This is the famous video where some rabbi set up Helen Thomas and got her on camera saying that the Jews should get out of Palestine and go back to Europe where they came from.
This comment has been attacked as everything from stupid to anti-Semitic. It’s neither, really.
The comment is best analyzed in seeing where Thomas herself is coming from. Helen Thomas is the child of Lebanese Christian immigrants to the US, specifically Greek Orthodox Arabs. These comments of hers are quite in line with the typical Arab attitude about the Zionist Jews forming their state on the ashes of Palestine. The attitude is that the Jews are occupying Arab land in Palestine and that they ought to go back to Europe where they came from. So, she’s just talking like a typical Arab, nothing more, nothing less.
Although many Arabs who say such things are anti-Semites, not all are. Surely they are anti-Zionists. Rather than a battle of racists, this is really a war between two tribes, the Arabs and the Jews, and increasingly between the Muslims and the Jews. Tribal wars are not very pretty affairs, but it’s often incorrect to accuse the parties involved in the war of racism. Were those who hated Germans and Japanese during WW2 a bunch of racists? Get real.
The Jews do not like Arabs very much. Understandably so, as the Arabs won’t stop trying to kill them. Likewise for the Arabs in turn. If members of some enemy tribe kept trying to kill my people and more particularly me, I would surely opt to paint myself with the flimsy stain of temporary racist sin as opposed to daubing my body with the sturdy blotch of universalist death.
But it’s not much of a choice.
Further, Thomas’ comments must be seen in terms of her Greek Orthodox Arab religion. There were many Greek Orthodox living in Palestine before the Nakba, and many were ethnically cleansed. George Habash, leader of the PFLP, was ethnically cleansed with his family from Lydda, and his own sister was killed by the Jews. He was permanently radicalized. The Greek Orthodox refugees spread out to the surrounding Arab states, and many were attracted to secular Arab nationalism. Waddi Haddad, another PFLP radical, was also Greek Orthodox.
In Lebanon, the Greek Orthodox live heavily in the South with the Shia, but they often have their own villages. During the latest Lebanese war, when Israel invaded a Greek Orthodox village, the Lebanese Army surrendered, but the Israelis were soon attacked by a Greek Orthodox militia from the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, a pro-Syrian and pro-Hezbollah political party.
In the early days of the Lebanon War of 1982, the first suicide bombers were often Leftists, often Lebanese Christians, typically Greek Orthodox, from parties like the SSNP. Only later did Hezbollah take up the tactic.
In Lebanon, the Greek Orthodox support Syria and Hezbollah and despise Israel. The Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem is a ferocious anti-Zionist and even anti-Semite who has supported suicide bombings and Hamas. The Greek Orthodox had a large population in Jerusalem. Recall that one of the four quarters of the Old City, the Christian Quarter, is mostly Greek Orthodox.
Unfortunately, the Greek Orthodox, and the Orthodox Church in general, has a long history of anti-Semitism. Note the anti-Semitism of the Russian Orthodox Church. Some say that Orthodox anti-Semitism is even worse than Catholic anti-Semitism. Note that the Orthodox Church sees itself as the true pure church, and has never gone through Vatican I, forget Vatican II. My understanding is that they don’t even like Catholics, and consider Catholics to be some sort of liberal deviationists.
The anti-Semitism of the Orthodox involves accusations that the Jews are Christ-killers and the ancient enemies of the Christians. In this way it is similar to Catholic anti-Semitism, which is all about a homicidal or even genocidal response to their descendants of those who committed the Deicide.
The Nazis killed 80% of the Jews of Greece, who were mostly living in the formerly majority-Jewish city of Salonika (now Thessaloniki). Israelis who vacation in Greece report that Greeks are quite hostile, and describe them as anti-Semites.
One of the worst Christian anti-Semites was the 4th century Archbishop of Constantinople, Church Father Saint John Chrysostom. He delivered a series of homilies about Judaizing Christians, suggesting that they needed to choose one religion or the other.
The Jewish people were driven by their drunkenness and plumpness to the ultimate evil; they kicked about, they failed to accept the yoke of Christ, nor did they pull the plow of his teaching. Another prophet hinted at this when he said: “Israel is as obstinate as a stubborn heifer.”…
Although such beasts are unfit for work, they are fit for killing. And this is what happened to the Jews: while they were making themselves unfit for work, they grew fit for slaughter. This is why Christ said: “But as for these my enemies, who did not want me to be king over them, bring them here and slay them.”
Here’s an excerpt from Homily 6…
You [Jews] did slay Christ, you did lift violent hands against the Master, you did spill his precious blood. This is why you have no chance for atonement, excuse, or defense.
Pretty ugly stuff.
In spite of these sentiments, or, even more frighteningly, possibly due to them, this man was made an Orthodox saint! His hatred for the Jews was palpable. He wanted them hunted down and killed, and he wanted their synagogues burnt to the ground.
In that sense Orthodox anti-Semitism is worse even than Catholic anti-Semitism founded in part on Saint Augustine. At least Augustine felt that the Jews should be preserved in humiliation as witnesses to the triumph of Christianity. Neither accorded the Jews full humanity, but at least Augustine was willing to let them survive, albeit as some sort of Catholic version of the dhimmi.
So, while I have no knowledge of whether or not Thomas is an anti-Semite, this is the cultural milieu that she comes from. She may have heard dinner-table conversations like this while growing up in her Greek Orthodox home.