Nearly two years have passed since the long time journalist Helen Thomas was forced to resign after making anti-Semitic comments on camera. Since then, Thomas has been the subject of fierce criticism from both ends of the American political spectrum and from her fellow journalists. But on Sunday, she received an award – an honor from none other than Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
In May 2010, Thomas, a senior White House writer, was asked for her opinion of Israel. “Tell them that they need to get out of Palestine, and return home to Germany, Poland, and America,” Thomas responded on camera.
As a result of her comment, an onslaught of public criticism forced Thomas to apologize and retire. Shortly after her retirement, however, Thomas claimed she said “exactly what she thought.” As a result of the comments, the Society of Professional Journalists decided to discontinue the yearly lifetime achievement award bearing Thomas’ name.
It seems, however, that there is in fact someone who sees Thomas and her comments in a more positive light. On Sunday, dozens of diplomats and journalists assembled in Washington for an event in her honor. The man responsible for organizing the event was none other than the head of the Palestine Liberation Organization General Mission to the U.S., Maen Areikat.
Representatives of the PLO in Washington released a statement claiming that the text of the prize was written to “recognize Thomas’ long career in the field of journalism, during which she defended the Palestinian position every step of the way.”
The event was also attended by PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi, who presented the medal to Thomas, bestowing upon her the honor said to have come from Abbas himself. According to the Washington PLO office’s statement, Ashrawi “presented Thomas with the appreciation and blessing of the president and the Palestinian people, for all of her actions supporting Palestine in the West.”
Three months ago, Thomas, aged 91, granted an interview to CNN, her first after a long period of silence following the events that caused the embarrassing end to her career. She did not repeat her previous comments, though she blamed the Zionist lobby in Washington for distorting her comments.
“Everything is distorted, but I don’t care,” said Thomas. “You have organized lobbyists in favor of Israel. You can’t open your mouth. I can call the president of the U.S. anything in the book, but you say one thing about Israel and you’re off limits.”
When asked if she had any regrets, Thomas explained, “I have regrets that everybody has misinterpreted it, and distorted it. You have [former White House Press Secretary] Ari Fleischer and [President of the Anti-Defamation League] Abe Foxman distorting everything.”