Belief Beat

Updated at 10 p.m.: CNN reports that Helen Thomas has retired. For additional information about her long career in the White House press corps, including some context about the remarks that prompted her resignation, check out  The Washington Post and New York Times stories.

The American, Jewish and Israeli media have blown up over Helen Thomas’ remarks that Israel “should get the hell out of Palestine,” which understandably prompted outraged Jewish organizations to condemn the now-apologetic White House correspondent.

A few examples:

(I was going to sit this one out, at least for another day, but when The Huffington Post and Fox News are on the same page, it’s time to blog!)

In the U.S. media, taking the cue from Jewish organization press releases, her remarks have been almost universally labeled “anti-Semitic.” But isn’t there a difference between being anti-Semitic (hating the Jews), anti-Israel (opposed to Israel’s policies and actions against the Palestinians), anti-Zionist (disagreeing with the philosophy that Israel should be a Jewish homeland), or pro-Palestinian (upset about the suffering of millions of displaced people)? These labels may overlap, but they aren’t synonyms, as National Catholic Register blogger Jimmy Akin has pointed out, though short-staffed, budget-strapped, deadline-oriented journalists can’t often explore those distinctions.

Here’s an imperfect analogy: the United States was attacked on 9/11 by extremist Muslim terrorists. All over the world, people said “We are all New Yorkers.” Nearly a decade later, global sentiment is quite different, and many are outraged that America went on to invade Iraq and has continued fighting in Afghanistan, and now Pakistan. Are protesters who say that Americans should “get the hell out” of these Muslim countries defined as anti-American, anti-Christian (for those who view America as a Christian nation), pro-Muslim, all of the above, none of the above?

As for Thomas’ Lebanese heritage and advanced age — 89 — some bloggers say these factors give her highly inappropropriate remarks a different context; a few others have argued that if Thomas gets fired for her hateful words, then what does that mean for outspoken folks like Glenn Beck and Al Sharpton? I’m not sure I would emphasize these points, given that Thomas seems quite lucid and her work requires a certain amount of objectivity (perceived, if not actual), but they’re worth considering as part of the larger debate.

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

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