Helen Thomas exits anti-AIPAC meeting amid controversy

Former White House press corps member pulls out of Washington conference due to opposition from many participants.

By GIL STERN STERN SHEFLER
April 20, 2011 18:36
2 minute read.
Helen Thomas

helen thomas 311. (photo credit: Rabbi David F. Nesenoff)

 
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A retired journalist accused of making anti-Semitic remarks has withdrawn her participation from an anti-AIPAC conference in Washington next month because of opposition by some of its participants.

Helen Thomas, who caused controversy when she called on Jews in Israel to “go back to Europe” last year, reportedly declined to take part in the Move Over AIPAC when it became clear that “several members of the coalition and our grassroots community” involved in the conference were opposed to her attendance.

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“When Thomas was informed about this, she feared that the focus of the events might shift to her, instead of AIPAC and US policy, and she gracefully withdrew her participation,” the press release by Move Over AIPAC said.

Thomas was quoted by organizers as thanking Move Over AIPAC for inviting her, saying she hoped the conference’s purpose of countering Israel’s perceived influence in Washington will succeed.

“I am delighted that people are coming together for this gathering and I want to make sure that the focus stays on AIPAC and US policy, not me,” she was quoted saying by the anti-Israel lobby group.

A week earlier conference organizers announced Thomas would be the keynote speaker at the event in a press release which was removed from the Web on Wednesday.

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“We’re delighted to announce that Helen Thomas, who spent her career questioning the powerful and speaking out against war and injustice, will be joining us in DC as a keynote speaker at the Move Over AIPAC,” a press release stated.

Move Over AIPAC has been endorsed by the likes of political scientists Stephen Walt and John Meirsheimer, who wrote a book criticizing the “Israeli lobby” in Washington, and Jewish Voice for Peace, a leftist Jewish organization involved in attempts to break the blockade on Gaza, according to its website.

Several messages and phone calls to Walt, Meirsheimer and JVP went unanswered.

Medea Benjamin, a spokesperson for the event, elaborated on differences of opinion among participants regarding Thomas and her reputation.

“Some within the coalition think that the remarks were anti-Semitic and condemned what she said,” Benjamin said.

“Others thought that it was a slip of the tongue and that her extended comments afterwards were a good explanation. Personally, I’ve been an admirer of her for years and her protest of the Iraq war.”

Asked if inviting a speaker who in the past made inflammatory comments about Jews proved the point of the gathering’s critics that it was pushing an anti- Semitic agenda under the guise of an anti-Israeli lobby event, Benjamin responded in the negative.

“The conference is really to talk about – and many of us are Jews – is to work for a policy where Israel and Palestine can live together in peace and get a process started,” Benjamin, who is Jewish, said.

“My values are Jewish and I believe in compassion for all and AIPAC does not represent my Jewish values. Helen Thomas is one of 30 people who have been invited and we are a community

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