Arab-American leaders defended veteran journalist Helen Thomas, as her alma mater pulled an award named in her honor. Wayne State University's decision to disassociate itself with Thomas was a response to the most recent controversial comments by the veteran White House correspondent.
Thomas outlined "Zionist" control of key government and media outlets at an event by Arab Detroit, a group dedicated to "promoting an accurate image about the Arab American community and the Arab world." She stated, "We are owned by propagandists against the Arabs. There's no question about that. Congress, the White House and Hollywood, Wall Street are owned by the Zionists."
Imad Hamad, Michigan regional director of the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), and Osama Siblani, publisher of the Dearborn-based Arab American News and spokesman for the Congress of Arab-American Organizations (CAAO), met with University officials to defend Thomas. The CAAO will also protest the university's decision on Friday.
"Helen Thomas is not now, and never has, been anti-Semitic," Hamad stated. "She has worked her entire career, 60 years, to bring truth to the American public, and she is simply continuing to do that." The ADC honored Thomas in November with the 2010 Mehdi Courage in Journalism award.
Siblani declared, "We do not understand why a remark against a political group—the Zionists—would be interpreted as being anti-Semitic."
The mention of "Zionist" ownership of media or control of the government is often a thinly veiled reference to Jews and echoes classic anti-Semitic libels. In response to her comments, officials at the Wayne State stated, "As a public university, Wayne State encourages free speech and open dialogue, and respects diverse viewpoints. However the university strongly condemns the anti-Semitic remarks made by Helen Thomas during a conference yesterday."
The university had also condemned previous anti-Semitic statements, where she told a Rabbi that the Israelis should get the hell out of Palestine and "go home" to "Poland, Germany and America and everywhere else." At the time Wayne State retained the award because of Thomas' "years of exemplary service" and her pioneering role for women in journalism.
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), an organization whose mission is to "fight anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry," supported the university's decision. "We commend Wayne State University for making the right decision to revoke the 'Helen Thomas Spirit of Diversity in Media' award and for making clear that what she said amounts to anti-Semitism," stated ADL Michigan Regional Director Betsy Kellman. "No academic institution or professional organization should want to be connected to Helen Thomas after the outrageous anti-Semitic remarks she made to a public forum."
Thomas defended her comments. "I just think that people should be enlightened as to who is in charge of the opinion in this country," Thomas told a Marion, Ohio radio station WMRN-AM. She also responded defensively to the ADL's comments, "They think they have the right of intimidation." She also stated, "They already got my job. They want to get my honorary degrees."