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Helen Thomas retires, a huge win for conservative supporters of Israel

As of today, Helen Thomas is no longer a columnist for Hearst Newspapers. She's retired, shortly before her 90th birthday, and the company makes no attempt to cover up the fact that she left over a widely-circulated video in which she called for Jews to leave the Middle East and return to Europe.

I've posted the statement below the fold, but I think it's important to note why some people saw this coming, and why Thomas had basically no defenders over the past 72 hours. She parlayed 60 years of journalism experience into a comfortable job as a columnist, one who had the right to a seat in the front row of the White House briefing room and lob questions at the president. In her later years, she used that privilege to indulge an opinion fairly rare in Washington's press corps -- that Israel was engaging in criminal acts against Palestinians.

For a long time, supporters of Israel -- especially conservatives, who were annoyed at Thomas's liberal stances on other issues -- gritted their teeth and accepted Thomas. And during that time, many liberals embraced her for tossing questions that literally no one else in the press corps would have asked. Their clumsy phrasing was part of the charm; indeed, in 2006, a liberal group sent Thomas 100 roses for needling George W. Bush. Also below the fold, I've included three recent columns from Thomas to demonstrate just how blunt she was in writing about this.

Maybe it's too early to call winners and losers in this, but conservatives -- especially foreign policy conservatives -- clearly have something to celebrate today. Thomas was brought down not by some investigation or off-the-record comment, but by a Flip video recorded by an unknown rabbi and documentary maker, and that fact will quickly enter the mythology of conservative blogs.

Here's the statement:

Helen Thomas announced Monday that she is retiring, effective immediately.

Her decision came after her controversial comments about Israel and the Palestinians were captured on videotape and widely disseminated on the Internet.

Thomas later issued a statement: "I deeply regret my comments I made last week regarding the Israelis and the Palestinians. They do not reflect my heart-felt belief that peace will come to the Middle East only when all parties recognize the need for mutual respect and tolerance. May that day come soon."

Thomas will mark her 90th birthday on Aug. 4.

She made this point in a May 2008 column titled "Israelis celebrate, Palestinians mourn."

Palestinians hoping for a change in U.S. policy shouldn’t be looking to Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., the leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. Obama -- whose middle name is Hussein -- is scared of being dubbed a Muslim or even seen as sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinians. Obama, who once indicated that he would talk to foreign leaders on all sides if he became president, has seen the light.

He sacked Robert Malley, a liberal Middle East expert, from his role as an adviser because Malley told The London Times that he had been in contact with Hamas as part of his regular non-campaign job.

That surely tells you something about Obama.

The likely GOP presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., is also an ardent supporter of Israel. So the Israelis have no worries about the November election. No one in recent years has done more for Israel than Bush. I expect streets in Tel Aviv will be named after him. A monument may even be built in his honor.

May 2009 column

Obama failed to get Netanyahu to agree to the creation of a Palestinian state. The president did, however, throw the Israeli leader the usual bone by referring to the "special relationship" between the U.S. and Israel. The president also said "when it comes to my policies towards Israel and the Middle East … Israel’s security is paramount."

He didn’t mention anything about the Palestinians’ security.

January 2009 column titled "War is Hell"

The Israelis may have some apprehension that Bush is departing. But apparently they don’t have to worry that president-elect Barack Obama might become a little more even-handed.

Obama’s words while he was in Israel on the campaign trail last summer were reassuring and widely repeated. Obama said that if rockets were thrown at a house where his two little girls were threatened, he would do everything in his power to stop them.

That is totally understandable. However, Obama did not add that if Palestinian children were being attacked by Israeli bombers, he also would do everything he could to stop them.

But that would take courage.

By David Weigel  |  June 7, 2010; 12:52 PM ET
Categories:  Media  
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