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Tuesday, June 08, 2010

It's Only Hate Speech When Liberals Say It

Unless you've been actively avoiding the news, you've probably heard that Helen Thomas has been forced into retirement. Having been part of the White House press corps since the days of JFK, Thomas has covered every president in many people's lifetime, myself included. Often referred to as a liberal, Thomas cut no one any slack; she was a critical of Clinton as she was of Nixon, as hard on Obama as she was on Bush. You get the feeling that she has an actual distaste for powerful people and always assumes they're lying, which is probably what made her such a great reporter. She was always looking for the flaw in the argument, no matter how popular or unpopular that argument was.

Still, it's hard to find a way to excuse this:

OK, a couple of points here. First and foremost, "Go back where you came from!" is always a crappy argument and this instance is no exception. Yes, Israel is a European colony (before the establishment of the Israeli state, Jews made up only one-sixth of the population of what was then called Palestine), but history shows you can't undo colonialism. Even in a colony as young as Israel. Not only was Thomas's statement offensive to many people, it was also incredibly simplistic.

And then, of course, there's the hypocrisy. For the record, Americans don't get to make this argument. Unless Helen was preparing to hand her house over to an Algonquin, she has no business telling other colonials to give anything back to an indigenous population. Regardless of whether the "Go back where you came from!" argument is good or bad, the vast majority of Americans can't make it with any logical consistency or moral authority.

That said, you'll notice that the clip isn't the most timely bit of footage you've ever seen. The timestamp at the beginning of the video reads, "White House, Jewish Heritage Celebration, May 27, 2010." Israel began to catch a lot of heat for an attack on an aid ship on May 31. The video hit the media last weekend. And suddenly, everyone's talking about Helen Thomas being mean to Israelis, when the story just hours before was about Israelis' being way more than just mean to international peace activists. Mavi Marmara? What's that, some new dish at the Olive Garden? We've all gotta talk about Helen Thomas now! The media has the attention span of a goldfish and the "freedom flotilla" was knocked right off the news.

And, of course, there's evidence that the rabbi who took the footage was a rightwing dick. RaceWire found video of the same man in a "comedy skit," doing a racist parody of a Mexican immigrant. Of course, once that got out, Rabbi David Nesenoff pulled the video from YouTube. You don't delete a video you're able to defend. So, like Helen Thomas, it looks like Rabbi Nesenoff is guilty of some hypocrisy here. Perceived antisemitism is one thing, but undeniable anti-Mexican racism is another, more acceptable (if not defensible) thing, I guess.

And if Helen Thomas had to go, then what special magical protection does Pat Buchanan have? You want an actual, honest-to-goodness antisemite? There ya go. Or maybe someone can explain how advocating the expulsion of all Palestinians from Israel is logically different from what Thomas suggested? That's Mike Huckabee's argument. Where Helen Thomas basically made an unhelpful suggestion, Huckabee's advocating ethnic cleansing. He still works at FOX. No big media controversy there. Fred Malek, Richard Nixon's "Jew counter," is a Republican powerbroker now. This fact is greeted with a yawn by the media. Helen Thomas, being a liberal, is different. She conforms to the media narrative that liberals hate Israel and, by extension and suggestion, Jews. If something contradicts that narrative, it's just ignored.

Israel is automatically right in America, which means any criticism of Israel is automatically wrong -- so long as said critic is liberal. Thomas's comments may have been less than constructive -- even stupid and offensive -- but no more so than anything people on the right say almost daily about Palestinians or Israelis. A long career of excellent journalism comes to an end, because a reporter sinned against the right's version of politically correctness. And careers of idiotic punditry go on, because they operate within the confines of acceptable conservative racism.


UPDATE: Rabbi Nesenoff's video is up at Mediaite, if you're interested. I started watching, but was overcome by the unfunny idiocy of the whole thing. If you can make it through it, you're a stronger person than I.

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