Perhaps you’ve already seen the video of Helen Thomas giving the Jews of Israel some decidedly unfriendly advice about just where they should go:
Many have written about the incident, focusing on Thomas’s anti-Semitism and bile. I note those phenomena, too. But I’m also interested in certain other things. The first is the fact that this woman has been shaping public opinion on politics for half a century. The second is her startling and abysmal ignorance (or deliberate twisting; we don’t know which) of history.
Born in 1920, Thomas is old enough to remember WWII and Israel’s subsequent founding back when they were current events rather than history. That ought to cause her to understand exactly why her comments are so absurdly, ironically venomous. Asking Jews to “get the hell out of Palestine” and go back “home” to Germany and Poland would be almost laughable (one could imagine the Onion writing it as a parody) if Thomas hadn’t meant the remarks so seriously, and if they didn’t invoke the memory of such deeply horrific, hateful, and barbaric historic events.
Thomas’s reference to Germany and Poland as the original “home” of the Jews of Israel also expresses, among other things, her adherence to the false and misleading anti-Israel party line that Israel is composed of European Jews, which ignores the vast numbers of Jews from Arab countries who have settled there since its founding. And her particular mention of Poland as the Jewish “home” made me think of the complex yet ultimately sorrowful history of the Jews in that country.
Take a look; though lengthy, it makes for fascinating as well as sobering reading. The Jewish presence in Poland lasted for about a thousand years—not as long as their presence in Israel, of course, but still quite a long time. Jews came to Poland because they lost their ancestral homeland in Israel and then were expelled from country after country in Europe. Poland was for a while a welcoming port in a storm, relatively tolerant and accepting, especially during what was known as the golden age of the sixteenth century.
In general, the Polish kings wanted the Jews around for their own purposes—mostly economic—and the clergy didn’t, and the two groups were at odds on the issue for quite some time. This caused wild oscillations in the Jews’ acceptance and treatment in Poland over the centuries. But compared to what was happening in other places—Russia, for example, or Spain, as well as many other countries—Poland was an intermittently safe spot.
This caused Jewish numbers to increase there on the whole, although they waxed and waned in response to disease and periodic massacres. Jews never were a huge segment of the population (the maximum appears to have been 9.5%, right before the Holocaust). But in the city of Warsaw—somewhat like the city of New York now, and resembling Baghdad during the early part of the 20th century—Jews comprised about thirty percent of the inhabitants in later, pre-Holocaust, years.
The Nazis’ war against the Jews was especially ferocious in that “homeland,” Poland. Ninety percent of Polish Jews were murdered after the Nazis invaded and occupied that country. It is a further irony that some of the few surviving Polish Jews who tried to return “home” postwar were murdered for their pains when they got there. Then, many of those who were left were persecuted and then forced out by the Soviets, belatedly finishing Hitler’s goal of making Poland virtually Judenrein.
Where did that small number of surviving Polish Jews go? The answer, for quite a few, was “Israel”—the only country on earth that was/is bound to take them. But for the Helen Thomases of the world, the Jews must leave there as well—that is, if they are allowed to live at all.