(JTA) – Former White House correspondent Helen Thomas said the Jews did not have to leave postwar Europe because they weren’t persecuted.
In an interview Wednesday on CNN’s “Joy Behar” program, Thomas told Behar that once World War II ended, the Jews “didn’t have to go anywhere really, because they weren’t being persecuted anymore. But they were taking other people’s land.”
Impromptu remarks that Thomas made last May to a rabbi video blogger about how the Jews should “get the hell out of Palestine” and go back to Poland and Germany cost her her job as correspondent for the Hearst newspaper corporation. She now works for a newspaper in Virginia.
Though Thomas apologized for the comment, follow-up remarks last December about how “the Zionists” own Congress, the White House, Hollywood and Wall Street caused further uproar, and prompted the Society of Professional Journalists to drop an award named for Thomas, who was a fixture on the White House beat for decades.
In this week’s interview on CNN, Thomas said that when she said Jews should go back to Poland and Germany, “I should have said Russia too.”
After the interview, Elan Steinberg, the vice president of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants, said, "Helen Thomas, not content with previous offensive comments, now is either uncaring or spiteful of the terrible circumstances of post-Holocaust survivors in Europe — shocking display of ignorance of events which occurred in her lifetime.”
Thomas’ account of history is inaccurate. Attacks against Jews and persecution of Jews continued in Europe even after World War II, both in the years immediately following the war, such as during the Kielce, Poland pogrom of 1946, and in the decades since. Poland, for example, launched an anti-Jewish campaign in 1967 that culminated in the expulsion of nearly 13,000 Jews over the course of five years. The country’s prime minister at the time described Zionists as a fifth column in Poland and say they should leave the country for Israel.
When asked on Behar’s program is she considers herself anti-Semitic, Thomas, whose parents were Lebanese, said, “Hell no, I’m a Semite.” Of the Jews she said, “They’re not Semites. Most of them are from Europe.”
Asked if she regretted making the remark that ended her career in Washington, she said, “I have regrets that everybody’s misinterpreted it and distorted it,” singling out former George W. Bush White House spokesman Ari Fleischer and Anti-Defamation League national director Abraham Foxman.
“We have organized lobbyists in favor of Israel, you can’t open your mouth,” she said. “If you say one thing about Israel, you’re off limits.”