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Antisemitism in the Media: The Tip of the Iceberg?


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Helen Thomas, dubbed “the First Lady of the Press”, was a renowned veteran reporter, “a trusted source” on White House politics, and for decades, considered a public opinion-maker, when on May 27, 2010, she made anti-Semitic remarks: she wanted Jews to simply “get the hell out of Palestine” and return “Home to Poland, Germany” or “America.”

How had she managed to keep her anti-Semitism out of sight all that time? And to what extent had that affected her reporting, especially on the Arab-Israeli conflict? Also, is Thomas just an isolated case? Or is she just the tip of the iceberg; is this the prevailing sentiment among reporters off the record? How many anti-Semitic and biased media stars are out there who are more devious than Thomas, and have chosen to keep their anti-Semitism still in the closet?

Thomas went on to claim that Israel treated the Palestinians the way the Nazis had treated the Jews. Thomas, who is of Arab descent, probably knows that this is not true by any means. All she had to do to was check the way her country of heritage, Lebanon, treats the Palestinians versus the way Israel does. As Palestinian refugees in Lebanon are institutionally and systematically discriminated against by both Lebanese society and the Lebanese state, how come Thomas never mentioned that? Was Thomas genuinely concerned with the welfare of the Palestinians, or was she using them as a platform for Jew-hate?

Some might argue that Thomas’s case was remote; former White House correspondent Sam Donaldson said her comments likely reflected the view of many people of Arab descent. Nonetheless, according to Helen’s own description of herself, she is not really an Arab. Born in 1920 in Kentucky to Lebanese parents, Thomas described her family growing up in Michigan: “We were never hyphenated as Arab-Americans. We were American, and I have always rejected the hyphen and I believe all assimilated immigrants should not be designated ethnically. Or separated, of course, by race, or creed, either. These are trends that ever try to divide us as a people.”

Thomas even emphasized her Americanism in an interview with Rabbi Nesenoff. When he asked her, “Do you speak Arabic?” she responded: “Very little. We were too busy Americanizing our parents….” In other words, Thomas is an all-American journalist; her case is not necessarily an isolated case because she is of an Arab-descent. To the contrary, what is alarming is how Thomas’ bias was able to go undetected for over five decades, all while contributing to America’s public opinion. The question now is: who else is still is in the closet?

Thomas has not been an exception in the international media, who prey on demonizing Israel and systematically complicate even the potential for peace by painting a demonic picture of the Jewish state. No question, the global media elite are eager to jump at any story in which they can swiftly demonize Israel, be it deliberately or simply to catch a juicy story by the end of the day to please the editor-in-chief. This habit has harmed the Palestinians in many ways, for example: very few media sources are interested in reporting on the inhumane conditions of the Palestinians living in Arab countries. The media are excellent at overlooking the simple fact that most Palestinian “refugees” actually do live in Arab countries and not in Israel.

A major example is the renowned British journalist Robert Fisk, who went to Jordan in 2010 to meet with right-wing Jordanian Bedouins only to come back with an article entitled “Why Jordan Is Occupied by Palestinians.” Since then, this article has been used by Bedouin extremists as the equivalent of Pravda, a Soviet agitprop publication that did not even pretend to be news. Those Bedouins want the Palestinians expelled from Jordan, and Fisk has just given them their ideal “15 minutes of fame” in an internationally prominent newspaper. Again, was Mr. Fisk concerned with the Palestinians, or with blaming Israel for everything?

While Fisk is considered a classic example of anti-Israel bias, some younger media stars, or emerging heavyweights, do not necessarily seem any different. According to the British newspaper, The Daily Mail, for instance, the relatively young Wikileaks founder, Julian Assange, was plunged into anti-Semitic row as he told a journalist he thought a Jewish conspiracy that “included” the Guardian’s editor Alan Rusbridger was being employed against him. When told Rusbridger was not Jewish, Assange reportedly noted that Rusbridger was “sort of Jewish” because he was related to David Leigh, a Jewish journalist. How do his views and convictions filter down to the way he runs Wikileaks? As it took Helen Thomas close to six decades to come out about her true feelings, this is something that perhaps one can only speculate about.

Anti-Semitic journalists, however, keep surfacing from all professional backgrounds. Take Matt Moss, for example, recently in the New York Times travel section, who in a breathtaking combination of unprofessionalism, prejudice (pre-judging something without so much as a current look at it), and lack of curiosity, boasted that although he is Jewish, the only country on the entire planet he does not want to visit is Israel. He did not even have the grace to acknowledge that — in an earlier time, not so long ago, without an Israel as the sole haven offering sanctuary to boatloads of people fleeing the Third Reich’s killing machine while other countries, including the United States, either turned boats away or let them sink — he too might well have ended up in an oven or as a cake of curio soap.

About the Author: Mudar Zahran is a Palestinian writer and academic from Jordan, who now resides in the UK as a political refugee.


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