Thomas strikes again at Zionists:
They own White House, Congress, Wall Street and Hollywood
Groups demand WSU repeal decision to pull Helen Thomas diversity award
The Congress of Arab American Organizations (CAAO) met with officials from Wayne State University (WSU) Tuesday to discuss WSU's decision to eliminate the annual Helen Thomas Spirit of Diversity Award after Thomas, a former Hearst Newspapers columnist and legendary White House correspondent said, "... Congress, the White House and Hollywood, Wall Street are owned by Zionists. No question in my opinion..."
A bust of Helen Thomas was unveiled on Thursday, Dec. 2 at the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn. Here, she poses alongside of it.
Thomas is Lebanese and turned 90 in August. The CAAO warned that if the decision is not properly addressed and corrected, it would negatively impact relations between the university and the Arab American community for many years. The group also met on Dec. 8 for a briefing session on a future plan of action, agreeing to continue the fight to reverse the decision.
WSU's Arab American Student Union (ASU) was expected to protest the university's decision on campus Dec. 10 with the support of the CAAO.
Thomas spoke at a workshop on December 2 in Dearborn.PHOTO: Nafeh AbuNab/American Elite Studios
Thomas graduated from WSU in 1942 and is among its most distinguished alumni. She's covered every presidential administration in the United States from Dwight Eisenhower to John F. Kennedy to Barack Obama. She's written five books and was the first female member of the National Press Club, White House Correspondents' Association and the Gridiron Club.
The National Arab American Journalists Association (NAAJA) denounced WSU's abrupt decision, saying it was a "cowardly act." NAAJA coordinator Ray Hanania says the group is working on creating a new award in Thomas' name for defenders of free speech. Hanania says the topic of Zionism is irrelevant to the debate, and the real issue is free speech. "Is America a nation of free speech or has our free speech been comprised by oftentimes vicious and hateful special interests organizations?" he asked.
Thomas receiving an award from Wayne County CEO Bob Ficano.
SPJ is also considering revoking the Helen Thomas Award for Lifetime Achievement. An SPJ spokeswoman said eliminating the award is being considered and a decision will be made at the next executive board meeting in January.
Thomas told the Detroit Free Press that WSU made a mockery of the First Amendment and disgraced their understanding of its inherent freedom of speech and the press. "The university has betrayed academic freedom—a sad day for its students," she added.
"Helen Thomas said it's a sad day for students. It's a sad day for me. This is so personal for me. I was so hurt and so disappointed. Journalism is about being outspoken," WSU journalism student Ali Harb said. Harb plans to get 1,000 students to sign a petition demanding the school reverse its decision. He condemned the journalism faculty for not defending Thomas. "There is a gap of what journalism professors teach in class and most professors," he said. "When you refer to Zionists you are referring to a political movement. The remarks are anti-Zionist." He thinks the university pulled the award because of pressure from donors. "Is this a school or a business?" Harb said.
WSU journalism student Patrick Higgins brought up the point that the term "Zionist" is not the same as the term "Jew".
"They are completely different things," Higgins said.
WSU's Interim Dean of the College of Fine, Performing and Communication Arts Matthew Seeger, Ph.D., told The Arab American News (TAAN) that he supports the school's decision. "I would say it's not a violation of First Amendment rights. We never stopped Helen Thomas from making her statement," Seeger said.
WSU's Journalism Institute for Media Diversity (JIM) administers the Helen Thomas Spirit of diversity award annually. Seeger said JIM tries to promote diversity and Thomas' comments clouded that goal.
He says he's uncertain of how faculty members will handle it this year, and department members have been discussing different approaches since Thomas made controversial remarks on Israel in June saying its citizens should "get the hell out of Palestine, and go home to Germany, America, Poland and everywhere else."
This spring, JIM will celebrate its 25th anniversary. TAAN contacted director Alicia Nails, who declined to comment.
"We do not understand why a remark against a political group — the Zionists — would be interpreted as being anti-Semitic," said Osama Siblani, publisher of TAAN and CAAO spokesman. "We categorically reject equating Zionism with Judaism. We believe the real problem here is that some in the pro-Israeli community donor base are doing what they do whenever they can, which is silencing debate on the subject of Israel. But for an academic institution to silence debate in unconscionable. Universities are where debates should begin."
Abraham Foxman of the Jewish Anti-Defamation League issued a statement saying Thomas' remarks are "nothing less than classic garden variety anti-Semitism. "
Ben Burns, director of WSU's journalism program, says he stands by the university's decision. He says it sends a message to WSU students that the school cares about its reputation locally and nationally and that the remarks, which he called inappropriate, could harm it. "We don’t want the award to be affiliated with those types of remarks," he said.
Burns said the counter-argument that Thomas was referencing Zionism and not Jewish Americans is understandable, but the problem is the public may perceive it as referencing Jewish Americans.
"That's an understandable point-of-view but the perception ends up being more important. The Jewish community feels it's anti-Jewish," he said. "I don't think she's particularly anti-Semitic; she's Semitic. It would be difficult for someone who is Semitic to be anti-Semitic," he said.
The Helen Thomas Spirit of Diversity Award will no longer be given, but the Helen Thomas Spirit of Diversity scholarships will continue being distributed annually because of the considerable amount of money Thomas has donated to WSU.
Before making her speech at the workshop, Thomas gave advice to journalists. "Always tell the truth," she said. "I love my profession, it's the greatest profession." She's not blaming anyone for her resignation in June. "I walked into it. I'm not blaming anyone."
Thomas visited the Arab American National Museum after the workshop to view a statue of her that was unveiled.
WSU journalism students like Higgins are among the many who continue to look up to Thomas.
"I couldn't be prouder of the fact that Helen Thomas is an alumnus of my college, and I'm sorry that my college can't share my pride with me on that matter...it does not look like Wayne State will defend its own with any passion," Higgins said.