Why Israel Needs Helen Thomas

Jun 11, 10 | 7:11 AM   byMichael Wolff
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Helen Thomas expressed a cockeyed and impractical position about Israel—one held by much of the world—and lost her job because of it.

This is a boring story as all stories about Helen Thomas tend to be, and I take it up now with some regret—but, alas, she has become, once again, more meaningful than she ought to be.

But before getting to Helen Thomas, let’s register the Tony Judt piece on the op-ed page in yesterday’s New York Times. It is everything that Helen Thomas probably meant to say. It is what many people mean to say when they try to express their stupefaction that, in the course of two generations, Israel has not meaningfully altered its geo-political relationships. It is as succinct and as useful a deconstruction of what’s wrong with Israel and Israelis as may exist. Judt, however, has not lost his job.

Which is why it’s important that Helen Thomas should lose hers.

The point must be made: Apostasy, when it comes to Israel, will destroy anybody in public life. Helen Thomas, in that regard, is an ideal target.

I am not sure I have ever quite understood the Helen Thomas thing—except longevity. Sitting in the White House press room for as long as she has sat there would make anyone loopy.

(AP Photo)
There is no sillier, less important job than covering the White House from the press room. It is, actually, a job that doesn’t really exist anymore—not in terms, anyway, of actually getting information. It’s a show job. A pretend job. A ritual. Helen Thomas has been, for so long, a key part of that ritual. (She may, curiously, give the White House press briefings more credibility than they give her.) But she does not count for anything.

Piling on to Helen Thomas has two advantages for the never-question-Israel partisans: they take a public scalp, and—hardly in her prime—she can’t fight back. Hence, the partisans remind everybody that options with regard to Israel should not be publicly discussed, and, focusing on Helen Thomas’ odd straw-man maledictions, the partisans can avoid actually engaging the more difficult argument.

That argument is Judt’s: Israel “has acquired pathological habits. Of these, the most damaging is its habitual resort to force. Because this worked for so long—the easy victories of the country’s early years are ingrained in folk memory—Israel finds it difficult to conceive of other ways to respond.”

Israel and its loyalists are, along with the Arabs—and, it would seem, Helen Thomas—still trying to make the argument about its right to exist, instead of dealing with the more problematic issue: Having failed, over generations, to mollify the conflicts of which it is at the center, the reasonable conclusion is that Israel isn’t clever enough to salve them or simply doesn’t want to. Israel isn’t immoral, as Thomas might have seemed to suggest, but is, instead, as Judt argues, dysfunctional.

With great tenacity, furious energy, and smoke and mirrors, Israel chooses the arguments it can win—eg, poor Helen Thomas—and distracts us from the ones it will surely lose.

More of Newser founder Michael Wolff's articles and commentary can be found at, where he writes a regular column. He can be emailed at You can also follow him on Twitter: @MichaelWolffNYC.
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