THE OTHER MESSAGE OF HELEN THOMAS

Sam Smith – The departure of Helen Thomas leaves me as one of the last of those who covered Eisenhower news conferences who is still active in the journalism trade. I will miss her as she was a lonely figure who still remembered how reporters were meant to represent their readers and viewers and not those they were interviewing.

One of the differences between Helen Thomas and myself is that she ended her career for having said something that was not considered appropriate, whereas I have spent my entire career saying things that are not appropriate. This tends to make you more tolerant of the inappropriate, even when you don’t agree with it.

Thomas’ solution for the Israeli-Palestine problem, while steeped in justified anger, reflects the dangers of trying to recompose history. After all, if her approach were valid, then her family should have been sent back to Lebanon and her home state of Kentucky should be given back to the Indians so they wouldn’t have to live in Gaza strips we call reservations.

Much of the seemingly most insoluble problems of the world are based on unsettled ancient anger. Depending on which century or saga one wishes to cite, one can make whatever case one wants. The Israelis remember the Holocaust; Helen Thomas no doubt remembers the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. The Israelis can recount ancient wrongs; the Palestinians need only go back one week to the nine dead in the supply flotilla.

But with few exceptions – such as the much maligned Jimmy Carter – America’s leadership has taken one side in all this and, in the process, has helped to make matters much worse. It now finds itself threatened by radical Muslims – in part motivated by anti-Israeli anger – who have trapped the U.S. in Afghanistan in a near hopeless military dead end and economic disaster.

Behind the excoriation of Helen Thomas is not an American desire for fairness, but an extraordinarily expensive and masochistic commitment to the almost suicidal policies of the current Israeli government.

The fact that her words caused such a furor merely affirms how little America – and its leaders – are willing to deal fairly with the issue. One need only compare the elite reaction to Thomas to the criminal assault on the flotilla to see how lopsided this all is.

It has long been striking how little people are willing to talk about contemporary, rather than historic, problems in the Mid East – problems such as the lack of water and the growing Arab population in Israel. These are hidden subtexts in the debate, but that doesn’t mean they disappear.

For example, how much longer can Israel remain a segregated Jewish state? They might want to check out the American experience in this regard; after all the percentage of Arabs in Israel is greater than that of blacks in the U.S.

In 2000 retired Israeli High Court Justice Theodor Or wrote a report in which he stated:

“The Arab citizens of Israel live in a reality in which they experience discrimination as Arabs. This inequality has been documented in a large number of professional surveys and studies, has been confirmed in court judgments and government resolutions, and has also found expression in reports by the state comptroller and in other official documents. Although the Jewish majority’s awareness of this discrimination is often quite low, it plays a central role in the sensibilities and attitudes of Arab citizens. This discrimination is widely accepted, both within the Arab sector and outside it, and by official assessments, as a chief cause of agitation.”

Nature takes its course and sooner or later the Israelis may discover that their real enemy was not the Arabs but time – time that inevitably will run out for their purified culture, just as it did for white Americans.

The sad thing is all the time that has been wasted that could have been used to deal sensibly with the problem instead of just slapping down the endless stream of Palestinians and Helen Thomas’ of the world and then saying, well, we took care of that.

The techniques for backing off of such madness are complex and not respected. When was the last time you saw a peace expert on CNN or MSNBC?

But they are well worth it. The Strategic Foresight Group has estimated that the lost opportunities caused by conflict in the Middle East from 1991 to 2010 have cost $12 trillion – and a trillion of that at Israel’s expense. Their report figures that if there had been peace since 1991, the average Israeli would be earning almost twice as much as under present cultural values and policies.

The World Trade Center attack and other incidents owe a part of their roots to our mishandling of the Middle East conflict. Our collapsing political status in the world and our economic problems are other penalties partially due to our one-sided treatment of this conflict.

We can either let these trends grow and perhaps collapse under the weight of our own self-righteous futility or we can admit the decades-long failure of our approach and try to make some peace and common sense instead.

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