http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/06/07/AR2010060701493.html?wpisrc=nl_pmheadline

White House blasts Helen Thomas comments on Jews, Israel
      
By Debbi Wilgoren and Martin Weil
Washington Post Staff Writer 
Monday, June 7, 2010; 3:13 PM 

Veteran journalist Helen Thomas announced Monday that she would retire 
immediately, amid a controversy over her comments that Jews should "get the 
hell out of Palestine" and go "home" to Germany, Poland and elsewhere, 
according to a report from her employer, Hearst News Service. 

Thomas, 89, also canceled plans to speak at Bethesda's Walt Whitman High School 
graduation, after students and parents protested. On Monday, school officials 
searched for a new speaker and discussed the decision with underclassmen. 
Whitman seniors, who do not have class this week, debated the topic on 
Facebook. 

Last week a video of Thomas's comments about Israelis and Palestinians 
circulated on YouTube and triggered a public outcry. On Monday the White House 
blasted the comments as "offensive and reprehensible." 

Thomas, the daughter of Lebanese immigrants, has covered the White House for 
almost half a century -- mostly as bureau chief for United Press International, 
but in the past decade as a columnist for Hearst Newspapers. She is well known 
to the television-watching American public because for years she had the honor, 
as dean of the White House press corps, of asking the opening question at 
presidential news conferences. 

After becoming a columnist, Thomas lost that privilege. But she continued to 
ask questions during televised news conferences and was often sharply critical 
of Israel -- so much so that the late Tony Snow, as press secretary for 
President George W. Bush, once dryly thanked her for offering up "the Hezbollah 
view." 

On May 27, during a White House commemoration of Jewish Heritage Month, Thomas 
gave an impromptu interview to a Web site called RabbiLIVE.com. Asked about 
recent arrests of Palestinians by Israel, Thomas said Israelis should "get the 
hell of Palestine." 

"Remember," Thomas said of the Palestinian people, "these people are occupied. 
And it's their land." In response to another question, she said Jews living in 
Israel should go "home -- [to] Poland, Germany . . . and America, and 
everywhere else." 

The video interview then fades to black, followed by the words: "Six million 
Jews were killed at home in Germany and Poland. 

"Does Helen know that Jews have lived in Israel way before the Holocaust? 

"How can Helen possibly report unbiased?" 

Thomas has apologized in a statement on her Web site, saying, "I deeply regret 
my comments I made last week regarding the Israelis and the Palestinians." But 
the interview footage is dominating the airwaves, receiving significant 
coverage on blogs and television news reports. 

Alan Goodwin, principal of Whitman, said Sunday that he had spoken with a niece 
of Thomas's and they reach "a mutual understanding" that Thomas should not be 
the speaker at the school's June 14 commencement ceremony. 

"Graduation celebrations are not the venue for divisiveness," Goodwin said in 
an e-mail to Whitman parents. "Graduation is the time for a cohesive and joyous 
celebration of our students' achievements." 


Goodwin said he had received e-mails from Whitman parents and students, some 
merely calling attention to the statements, others suggesting that perhaps he 
should reconsider the invitation. The debate reportedly was conducted on 
Facebook as well. 

"I don't know why anybody would ask a person like that to speak at a 
commencement ceremony," Whitman parent Raisa Slepoy said, ". . . especially 
where there's a pretty large Jewish population." 

If Thomas had appeared, Slepoy told The Washington Post, there would "be a lot 
of people booing her off the stage. . . . It would be an embarrassment." 

The remarks have "already stirred up the community quite a bit," Slepoy said, 
bringing up "bad feelings." Germany, she pointed out, is not a Jewish homeland. 

In response to the publicity about Thomas's remarks, the speaker's bureau that 
had represented her said it was dropping her as a client. Thomas, who has also 
written several books, "has had an esteemed career as a journalist, and she has 
been a trailblazer for women, helping others in her profession, and beyond," 
Nine Speakers President Diane Nine said in a statement. "However, in light of 
recent events, Nine Speakers is no longer able to represent Ms. Thomas, nor can 
we condone her comments on the Middle East." 

Thomas did not attend the daily White House news briefing on Monday; the seat 
reserved for her sat empty. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, while 
noting that Thomas had apologized, said her remarks do not reflect the views of 
the White House press corps or the views of the Obama administration. 

Patricia O'Neill, president of the Montgomery County School Board, said she 
knew of no such previous incident involving cancellation of an invited 
graduation speaker. 

"You know," she said, responding to a question, "one worries about freedom of 
speech." But she added, "The biggest concern is this is the kids' day, and 
nothing should be a distraction." 

Goodwin, the Whitman principal, said the school is looking for a replacement 
graduation speaker. 

Goodwin said he and Thomas's niece talked about having her meet with students 
next year in a different forum. Neither Thomas nor her niece could be reached 
late Sunday. 


Staff writer Anne Kornblut contributed to this report. 

This Story
  a.. White House blasts Helen Thomas comments on Jews, Israel
  b.. Right Now: The downfall of Helen Thomas
  c.. Poll: Should Thomas be removed from the White House press room?
  d.. Helen Thomas video: Controversial Israel remarks
  e.. Video: Thomas's remarks
  f.. The Answer Sheet: Principal's e-mail to parents




     


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