Tag Archives: poland

Helen Thomas and “the palestinian question”

TW: Holocaust/Shoa, Israeli occupation, Zionism, sexism

I have to be as brief as possible today, so I’ll recommend reading what I’ve already written on how the historically pivotal and intriguing journalist Helen Thomas is being remembered. In a nutshell, the way she created the news seems really inseparable from her gender, in spite of the flurry of obituaries that either don’t discuss her gender at all or do so in comparatively shallow way.

When I say “don’t discuss” it at all, I honestly do mean that. The Guardian’s Dan Kennedy seemed to do so in fascinating oblique way. Among the actually utterly bizarre sections of his piece I could pull out, here’s the two most striking. First, when establishing her as not merely critical of Israel but (as his piece intended to) as antisemitic, Kennedy quotes this confusing mess:

“Her comments – that Jews [specifically modern Jewish settlers] should ‘get the hell out of Palestine’ and ‘go home’ to Poland and Germany – brought Thomas’s 67-year career to an abrupt end. On Monday, she announced her retirement from the Hearst news service amid condemnation from the White House and her fellow reporters. ‘It’s hard to hear the words ‘the Jews of Germany and Poland’ and not think of anything but the millions and millions of Jews who were incarcerated, enslaved, tortured, starved and exterminated in the Holocaust,’ wrote Rachel Sklar at Mediaite, concluding: ‘Which means that, sad as I am, Helen Thomas can no longer be a hero to me.'”

Sklar better explains her point later in that article (most “couldn’t go back to where their families came from in Germany or Poland even if they wanted to, because entire villages were wiped out”), but there really isn’t much of a there there. Of course survivors of the Holocaust have every reason to want to leave Germany and Poland, but it seems a rather difficult length to go to where Thomas was saying they couldn’t leave those countries. Her statement was made within the context of the Israel-backed right of any Jewish settler to any Palestinian land they might want, free of charge, because it’s “theirs”. The need for many Holocaust survivors to leave the cites of that massacre doesn’t give them the right to any property they so choose, and the militant efforts to establish their ability to do so anyway is what has prompted many current residents of the region to tell the settlers to go elsewhere (including to Germany or Poland).

Kennedy shows how he’s willfully ignoring that entire context of forced land redistribution when he closes his article saying, “It would be unkind to suggest that Thomas, who was born in Kentucky, should ‘go home’ to Lebanon, from which her parents immigrated. But it would be in keeping with her own loathsome views.” For one, virtually none of the Holocaust survivors whom he and Sklar pointed to were born in Palestine as Thomas was in Kentucky. What’s more, unless the Thomas’ have an extensive yet well hidden criminal record, they didn’t take their home in Kentucky from a family which had been living there, but purchased one. His entire point collapses under this conflation of the survivors of the Holocaust and any Jewish person who is afforded citizenship rights and certain social privileges by Israel, as well as an astounding romanticization of the settlement process.

The second egregious flaw in Kennedy’s argument is much less illuminating and more utterly baffling. Having cycled through recent Thomas quotes up to the Israeli attack on an aid flotilla bound for the Gaza Strip in 2010, he wrote, “to assert, as Thomas did, that Israeli commandos landed on the deck of the Mavi Marmara with the express intent of shedding Muslim blood is to deny Israel’s very legitimacy as a state.” That is then explained as the “subtext” to her and other critics’ response to that action by the Israel Defense Forces. I honestly have no idea how he goes from one action of the state being illegal under international law to Israel itself being vaguely ‘illegitimate’ but it’s quite breathtaking. If that’s how international human rights standards work, then we should all prepare to live in anarchy while nearly every state on the planet is presumably dismantled for ‘illegitimacy’.

The only angle through which I can squeeze some modicum of sense through those statements is that Kennedy (and Michael Hirschorn) honestly believe that the attack on the flotilla was exaggerated or a set-up or some other bizarre conspiratorial situation or account, which was created for the use by the villainous Thomas and her ilk against the good (if perhaps flawed) state of Israel. There’s sadly no charitable way of putting how ludicrous that is, given that it was Israel that put out blatantly false evidence of the “threat” posed by the flotilla.


(This is one of the infamous pictures supposedly taken after raiding the flotilla of their “weapons”, the metadata of which suggested that the photos were taken years prior to the flotilla raid, from here.)

Ultimately, that’s what these issues (of the rights of Palestinians and other gentile groups within Israeli-controlled territory to basic dignity) boil down to. Thomas, although dead, seems to have coaxed Kennedy and those like him into making these same broken arguments, based on falsehoods or strange comparisons, with a fervor that betrays them. Even beyond the grave, she’s getting answers out of people that they don’t want to give.

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What do you do with a country like Russia? And who can and should do it?

TW: political killings, electoral rigging, silencing protesters

If you have a good memory, you’ll recall the on-going indications from the Romney campaign that as possible future President, Romney would reignite the Cold War with Russia. I’m curious to see if the recent crackdown on foreign-funded (including US-funded) non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Russia, will elicit US pundits to proclaim him to be a visionary who foresaw the coming conflict with Putin’s Russia. The obvious problem is how this is necessarily an issue of American foreign policy and furthermore one that requires decisive action on the part of the President. Russia’s problems so far have been internal in nature, even with the constant talk of “foreign agents.” Charging the opposition with being foreign collaborators or lackeys has been Putin’s response to the protests since they began almost a year ago against blatantly fraudulent parliamentary elections. This is not a strategy unique to Russia, nor even the eastern hemisphere.

This newly proposed policy has everything to do with domestic politics in Russia, especially those pertaining to civil liberties and transparent political processes. The electoral system is fundamentally fixed – for years violence against journalists has shut down effective reporting in the country, advocates of democracy and transparency have long alleged that domestic donors are threatened with arrests or violence, and last minute “fixes” from ballot stuffing to voter intimidation have become common. As demonstrations late last year and early this year continued – alleging all sorts anti-democratic efforts – the protest band Pussy Riot stormed the altar of Moscow’s main Russian Orthodox cathedral, calling on the Virgin Mary to protect them from Putin. The performance was filmed and distributed online after their arrest for hooliganism and insulting the Russian Orthodox faith (as one band member put it “I’m Orthodox but hold different political views” from church officials who urged the country to reinstate Putin as President).


(The original protest with the now famous song “Punk Prayer: Mother of God Drive Putin Away”)

The problem for Putin is clear – anarchist and feminist critiques of the de facto one party rule of Russia are getting a lot of attention and going mainstream. With the clear evidence of electoral rigging provided by better-funded NGOs like Голос (translatable as “Vote” or “Voice”), which had navigated the attacks on domestic financial supporters by looking for international support, popular movements hostile to the Putin presidency are developing.

Protests in Perm
(Protesters for the release of Pussy Riot in Perm, Russia, holding up a sign saying “the arts are the territory of freedom.” Originally from here.)

In a country where the bureaucracy is explicitly manipulated to invalidate most challengers’ candidacies and protesters are threatened with lengthy jail sentences, it’s unclear exactly what a Romney-led United States could do to help. Most of the population of Russia isn’t threatened with political killings – so a military intervention seems to be not only tactical nonsense but an ethically impractical solution. Sanctions are well-established non-starters. The EU has far more in the way of economic and political ties to Russia, and so far they’ve been leading the charge with all the diplomatic pushes they can.

If Romney honestly wants to help the people of Russia, and this isn’t empty posturing to make the US vote like it’s the 1980s again, he should be specific about what powers he sees the American presidency having which could be used to assist efforts to reinstate democratic and transparent governance in Russia. As with many other issues, he needs to be specific, if he’s going to speak up on this topic again.

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