Let’s shed no tears for Helen Thomas. She exemplified the adage that reminds us to quit while we’re ahead. In her case, how much neater it would have been if she had simply stepped away from her front-row seat to the nation’s business before the ravages of age further loosened her tongue to utter some pretty deplorable thoughts. In her later years, her questioning of presidents and their spokespeople didn’t reflect a kind of praiseworthy skepticism. She was mean, violating journalistic values that some in the press still hold.
But say this about her flight from the stage: It was fast. And there is a weird solace in that.
Her remarks, so well known by now that they are not worth repeating here, were clearly unacceptable. There were a few voices of sympathy, or perhaps empathy, but very few. Her slurs against Israel and the Jewish people — against the historical record, really — were indefensible, and nobody in the mainstream was going to try to rationalize them.
At a time when the movement to delegitimize Israel is gaining strength in some unpleasant quarters, it is good to know that what accounts for mainstream America won’t accept Thomas’s suggestion that Jews don’t belong in a Jewish state. It’s not just the ridiculous notion of “going back” to Poland or Germany (or Syria or Yemen) that is beyond the pale.
Thomas’s swift fall from grace reflects an understanding in the broad American public that, more than 60 years after the birth of the State of Israel, an indigenous Jewish presence is there to stay. Under what conditions, within what borders — there’s still work to be done. But there is no going back.