The sisters of the 89-year-old doyenne of the Washington Press corps, Helen Thomas, who retired shortly after a video of her anti-Semitic statements to Rabbi David F Nesenoff went viral online, have defended her. They told blogger Richard Price of Journal-isms that the media got it wrong.
three of them said Thomas was not calling for the destruction of Israel or the return of all Israelis to Europe or the United States, as has been the running narrative, but was expressing her opposition to the disputed Israeli settlements on Palestinian land.
"They should stop confiscating the land that belonged to the Palestinians. We feel that there should be a two-state solution in Palestine," said one sister, who did not want to be identified. The sisters, who spoke from the home of one of them in the Detroit area, which houses the nation's largest concentration of Arab Americans, range in age from 87 to 95. Thomas is 89. A brother is 100. The family is Lebanese-American.
"Helen Thomas is for peaceful coexistence in the Palestinian territory," said Barbara Isaac, the youngest sister. "What she does not like is that the Palestinians have been completely devastated and made to live under occupation and all the deleterious effects, and the hazardous effects of that, stripped of their ability to live normal lives.
"Helen has lived with this problem for as long as she's been in Washington," she said. Displaced Palestinians become waiters and cooks there, "and would talk to her, and she's heard nothing but their stories of horror for 60 years," Isaac said, referencing the creation of Israel in 1948. "She's out to dinner and they find her.
"If nobody got angry about injustice, then people just go on suffering, knowing that nobody gives a damn."
As Laura Berman wrote Tuesday in the Detroit News, "When asked about Israel during a White House Jewish heritage celebration on May 27, Thomas told RabbiLive.com: 'Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine.'
"As the recording continued, Thomas told the interviewer, Rabbi David F. Nesenoff: 'Remember, these people are occupied and it's their land.'
"Asked where they should go, Thomas answered: 'They should go home' to 'Poland, Germany and America and everywhere else.'
"The fallout was quick."
Osama Siblani, publisher of the Arab-American News in Dearborn, Mich., which claims to be "the largest, oldest and most respected Arab American newspaper in the United States," told Journal-isms there was never any doubt about what Thomas meant.
"Helen Thomas hit it right on the nail. They should get the hell out of Palestine," he said. "It's illegal" -- what is taking place, he said, "confiscating land" and "illegal settlements."
"She's talking about the settlements," he said without hesitation, asked to explain Thomas' reference.
"I saw the video six or seven times and I know what she meant."
Siblani ran a column on his website Monday from Katrina vanden Heuvel of the Nation magazine, which he called "the fairest" that he had seen. It was titled, "Isn't There Some Room for Helen Thomas?"