By Rabbi Getzy Markowitz
There was a time that I figured everyone to be mortal except for Helen Thomas. However, the 89 year old “Queen of the Press,” has proven her mortality through a royal indiscretion that will discredit her legacy.
Millions have now seen the footage of Thomas suggesting that Jews, “Get…out of Palestine,” and “Go back to Germany and Poland.” What’s more, Thomas’ awful remarks were made at a White House reception celebrating American-Jewish heritage.
Like former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleisher who boldly condemned Thomas, I used to “like” her. While I am sure Ari has his reasons, mine were simple. As a child, I enjoyed the notion that my grandparents, parents, and I shared through Thomas a link to presidential history. We all grew up watching her at White House press conferences. Sure, Thomas is a fan of Yasser Arafat, and has used her front row seat in the White House press room to stage the Palestinian cause, but as a kid it was her immortal tenure, not her immoral posture, that impressed me.
But I am all grown up now.
Not everyone who disagrees with Israel or who is an apologist for her enemies is an anti-Semite. In fact, I have more of a distaste for people who irresponsibly label those who differ with them as bigoted than for their misguided critics. However, if there is anything older than Helen Thomas, it’s her vicious ideology. It was the same theory that led to the diabolical murder of six million Jews in the countries Thomas would have my people return to.
At a conversation in the White House in 2002, Helen thanked G-d for Hezbola for “driving Israel out of Lebanon.” The daughter of Lebanese immigrants, one could excuse Thomas for wanting Israel out of her parents’ homeland. Yet, why would she want the Jews out of their ancestral land? Thomas also claimed that, “Israel is the cause for 99 percent of all this terrorism.” I would submit that it is prejudiced reporters like Thomas who are disproportionately responsible for much of the terror, violence, and anger, that are wrongly directed at Israel.
It is no secret that Israel’s handling of public relations leaves something to be desired. However, dangers like Thomas’ six decades of biased reporting, and all the other media commentary compromised by personal agenda, make Israel’s task ever more difficult.
Now may be a good time to reconsider positions some of us may have on Israel. I am in no way suggesting that all reporters or media outlets have it in for the Jewish State. However, with the most senior of White House reporters showing her true colors, one needs to ask: Is my opinion indeed my own, or a reflection of someone else’s prejudgment?
Take last week’s flotilla disaster. Many people are under the assumption that Israel’s Defense Forces stopped a humanitarian shipment from reaching Gaza, and used unnecessary lethal force against citizen activists aboard the Mavi Marmara. How many of us looked into the story, researching who these “activists” were, and what their cargo contained? We can’t control the free press, but we do have freedom to use our powers of reasoning to formulate an opinion on a news item, or on someone else’s opinion.
I have seen photos of weaponry and war materials that were confiscated from the boats before Israel forwarded actual humanitarian supplies into Gaza. Did the major media outlets report these findings? We all saw the violent images of soldiers struggling with the flotilla passengers, and were left to decide on who indeed was acting in self defense. But what of the videos showing activists brandishing metal rods and broken glass bottles in preparation for a confrontation? Israeli commandos wielded paintball guns as their primary weapons when they boarded the flotilla, and they were met by sharp glass, metal bars, and live ammunition. Which party handled lethal weapons?
Just as recently as today, Reuters news agency has been accused of cropping photos from the Mavi Marmara. In one clipped photo, an Israeli soldier is seen held down by activists. One could assume that the activists were protecting themselves. However, in the unedited photo a man holding a knife stands over the soldier and his pool of blood. In another cropped photo, an Israeli soldier is seen lying on deck surrounded by flotilla activists. At the edge of the photo is the index knuckle of a man in faded blue jeans. However, in the original picture that knuckle is grasping a knife.
Little Green Footballs, the site which brought Reuters’ alterations to the public’s attention, rightly asserts that, “Most people would consider that knife an important part of the context. There was a huge controversy over whether the activists were armed. Cropping out a knife, in a picture showing a soldier who’s apparently been stabbed, seems like a very odd editorial decision.”
The intelligent and informed will come to a reasonable conclusion, while the ignorant and uninformed cannot be expected to. In the courtroom of international citizenry, Reuters’ cropping of photos is tampering with key evidence in a consequential story.
This isn’t the first time that Reuters has manipulated photos. According to Fox News, “In 2006 a Reuters photographer, Adnan Hajj, doctored several photos of the destruction caused by Israel’s bombing of Beirut. In one, he added smoke to a panoramic picture of South Beirut to make the damage look more severe than it was. In a second photo, he showed a woman whose home had supposedly been destroyed in the same raid, but an investigation revealed that the woman’s house had been destroyed prior to the Israeli strike.”
I would argue that flotilla evidence until now proved Israel’s innocence. Now, it does so overwhelmingly. If the Helen Thomas episode could serve as her journalistic last will and testament, it should tell us, “Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” Reuters, Thomas, and others have distorted important stories, particularly relating to the Jewish State of Israel. These experiences should encourage fair-minded people to rework their positions.