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Friday, December 17, 2010

The exception that proves the rule: An Arab speaks against Helen Thomas

I have mentioned a couple of times that I could not find a single prominent Arab American who did not defend Helen Thomas' anti-semitic comments, by either denying they were anti-semitic and/or confirming that they were true. I also showed that major Arab American organizations specifically went out of their way to honor her because of, not in spite of, her anti-Jewish outburst.

A single exception has just appeared.

Hussein Ibish, a quite prominent Arab American, has written a pretty good essay on the topic. He spends much of it going rebutting Thomas' and her acolytes' false definition of "anti-semitism" and gives a history of the term as well as of both Christian and Arab anti-semitism. He then goes into the Thomas affair as well:

I really had intended to stay out of this altogether, and I'm not going to ultimately pass any definitive judgment on her recently expressed sentiments, but some observations seem necessary. Her initial comment was very disturbing, but could certainly have been dismissed as an off-the-cuff remark to a hectoring videographer by an exasperated and elderly journalist who was trying to be deliberately obnoxious to someone it seems may have been pestering her. The explanation offered at the time that she was referring to the occupation was never very convincing because she referred to Jews getting out of Palestine and going home to Germany, Poland or the United States, but not to Israel. But had it been isolated and off-the-cuff, as it first appeared, it really shouldn't have been that big a deal, especially since she apologized right away.
Unfortunately, Ibish refrains from mentioning that the full video shows that Thomas seemed to be happy to answer the initial question from Rabbi Nesenoff about journalism as a career and she did not seem irritated at all, and even laughed heartily as she went onto her anti-semitic rant.

Ms. Thomas decided to make some additional remarks that got her into even deeper trouble. Parsing whether or not any of it descends to the level of anti-Semitism seems utterly beside the point. But to suggest, as she did in her subsequent remarks, that "Congress, the White House and Hollywood, Wall Street are owned by Zionists" is just silly, and it's indefensible. Let's take them one by one.
Later he writes
I do think it's possible to read Thomas' most recent comments as a rallying cry to Arab-Americans to get more involved, and that's certainly good advice. But the phraseology is extremely unfortunate and, indeed, inaccurate. And certainly she didn't do anything to contradict the impression that was created in many minds by her original off-the-cuff ill-advised remarks, and more than reversed whatever corrective had been accomplished by her well-advised apology. The debate over whether her original or follow-up comments are anti-Semitic, anti-Zionist or simply inaccurate isn't particularly interesting. But it needs to be clearly stated that the idea that because Thomas is of a Semitic Arab heritage she therefore cannot be anti-Semitic herself by definition holds no water at all. Sadly, there is far too much genuine anti-Semitism among Arabs and Arab-Americans, just as there is a disturbing plethora of anti-Arab and Islamophobic sentiment among Israelis and Jews around the world, including the United States.
Ibish falls short of the clear-cut condemnation of Thomas that is sorely needed in the Arab American community. But at least he recognizes that she was wrong, something that makes him utterly unique - and which highlights that the vast majority of Arab American leaders really either do support Thomas' remarks wholeheartedly or are too cowed by institutional anti-semtism in their community to say anything against them.

Ibish's attempts to draw a parallel between Jew-hatred among Arabs and "Islamophobia" among Jews are unsatisfying as well, simply because the former is apparently endemic while the latter is anything but, especially in the United States. It is possible to find (way too) many Jews whose positions on the Arab/Israeli conflict are in perfect consonance with the official positions in the Arab world, but it is nearly impossible to find any Arabs whose public positions align with Israel's.

So while his essay is flawed, it at least is a belated acknowledgment of the issue, it is thoughtful, and it is welcome as a worthy  addition to the debate.

(h/t Alex)