Tuesday, June 8, 2010

More Ignorance About the Middle East

I've been meaning to do a post about Israel, but it's been hard to keep up with all the different information about the "Freedom Flotilla": were the Israelis dumb (a frequently expressed opinion in the Israeli media), unlucky, or what? I have some observations about why Israel does so badly in the world media, but I'll get to those in the near future.

Today, I want to say a few words about Helen Thomas, the dean (or, if you prefer, doyenne) of the Washington press corps, who has just resigned after saying that the Jews in Israel should get out and go back to Poland or Germany. As usual, I'll try to avoid the obvious outraged or snarky comments (should Helen Thomas go back to England?).

The first point is that Israelis have no place to go. Seventy percent of Israelis were born there. Almost all of those, presumably, have no native language other than Hebrew. They are as Israeli as Helen Thomas is American.

The second point is that fewer than half of all Israeli Jews come from families originating in Eastern Europe. More than fifty percent are from families originating in Arab countries. (There are other possibilities, of course, such as the 2% or so from Ethiopia.) There is a Palestinian narrative about how Israel is an alien European transplant that the West foisted on Arabs because of guilt about the Holocaust, for which Arabs were not responsible. But the fact is that most Israeli Jews are refugees or descendants of refugees from Arab countries.

Furthermore, for complex reasons, those are the Jews who make up the bulk of the right wing in Israel. A Palestinian state would be a lot easier if everyone who lived in Israel were from Poland or Germany.

My next question was going to be how the Palestinians managed to sell their narrative so successfully that someone who spent almost fifty years covering the White House would buy it. But I just heard (thanks, Natalie) that Thomas is of Lebanese descent (related to Danny and Marlo?), so she may not be typical. Still, I wonder how many reporters, including those who report on the Middle East, know that most Israeli Jews originate in Arab countries.

It appears, then, that saying, "Helen Thomas, go back to England," is quite analogous to what she said, especially since she was born in Kentucky. Not that I would ever say such a thing.

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