view, even unpopular ones, may be aired with impunity.

    They let the American Nazi party picket in Skokie, ILL, which at that time was home to holocaust survivers and their families, but Helen Thomas – who doesn't cover Israel and therefore isn't revealing a conflict of interest – isn't allowed to note the historical fact that Israel was taken by force and that the action wasn't universally popular? This just seems wrong to me.

    June 6, 2010 10:19 pm at 10:19 pm |
  7. manooch

    Helen is expressing her views against Zionist not all Jews. Mr Fletcher's accusation of anti-semetic like his comparison of African American to the Jews in Israel is ridiculous. African Americans did not occupy America nor did they killed thousands or blockade a city like Israel is doing to Gaza. Israel's occupation of Palestine is a brutal one and people are realizing this more than ever and are frustrated by Zionist action. I believe there is a peaceful solution for Arab and Israelis. After all, they did coexist peacefully before the creation of Israel and I am sure they can find a way today.

    June 6, 2010 10:48 pm at 10:48 pm |
  8. Liz in Seattle

    Woah there, Helen. How could somebody with such a long history of being in her position have such a drastic lack of judgement like that? Regardless of her personal feelings, it was insanity for her to use that sort of attitude. What a shame, because surely if she left the press corps voluntarily (before today) there would have been a big send-off with speeches in her honor, etc. But after this they are probably going to have to fire her in disgrace.

    June 6, 2010 10:49 pm at 10:49 pm |
  9. Kris

    Helen, there is a special place in heaven for people brave enough to speak out so honestly and so fairly. Bless you–you're my hero. I know that's not much in the face of being labeled "anti-semite" and "bigot" by one-time-friends for speaking your mind (come on, people! When are you going to drop the "can't speak against Israel without being a Jew-hater" garbage? People who speak out against the American government aren't necessarily anti-American!) , but please know that not everyone's going to turn on you. Some of us know that the Israeli State isn't the same as the Jewish people, and it is possible to despise the former without hating the latter.

    June 6, 2010 10:49 pm at 10:49 pm |
  10. Bob Zmuda

    Well, given that the other reporter "filled in the blanks", I think this is a pretty stupid non-story. She shouldn't have said it, but it doesn't make her anti-Semitic. It's up to Israel to show the world that it deserves the land it was given. Given everything else that's gone on this week, I think shooting unarmed civilians in international waters is hundreds of times more harmful than an American reporter's off-hand opinion on things.

    June 6, 2010 10:53 pm at 10:53 pm |
  11. Bo

    Funny how everybody gets so upset when someone says something that we're not supposed to entertain. Unfortunately we've been helping everyone make believe that a middle eastern god was into real estate and gave a certain piece of land to the ancient Jews thousands of years ago. No wonder it's such a mess over there.

    June 6, 2010 10:54 pm at 10:54 pm |
  12. noone

    I do not believe that Helen Thomas should be punished for her comments. In this country we have the right to freedom of speech, and she had the right to say what she felt. She did not offend any Americans. Her remarks were directed at Israel, and although she may have offended many jewish people, she did not make an attack on americans, and she does not deserve to be punished for expressing her beliefs about another country. . If her remarks were made about another country her job would not even be affected by the comments, so why should it be affected because these comments were made about israel.

    June 6, 2010 10:55 pm at 10:55 pm |
  13. Ralph

    Although Helen Thomas should not have made such a statement, I doubt that much fuss would be raised if she had said something like: "The Palestinians should get the hell out of Gaza and go back to wherever". She has learned the hard way that the Israelis are the sacred cows of our foreign policy and no one in the Press shall say anything critical of the Israelis, lest the authorities (that includes almost all, fron the President on down) jump on them, to assure that AIPAC, et al will not destroy their career.

    June 6, 2010 10:55 pm at 10:55 pm |
  14. Dr Nemo

    Helen Thomas... Sounds like a Native American name to me. I guess she has every right to reside on North American soil. Maybe she is descended from chief Crazy Horse???

    June 6, 2010 10:55 pm at 10:55 pm |
  15. S.B. Stein E.B. NJ

    This woman may be able to cover the White House very well, but she has no clue about history. Jews were in the land of Israel well before there were Christians and Muslims. These are one of those comments that make you really wonder where reporters are getting their information from. She is way out of line. If she were a member of the House or Senate, I would call for her centure.

    June 6, 2010 10:55 pm at 10:55 pm |
  16. BB43MAN

    Seriously.............who really cares? So what that she has an opinion about Israel, Palestine, Germany...........or whoever! Who cares!? Does it make anyone here really ( I mean REALLY) lose sleep over this senior citizen saying something that upsets some people? According to the press of today freedom of speech is a wonderful thing.........unless you say something that upsets them, right? Rrrrrrrriiiiiiiggggghhhhhtttt!

    June 6, 2010 10:57 pm at 10:57 pm |
  17. Linda

    It amazes me when intelligent people say stupid things. Even if you feel a certain way there are some opinions you should have sense enough to keep to yourself.

    June 6, 2010 10:58 pm at 10:58 pm |
  18. Naomi Zyck

    This is the land of freedom of speech isn't it? I am not an Anti-Semite at all. But I do agree with her statement if the Israelis cannot let the Palestinians live in peace. This is an old wound, what right did the world have in the first place to tell a people move out, we are moving these people in. It was done poorly in the first place. I am a supporter of all human rights for all people but these latest acts of war are too much for our global minds to sit by and watch. I only hope for more people to speak up. Israel needs to stop the crimes against the Palestinians enough is enough. Most live as if they are in camps. Two wrongs do not make a right.

    June 6, 2010 10:59 pm at 10:59 pm |
  19. Think01

    If African Americans had come here 70 years ago with the might of foreign nations behind them, set up roadblocks for Americans, cut Americans off from their families and jobs, and made a third world country of everywhere they weren't, the comparison by the ADL might hold water. But no anti-Israeli comments are acceptable in this country where we brag about 'free speech'. If we truly had a democracy, aid to Israel would have been cut decades ago. Most Americans feel that our aid is what empowers Israel to be what Jews fled. That doesn't undermine that the Jews suffered horrendously under the nazis. However, Israel is inflicting the kind of suffering in the Middle East that WWII Jews fled.

    June 6, 2010 11:00 pm at 11:00 pm |
  20. Lola

    Go, Helen! Thanks for having the courage to voice an emotive albeit knowingly unrealistic position that many feel but cannot articulate because of AIPAC, B'nai B'rith and the deeply misguided Christian Evangelical movement in the US. Anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism - sadly, this is always the fallback position of Jews when someone questions their unethical political history.

    June 6, 2010 11:01 pm at 11:01 pm |
  21. Billmart

    Good for you Helen!! . . . you're absolutely right! . . . . finally someone in the media had balls enough to tell it to the world.
    We all know that the Jews are not better than Hittler in any way, they do to everybody else, exactly what Hittler was doing to them, or even worse!, they have kept another nation hostage for many years and under the most unfair, injust, inhuman, repressive, and miserable conditions, without the rest of the world being able to do anything about it.
    We all know that Israel don't want a Palestinian nation as neighbour, because they believe that rhe rest of the Jews around the world would return to Israel one day and that such a day is near so they can destroy the Dome of the Rock and buld the Salomon Temple, therefore they need a lot of land to provide room for all of those returning, and that mean Palestinian land.

    June 6, 2010 11:01 pm at 11:01 pm |
  22. jim

    Whatever; she tells the truth, and is lambasted for it. For heaven's sake, let's not offend the jews; let's all grovel before them because of the holocaust. They are in positions of power in government, commerce, science, education, entertainment, finance, etc, etc, but we are supposed to feel sorry for them? What about the people they have screwed and manipulated for thousands of years?

    June 6, 2010 11:02 pm at 11:02 pm |
  23. Karen

    You maty go now Helen. Your retirement is long overdue!

    June 6, 2010 11:03 pm at 11:03 pm |
  24. Ben

    Helen; since you are so willing to tell Israelis(JEWS) where to go, I suggest that you and yours go back to the country you came from.

    Of course, an apology on your part has no meaning. Anti-semitic bigots are well known for that tactic when your words are thrown back in your faces.

    June 6, 2010 11:03 pm at 11:03 pm |
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