Arab Press and Hezbollah Praise Helen Thomas for 'Courage'

Middle East reacts to Helen Thomas' suggestion Jews 'go home' to Europe.

BEIRUT, Lebanon, June 11, 2010 — -- When a video surfaced this week of veteran White House correspondent Helen Thomas suggesting Jews "go home" and "get the hell out of Palestine," the media shock wave pushed Thomas into retirement after a decades-long career.

In the Middle East, where the imbroglio played to a region recently polarized by Israel's deadly raid on a Gaza aid flotilla, reactions mirrored the Arab-Israeli divide.

Hussein Moussawi, a Hezbollah official, praised Thomas' "courage," and said she resonated with people who believe that Israel is "a racist state of murderers and thugs."

In Israel, on the other hand, Yoram Dori, an advisor to Israeli President Shimon Peres, wrote an open letter to Thomas in the Jerusalem Post recounting how his parents escaped the gas chambers of Auschwitz during World War II by their emigration to what would become the Jewish state.

Thomas, 89, suggested that Jews return to European countries some of their ancestors fled during the Holocaust. She later apologized for the comments, but that didn't stop the controversy that cost her a front-row seat in the White House briefing room.

Sarah Eisen, writing another open letter in the Israeli publication Haaretz, said, "Dear Helen Thomas, we Jews aren't getting the hell out of anywhere anymore."

"Many people [in Israel] were hurt and shocked as to how can someone who was alive during the Holocaust and lives in such and free and tolerant society have such an idea," said Meir Javedanfar, a Middle East analyst based in Tel Aviv.

"I think the timing of it worried some people in Israel that there are some people abroad who don't just have a problem with Israel's actions towards the flotilla," Javedanfar said. "They have a problem with Israel's existence."

In Lebanon, Israel's neighbor, with which it is technically at war, the newspaper An-Nahar published "a letter of gratitude for Helen Thomas."

Thomas, a daughter of Lebanese immigrants, was not widely known in the Arab world. But she became a hero to those who'd echo her remarks, and others defending her right to free speech.

"Helen Thomas a Victim of American Media Bias," read a headline on a story by Ali Younes, writing in Saudi Arabia's Arab News.

Mideast Reactions 'a Mirror of Society'

Rami Khouri, a prominent writer and political analyst in Beirut, said the split perspective is "highly politicized, emotional and verging on the irrational because of the intensity of the existential political struggle these dynamics reflect."

"What you get is a mirror of society," Khouri said, "and selective quotation used for psychological and political warfare."

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