In her first in-depth interview since her decades-long career as a member of the White House Press Corps crumbled following contentious statements she made in May 2010 about Israel, Jews, and Palestine, the 90-year-old Thomas doesn't mince words when giving her views on everything from the half-a-century's worth of presidents to how Zionists control "Congress, the White House, Hollywood, and Wall Street." She hasn't—as Playboy's David Hochman asked her—lost her mind or her faculties, due to her age. Actually she was pissed at that question and demanded an apology, saying, "You have to be crazy to criticize Israel? You have to be crazy to criticize tyranny?" Her opinions might be divisive but they're just that—her opinions.
Her interview with Playboy is compelling and personal, with Thomas sobbing at one point when confronted with the idea that her obit will most likely label her an anti-Semite. She vehemently denies that she is:
I think [the Jews] are wonderful people. They had to have the most depth. They were leaders in civil rights. They've always had the heart for others but not for Arabs, for some reason. I'm not anti-Jewish; I'm anti-Zionist. I am anti Israel taking what doesn't belong to it. If you have a home and you're kicked out of that home, you don't come and kick someone else out. Anti-Semite? The Israelis are not even Semites! They're Europeans, and they've come from somewhere else. But even if they were Semites, they would still have no right to usurp other people's land.
Thomas herself is of Arab descent, the daughter of Syrian-born emigrants from Tripoli, Lebanon. The battle between Palestine and Israel is obviously personal for her. And while she says controversial things on the matter she doesn't regret any of it, and says that when she made those comments about wanting Jews to "go back to Poland, Germany, America and everywhere else…" she "knew exactly what [she] was doing—going for broke."
For those of us who grew up in a culture where the horrors of the Holocaust are taught to us in grade school, some of Thomas' comments about Jewish persecution can be hard to swallow:
The slaughter of Jews stopped with World War II. And yet they carry on the victimization. Why do we have to constantly remember? We're not at fault. I mean, if they're going to put a Holocaust museum in every city in Germany, that's fine with me. But we didn't do this to the Jews. Why do we have to keep paying the price and why do they keep oppressing the Palestinians? Do the Jews ever look at themselves? Why are they always right? Because they have been oppressed throughout history, I know. And they have this persecution. That's true, but they shouldn't use that to dominate.
But at the same time, while her words are harsh, I can't help but see Thomas' point about how America does sympathize with the persecution of one group over the other. (However, this is obviously tied up in so much more than simple bias, like hijackings, terrorism, etc.)
Still, whether you agree with Thomas' views or not, her history in journalism is long and rich, and some of the stories she shares in the Playboy interview—how hard it was to keep up with President Johnson's "moving press conferences" since she was the only one in heels; how unlike male reporters, she gets sent flowers when receiving an apology from an official or a fellow member of the media; and how one time even Hillary Clinton brushed off one of Thomas' infamous tough questions by saying, "Oh, Helen, you're cute"—illuminate the differences and difficulties she's had to face as a trailblazer in the boys' club of political journalism.
Image via Playboy.