It is hard to become much more influential than the doyen of the White House press corps, who is given a ceremonial front-rows seat at press briefings and press conferences. So when Helen Thomas suggested that the Israelis should leave their country and “go home” to Poland and Germany, this was not some obscure, eccentric anti-Semite, but a liberal insider who has come to enjoy iconic status and a sense of exemption from criticism.
Note that Ms. Thomas did not call for just a West Bank free of Jews. And she did not just wish for the elimination of the nation of Israel itself. Rather, Thomas envisions the departure of Israelis to the sites of the major death camps seven decades ago where six million Jews were gassed.
Turkey’s role in aiding and abetting the flotilla, and its subsequent anti-Israeli outbursts, were excessive even by the often sick standards of the Middle East — but not exactly new. State-run Turkish television has aired virulent anti-Semitic dramas like the 2006 Valley of the Wolves, in which a Jewish doctor harvests organs from captured Iraqi civilians. Former Turkish prime minister Necmettin Erbakan once claimed that the Jews had instigated World War I in order to create Israel. Israel, Erbakan further asserted, in full-blown Hitlerian prose, was a “disease” and a “bacteria” that needed to be eradicated. The current prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, talks of sending in the Turkish fleet to confront the Israeli blockade, says he is sick of Israeli lies, and warns that his new Turkey is not “a young and rootless nation,” as Israel presumably is (note the code word “rootless”). So speaks our NATO partner and EU wannabe. This week, in reaction to criticism from the West, Erdogan labeled such concerns “dirty propaganda” — note well, not just propaganda but a “dirty” sort.
In an odd way, Thomas’s sick suggestions and Turkey’s new Islamist and vehemently anti-Israel foreign policy will have a liberating effect on Israel. After all, if the ceremonial head of the White House press corps wants Israel’s citizens either gone or dead, there is a legitimate suspicion that things are not quite right in the capital of Israel’s staunchest ally. And if the most secular, democratic, and pro-Western Muslim country in the Middle East wishes to pick a fight to prove its Muslim fides, then there is not much hope that Israel is going to win over anyone else in that region.
Anti-Semitism as displayed by both Thomas and Turkey’s leaders is not predicated on criticizing Israel, much less disagreeing with its foreign policy. Instead, it hinges upon focusing singularly on Israeli behavior, and applying a standard to it that is never extended to any other nation.