What about Mizrahi Jews, Helen Thomas?

This is a guest post from Bataween of Point of No Return

If you still haven’t heard of Helen Thomas, you have not been reading The Guardian. Ever since the grande dame of the Washington DC press corps told Jews to ‘get the hell out of Palestine’ and ‘back home to Germany and Poland’ our favourite newspaper has run no less than seven pieces or blogs about her.

With an exquisite sense of timing, the veteran journalist made her ignorant and hurtful remarks to a rabbi with a video camera at a reception hosted by President Obama to celebrate Jewish Heritage Day.

We are told that Helen Thomas, who will soon be 90, shares a birthday with President Obama. Let’s hope he also does not share her antisemitic views. Although Thomas, the daughter of Lebanese immigrants, did apologise, she was forced to resign her post with Hearst Newspapers. Critics were particularly stung at her reference to Germany and Poland. She could not have picked two places where Jews have suffered more in Europe. (Besides, as Richard Cohen pointed out in the Washington Post, 1,500 Jews did try to ‘go home’ to Poland after the Second World War, only to be murdered.

As Amos Oz once wrote, before the establishment of the Jewish state antisemites were always telling Jews to go to Palestine. Now they tell Jews to get out of Palestine. Although most Jews living there were born in Israel and some have been in Palestine for generations – and Eretz Israel is the cradle of Jewish religion, culture and the Hebrew language – Thomas perpetuates the commonly–held Guardianista canard, aired below Roy Greenslade’s blog entry, that Jews are imposters from Europe who came to usurp the land from the native inhabitants.

Yet at the same time that Thomas’s controversial remarks were made public, the results of a genetic study were announced : not only were Jews from communities around the world genetically related to each other, but their DNA could be traced back to the Middle East. Not that genes alone determine peoplehood, but this news gives the lie to the favoured Guardianista myth that European Jews are converts descended from the Turkic Khazars.

In all the Thomas affair furore, however, few critics have actually pointed out that half of Jews living in Israel are Mizrahim, originally from Arab and Muslim countries. They are as indigenous to the region as any Arab Muslim – in fact more so, as most Jewish communities predated Islam by 1,000 years. As Naim Kattan writes in Farewell Babylon, ‘An Arab could not tell a Jew to go home as the Jew had been there before him.”

How and why did they end up in Israel? Simply because they were driven out by Arab and Muslim antisemitism. Their land and property was stolen by Arab governments for no other reason than they were Jews. Were Helen Thomas ever to acknowledge the fact, it would be just as perverse for her to suggest that Mizrahim ‘go home’ to such hotbeds of anti-Jewish hatred as Libya, Yemen and Syria, as to the killing fields of Germany and Poland.

Reacting to Zamalek’s comment that “Thomas therefore not only perpetuates the propaganda myth that Israeli Jews are colonisers from Europe, but ignores the Arab and Muslim antisemitism that drove a million Jews out of the Miiddle East to seek refuge in Israel and the West” the stock responses betray a parallel Guardianista universe:

*Jews of the Middle East are really Arabs (e.g. EndtheOccupation)

*Jews lived together in perfect harmony before Israel (e.g. ElliotCB) and many Jews reached high office in the Ottoman empire (e.g. EndtheOccupation)

*Antisemitism did not exist (e.g. Shrekll) or only became a problem after the establishment of Israel (e.g. Salamaleque)

*Jews did not live in ghettos and intermarried with Muslims (e.g. ElliotCB)

* Zionism caused the great exodus to Israel (e.g. EndtheOccupation)

For most of their 14 centuries of ‘coexistence’ with Muslims, the status of Jews most closely resembled that of Jews in medieval Christendom. Jews were tolerated as long as they were useful to their Muslim hosts: they lived as a humiliated and subjugated minority (dhimmi) at the mercy of their rulers, to whom they paid protection money. They were ‘untouchables’ under Shia Islam. The religious communities were segregated and rarely intermarried. Jews in Morocco and Persia did live in ghettos until quite recently; the only time in history when Mizrahi rights were protected by law was under the colonial period. In truth, Jews are no more Arabs than Mexicans are Spaniards.

The ostriches of the Greenslade comments thread will not admit that Arab antisemitism predated the creation of Israel by centuries. They pretend that the dozens of blood libels, pogroms and forced conversions of the 19th and 20th century () did not happen. They refuse to acknowledge the rise of nationalist xenophobia and Nazi-inspired Jew-hating fundamentalism, mixed with anti-Jewish Islamic themes, in the 1930s. It was Arab governments, not Zionism, who conflated Jew and Zionist.

Zionism provided a response to Arab and Muslim antisemitism – it was not its cause. The non-Zionist Jews of Iraq, traumatised by the Farhud pogrom of 1941 in which 180 Jews were murdered, fled to Israel primarily because they feared another Farhud. The Jews of Libya, homeless after the 1945 pogrom in which in 140 died, left for Israel in droves in 1948. For the first time, they had a place to go – a Jewish state that would restore their dignity, security and rights.

But let’s return to Helen Thomas. Journalists have attributed her intemperate remarks to her Arab descent. Lebanese Christian Arabs have a long tradition of theological antisemitism. On the other hand, they have also produced such champions of Jews and Israel as Joseph Farah and Brigitte Gabriel.

In his incriminating video, Rabbi Nesenoff tries to engage Helen Thomas in Arabic conversation. She confesses she does not speak the language: “us children were too busy Americanising our parents,” she admits. I suppose Helen Thomas won’t be’ going home’ to Lebanon any time soon.

21 replies »

  1. Helen Thomas did not apologise for anything, she merely said she regretted her remarks.

    I regret not having studied harder at school, I may have been able to attend university had I done so.

    I regret having ever started smoking because now it’s hard to stop.

    I regret the wasted years of my youth.

    I apologise if I’m boring you.

    See the difference?

    One regrets something that turns out badly for oneself.

    One apologises for something that offends somebody else.

  2. As always, bataween, great and much needed piece. On Cif, the comments in defense of Helen Thomas, including those that protested that there wasn’t a shred of antisemitism in what she said, stand as a monumental documentation of how dear the site is to anti-Jewish bigots.

  3. Terry malloy – ‘over 25,000 pieces of hate mail’

    Must be worrying for him but I am sure that he feels that he has done the US public a service exposing her bigotry.

    Wouldn’t it be nice to get some politicians tipsy and then ask some pertinent questions while recording the answers.

    Obama especially.

    John McCain too and perhaps, dear Sarah.

  4. The “sumptuary laws” stigmatising and humiliating Jews began not in the Christian world, but in the Arab/Muslim world.

    Almohad ruler Abdallah al-Adil made yellow garments the required clothing.

    Emir Ismael Abu-I Walid forced the Jews of Granada to wear a yellow badge.

    Baghdad’s Caliph al-Mutawakkil designated a yellow badge for Jews.

    The Nazis got their idea of a yellow badge for the Jews, from the Arab treatment of Jews. And the Nazis got their idea for the Jewish Holocaust, from the Muslim treatment of Armenians.

    Islam has a lot of blood on its hands, and should be held to account.

  5. Helen Thomas’s style of journalism is very close to the journalism that is practiced at the Guardian by Lerman, Tisdall, Seth Freedman, so many others. It is a style that throws out antiSemtic canards as simple objective facts and then proceeds from that starting point. But equally sickening is the way dowagers of the Washington, D.C. establishment media have rallied around Thomas. Andrea Mitchell, the doyenne of the Washington, D.C. establishment, has been one of Thoma’s chief propagandists. Mitchell insists that Thomas is being punished for one poorly worded comment while Mitchell says that Thomas has been an intrepid and courageous journalist for decades. Of course, Mitchell can’t point to anything noble or great that Thomas ever accomplished. For decades, Thomas has been allowed the first question at presidential news conferences and the first question at White House Press Secretary conferences. She has regularly spewed out her antiSemitic filth, and never has anyone in the Washington press establishment ever asked her to stop it or even to move on to another topic. The only one who ever put her in her place was Tony Snow from the second Bush administration. When Snow whipped Thomas in debate, the whole Washington press establishment led by Andrea Mitchell just though that Tony Snow was quite awful.

  6. When Will Islam Repent Its Sins?

    “The Nazis got their idea of a yellow badge for the Jews, from the Arab treatment of Jews.”

    So the Nazis would have been OK if it werent for those bad Arabs.

    This site is “the” site when it comes to spotting anti Semitism.. hatred of Muslims however ??? …..not a problem.

  7. There’s an idea for you htd – go and make yourself an anti site for hatred of moslems. I promise that I won’t come and troll there though I can’t talk for the others.

  8. hatred of Muslims however ??? …..not a problem

    Do you think Europe will decide to build gas chambres for Muslims?

  9. No, Berchmans, you idiot, trust you to go for the “I have constantly to prove I’m a complete simpleton” approach rather than admit for once that you cannot “do” complexity.

    And you have absolutely no right to lecture anyone about race-hatred given your record on here and on CiF and your choice of friends.

    And I like the choice of moniker, When Will Islam Repent of Its Sins. I doubt that Islam is capable of doing that though – it is forbidden to gain insight into the effects of its behaviour on others.

  10. Berchmans, to paraphrase your cock-eyed reasoning elsewhere on this blog, what’s wrong with Muslim hatred if it’s deserved????

    Tell me why I shouldn’t hate all Muslims if their religion commands them to subjugate me and to kill me if I don’t agree to be subjugated;

    If they are threatening to wipe out my family and have killed some of my friends in the name of their faith system;

    Note, I am asking why shouldn’t I hate ALL of them.

    Let’s see whether you can spot the reasoning behind my argument and, if you dare to criticise it, say for hating all Muslims for the evil of just a few, try to apply that to yourself as regards what you have said in the past here and on CiF about Jews deserving to be hated.

    I’ll bet you won’t dare to reply.

  11. Thanks, Serendipity and Sababa, for your kind words. Semite, Thomas did say America (which does not have the same painful connotations as Germany and Poland to Jews) but actually relatively few Israelis come from America. This was a spiteful attempt to bracket Israeli Jews with ‘colonialists and New World imperialists.

  12. semite

    ‘she actually said that Jews should get back to Germany, Poland and….. AMERICA.’

    This ….. …. person has been rubbing shoulders with innumerable Jews for more than 60 years in Washington. The vast majority of those Jews would have been Zionists or very sympathetic to Israel.

    I am shocked that she could hold the opinions that she voiced.

    How did she hide it all these years.

  13. Surely, by Berchman’s logic, Israeli Jews are entitled to be Islamophobic, or whatever one calls racism against Arabs or Muslims.

  14. Nor forget Berchman’s pronouncement, a few years ago, that ‘Brit Jews’ were inviting antisemitism by insufficiently condemning the 2006 war, albeit repented of, he says.

  15. What an absolutely superb guest blog this one is, Bataween.
    Breathtakingly outstanding.