Ex-Spokesmen Lead Charge for White House Reporter Helen Thomas to Be Fired
Two former White House spokesmen say it's time for Hearst reporter Helen Thomas to be fired -- or at least have her White House press credentials revoked -- after she told a rabbi that Israelis should "get the hell out of Palestine."
Ari Fleischer, President George W. Bush's press secretary, led the call in an e-mail Friday to the Huffington Post saying Thomas' comments amount to "religious cleansing."
"She should lose her job over this," Fleischer reportedly wrote. "As someone who is Jewish, and as someone who worked with her and used to like her, I find this appalling."
Lanny Davis, former special counsel to and White House spokesman for President Bill Clinton, issued a statement on Sunday saying Thomas, who he used to consider a close friend, "has showed herself to be an anti-Semitic bigot."
"Her statement that Jews in Israel should leave Israel and go back to Poland or Germany is an ancient and well-known anti-Semitic stereotype of the Alien Jew not belonging in the 'land of Israel' -- one that began 2,600 years with the first tragic and violent diaspora of the Jews at the hands of the Romans," said Davis.
Fleischer and Davis also suggested a double standard for Thomas, the 89-year-old White House Press Corps dean who has covered every president since Dwight Eisenhower.
"If she had asked all blacks to go back to Africa, what would White House Correspondents Association position be as to whether she deserved White House press room credentials -- much less a privileged honorary seat?" Davis asked, adding that those who say Thomas is protected by her right to free speech would likely be less tolerant if she were talking about other minority groups.
"She is advocating religious cleansing. How can Hearst stand by her? If a journalist, or a columnist, said the same thing about blacks or Hispanics, they would already have lost their jobs," Fleischer told the Huffington Post.
At a Jewish Heritage Month celebration at the White House last week Thomas, who is of Lebanese descent, said the Palestinian people "are occupied and it's their land" and that Israelis should "go home" to Poland, Germany, America "and everywhere else."
Thomas has a long history of anti-Israel rhetoric at White House press briefings. In 2006, Thomas posed a question to then-Press Secretary Tony Snow that suggested the United States supports "collective punishment for Lebanon and Palestine."
Snow responded, "Well, thank you for the Hezbollah view."
Last week at a briefing with Press Secretary Robert Gibbs that followed a flotilla raid by Israeli commandos, Thomas asked the question: "Our initial reaction to this flotilla massacre, deliberate massacre, an international crime, was pitiful. What do you mean you regret when something should be so strongly condemned? And if any other nation in the world had done it, we would have been up in arms. What is the sacrosanct, iron-clad relationship where a country that deliberately kills people and boycotts -- and we aid and abet the boycott?"
In a written statement issued Friday, Thomas apologized for the comment to Rabbi David Nessenoff, saying, she deeply regretted her comments and they "do not reflect" her "heartfelt belief that peace will come to the Middle East only when all parties recognize the need for mutual respect and tolerance."
"May that day come soon," she added.
Thomas is paying for her remarks. Her speaking agency Nine Speakers, Inc., reportedly dropped Thomas on Sunday.
Davis suggested Thomas' apology isn't up to snuff.
"Her apology was not direct and didn't address the merits of her belief in the stereotype that Jews are aliens in Israel and don't belong there. She should be at the least suspended from all privileges in the White House press room since bigots don't merit such privileges. And I believe Hearst should consider a similar suspension of her position as a nationally-syndicated columnist until she owns up to her bigotry and apologizes for it," Davis said.