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The Islamo-Bolivarian threat – Opinion – Al Jazeera English.

The Islamo-Bolivarian threat

Should the US be worried about the close relationship between Iran and Venezuela?
Belen Fernandez Last Modified:
17 Aug 2011 13:22

Recent years have seen an increasingly close relationship between Venezuela and Iran [EPA]

In early July, the US Congressional Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence held a hearing entitled “Hezbollah in Latin America – Implications for US Homeland Security“.

The line-up of witnesses consisted of Roger Noriega, visiting fellow at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute; Douglas Farah, senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center; Ilan Berman, vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council and journal editor for the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs; and Brown University professor Dr. Melani Cammett, the only testifier who bothered to provide an accurate history of Hezbollah and to refrain from referring to the Lebanese political party and resistance movement as a terrorist organisation directed by Iran.

Cammett’s co-witnesses more than made up for her dearth of creativity. Given the quality of what is consistently allowed to pass as evidence of the threat posed to the US by the supposed love affair between Iran and leftist Latin American regimes, it is perhaps only surprising that the first three expert-propagandists did not invoke Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s joke in the Oliver Stone documentary “South of the Border” – in reference to a corn-processing facility – that, “This is where we build the Iranian atomic bomb.”

Stripped of its facetious intent, the comment would have proved an able companion to the clique’s existing arsenal of justifications for increased US militarisation of Latin America as well as potential military manoeuvrings against Iran.

The Caracas-Tehran one-stop

No congressional subcommittee hearing would have been complete without testimony confirming that it is currently possible to travel by air from Caracas to Tehran with only one stop in Damascus.

This bit of trivia, mentioned by both Noriega and Farah, has for the past several years been a favourite among neoconservative pundits as well as members of the Israeli foreign ministry.

During his June 2009 expedition to Honduras to attend the 39th General Assembly of the Organisation of American States (OAS), Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon warned: “We know that there are flights from Caracas via Damascus to Tehran.” The superior urgency of the “Iranian attempt to penetrate into the continent” was unclear given that no representatives of the Islamic Republic or any other non-American state had been present at said assembly.

In addition to Ayalon’s appearance in Honduras, other instances of proof of the facility of transatlantic travel include the 1983 training in Israel of Carlos Castano, father of modern Colombian paramilitarism, who acknowledged inheriting the concept from the Israelis. It comes as no surprise that Israeli-Colombian models of terrorisation and displacement of populations infringing economically, ideologically, or ethnically on the interests of power are deemed far less deserving of contemplation in certain circles than, for example, the “dangerous ‘caudillo-mullah’ axis” advertised by the Honourable Noriega.

Noriega’s scary secret fantasy stash

Roger Noriega, one of various Iran-Contra relics recycled into subsequent US administrations, served under the Bush II regime as US ambassador to the OAS and then as assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs. The Iran-Contra portion of his curriculum vitae suggests that he has already had considerable experience with a different sort of caudillo-mullah axis, according to which profits from arms sales to the axis’ latter half went to benefit supporters of right-wing dictatorships in Nicaragua.

Noriega’s transparent fear-mongering efforts against the new axis often employ a vocabulary of limited range, such that in the past ten months alone we have been alerted to the existence of rightist Honduran President Pepe Lobo’s “Secret Pact with Hugo Chavez” as well as “Chavez’s Secret Nuclear Program” and “Argentina’s Secret Deal With Iran?“, and have been reminded that the Caracas-Tehran one-stop is part of “Hugo Chavez’s Scary Anti-American Campaign.”

The sensational effects of Noriega’s strategic reliance on “secrets” are somewhat mitigated by his inability to sustain his own allegations. As Nicaragua-based journalist Charles Davis points out in a March 2011 piece for Right Web with regard to Noriega’s October 2010 detection of Venezuela’s clandestine nuclear weapons programme:

“[T]hat show-stopping claim of nuclear proliferation on the US’s ‘soft underbelly’ isn’t mentioned in [Noriega’s] more recent, 2,700 word policy guide for the new Congress. According to leaked State Department cables released by the whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks, US diplomats have privately mocked the notion that Venezuela is assisting Iran’s nuclear program or developing atomic weapons – or even capable of developing a civilian nuclear power program.”

In a dispatch entitled “Chavez the Cocaine Capo?“, Noriega speculates that the Venezuelan leader “should be very troubled that a man whom President Obama has branded one of the world’s most significant drug kingpins, Walid Makled-Garcia, may soon be telling US federal prosecutors everything he knows about senior Venezuelan officials who have abetted his cocaine smuggling operations”. The attempt to discredit leftist governments by saddling them with drug trafficking ties should be juxtaposed with the fact that CIA facilitation of the accrual by right-wing Nicaraguan paramilitaries of revenues from cocaine distribution in the US is no secret.

Farsi tattoos, Mexicans and geography

The tendency to heap socialists, Islamists, drug traffickers, and other undesirables into a single nexus of malevolence is also observable in a 2010 letter from US Representative Sue Myrick to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, hyping the idea that Hezbollah is cooperating with drug cartels on the US southern border.

Apparently unconcerned that the friendly Mexican government may also be cooperating with drug cartels on the same border, Myrick delivers the smoking gun:

“Across states in the Southwest, well trained officials are beginning to notice the tattoos of gang members in prisons are being written in Farsi. We have typically seen tattoos in Arabic, but Farsi implies a Persian influence that can likely be traced back to Iran and its proxy army, Hezbollah. These tattoos in Farsi are almost always seen in combination with gang or drug cartel tattoos.”

Myrick’s argument was compelling enough to merit regurgitation by Douglas Farah at last month’s congressional subcommittee hearing and then by Texas’ Rio Grande Valley KRGV news station, which cautioned: “Terrorists Use New Identifying Markers To Recognize Each Other”. As for Myrick’s contention that, thanks to the bond between Chavez and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iranians can now learn Spanish in Venezuela and then cross the US border posing as Mexicans, the need for enhanced racial profiling in the US has also been suggested by the global intelligence firm STRATFOR’s analysis that Hezbollah looks Mexican.

Farah’s testimony meanwhile also included the allegation that Venezuela is an “ideal launching pad” for drug trafficking due to its “geographic proximity to West Africa”. That Farah is unable to present his arguments without resorting to such preposterous calculations does not aid his overall credibility, which is further obviated via his announcement that Iran, the Bolivarian states, Hezbollah, and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC):

“Share a doctrine of asymmetrical warfare against the United States that embraces the use of weapons of mass destruction, massive civilian casualties as acceptable collateral damage and the underlying belief that the acquisition of nuclear weapons to destroy the United States is a moral or religious imperative. This is not a statement of capacity, but a clear statement of intention.”

The problem here, of course, is that it is not clear what the “this” that is allegedly a clear statement of intention is referring to aside from Farah’s own fabrications, given that none of the listed entities has ever expressed belief in the necessity of a nuclear destruction of the US and that the practice of inflicting massive collateral casualties has in recent history been monopolised by the US-Israel axis.

Argentina, penetrated

Relentlessly invoked as evidence of the malicious continental designs of Iran/Hezbollah is the extermination of civilians in Buenos Aires in terrorist attacks on the Israeli embassy and the AMIA, the Jewish cultural centre, in 1992 and 1994, respectively. The standard argument is that the attacks were conducted as revenge for Argentina’s cancellation of nuclear contracts with Iran.

However, as historian and investigative journalist Gareth Porter points out in an in-depth report for The Nation, a top Argentine nuclear official has confirmed that negotiations to resume cooperation with Iran continued throughout the period in which the bombings occurred and that it appeared the outcome would be favourable to the Islamic Republic. This raises the possibility that revenge may have instead been the priority of a non-Iranian party.

Walking down the street in Buenos Aires in July 2009, I quickly learned from the disproportionate number of sidewalk billboard advertisements featuring Chavez and Ahmadinejad clasping hands – accompanied by a warning of “Iranian penetration in Latin America” – that the annual observance of the anniversary of the AMIA attack constituted a prime occasion on which to intensify the dissemination of paranoia. The penetration ads directed consumers to an article by a certain Ely Karmon in Veintitres magazine and were interspersed with posters depicting an unoccupied bed with white sheets in commemoration of the “85 goodbyes”, which I first assumed was a reference to the current Argentine swine flu epidemic rather than the AMIA fatalities.

Veintitres defines Karmon as a Senior Academic Investigator at the International Counterterrorism Institute and the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Israel. His senior academic investigatory techniques in this case include plagiarising three paragraphs from a 2007 Miami Herald article by Andres Oppenheimer, whose observation that “Ahmadinejad must love the tropics” because he has spent more time in Latin America than George W. Bush, Karmon does attribute to the Herald – albeit without explaining how it is that the former US president has become the standard against which travel frequency to places other than Crawford, Texas, should be measured.

Karmon’s investigation exposes worrisome trends such as that Farsi is being taught at Venezuelan universities, that a number of Iranian engineers have learned basic Spanish, and that Hezbollah operations have recently been “thwarted in Azerbaijan and an unidentified European country”. He additionally draws attention to a 2008 Los Angeles Times article that reports word of a joint scheme between Hezbollah, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, and Venezuelan airport workers to exploit IranAir’s Venezuela service in order to capture Jewish businessmen in Latin America and smuggle them to Lebanon. The “Western anti-terrorism official” to whom knowledge of the plan is ascribed does not explain why the one-stop to Tehran is not thus a non-stop to Beirut.

As for other functions of the Caracas-Tehran trajectory, these have been revealed by Roger Noriega, who, two weeks after declaring that “We can only guess who and what are aboard these flights”, managed to inform the congressional subcommittee: “The Hezbollah networks use these flights and others to ferry operatives, recruits, and cargo in and out of the region.”

Nicaragua misplaces mega-embassy and canal

Another persistent cause for concern is the Iranian diplomatic presence in Latin America, as exemplified in Douglas Farah’s testimony: “In Bolivia recently the Iranian embassy reportedly asked for more than two dozen spaces in the international school for children of their newly-arrived diplomats there.” It is not clear why the Iranian embassy in Bolivia is inherently more sinister than the Iranian embassies in Canada and the UK.

Journalist Charles Davis summarises the ruckus generated by Iran’s reported ambassadorial mother ship in Nicaragua:

“In 2009, prominent neoconservatives like Michael Rubin drew attention to media reports claiming that Iran had built a new embassy in Nicaragua’s sprawling capital Managua that was ‘the largest diplomatic mission in the city’. The embassy, coupled with Iran’s investments in Nicaragua and elsewhere in the region, Rubin warned, indicated the Islamic Republic ‘might see Latin America as a beachhead from which to conduct an aggressive strategy against the United States and its allies’.

“The claim was spread throughout right-wing policy circles. Even Secretary of State Hillary Clinton picked it up. “The Iranians are building a huge embassy in Managua,” she warned in 2009, just a few months after taking office. “And you can only imagine what that’s for.”

“But as the Washington Post reported in July 2009, that “huge embassy in Managua” could not be found. “It doesn’t exist,” a chuckling Ernest Porta, head of the Nicaraguan Chamber of Commerce, told the paper.”

As for last year’s headline in the Israeli daily Haaretz according to which “Iran, Venezuela plan to build rival to Panama Canal,” the prospect of an Iranian-funded “‘Nicaragua Canal’ linking the Atlantic and Pacific oceans” becomes less convincing when the following detail appears at the end of the article: “A US State Department official told Haaretz’s Washington correspondent Natasha Mozgovaya on Wednesday that the US is not aware of any plans to build a new canal in Latin America.”

The non-tractors

In an October 2009 presentation to the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs entitled “Iranian Penetration into the Western Hemisphere through Venezuela“, Norman A. Bailey – former Mission Manager for Cuba and Venezuela under Director of National Intelligence and Honduran death squad ally John D. Negroponte – unearthed further insidious machinations on the part of the penetrators.

A champion of the 2009 US-backed coup against Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, Bailey converted Chavez’s displeasure at intra-hemispheric neoliberal penetration into the result of Iranian inter-hemispheric penetration and the idea that “the Iranians had opened a ‘maintenance’ facility in Honduras for… ‘tractors’ produced in Venezuela, in reality a drug transshipment warehouse.” International observers with a less keen eye, such as the Agence France-Presse news outfit, reported the delivery of Venezuelan tractors to Honduras without realising that they were not really tractors.

Bailey describes Iranian involvement in Latin America as “curious” given that “[t]here is no affinity at all between monarchic or Islamic Iran and the countries of the Hemisphere; historical, cultural, political, economic or otherwise.” One might ponder what sort of cultural or political affinities exist between the US and monarchic Iran, Saudi Arabia, or Islamist guerrillas in Afghanistan, or whether trade between Venezuela and Iran does not constitute economic affinity. As for Bailey’s assessment that “one of the principal motivations [for Iranian activity in the region] is to be able to retaliate against the [sic] United States if [Iran] is attacked,” it is not clear whether Bailey is aware that he has just characterised Iranian penetration as defensive rather than predatory in nature.

Barrios of Caracas convert to Shia Islam

Ely Karmon’s prediction concerning the possibility of sudden religious affinities and the inculcation of the Latin American poor with Shia teachings meanwhile appears to be as of yet unfounded given Chavez’s contention that Jesus Christ was an anti-imperialist who died on the cross as a result of the class struggle. That some level of ideological convergence is nonetheless possible is suggested by Roger Noriega’s observation that “radical Muslims from Venezuela and Colombia are brought to a cultural center in Caracas named for the Ayatollah Khomeini and Simon Bolivar for spiritual training.”

The danger of Latin American collaboration with a foreign country that – unlike the US – has not in contemporary history engaged in such regional activities as inaugurating schools for aspiring dictators and death squad leaders, presiding over illegal detention centres, and infecting local populations with syphilis is meanwhile fairly straightforwardly spelled out by Douglas Farah:

“All of this [collaboration] comes at the expense of US influence, security and trade – including energy security and hence economic and infrastructure security (Venezuela is the 4th largest supplier of US petroleum imports, just behind Mexico; indeed Latin America is our 2nd largest source of supply overall, only slightly behind the Middle East).”

“Security”, of course, is not to be confused with stability – a concept that has no place in the business of regional militarisation and incitement.

Belen Fernandez is an editor at PULSE Media. Her book The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work will be released by Verso on Nov. 1, 2011.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

I am having lots of problem with Mr. Cole these days , his blind support of Obama is really something  Iwas not expecting from a man like him. But when it comes to Israel, he has very good and intelligent observations.



What lies Behind Netanyahu’s Bluster on ’1967 Borders’

Posted on 05/24/2011 by Juan

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s high dudgeon over the world community’s demand that Israel return more or less to ’1967 borders’ plays to two audiences, his domestic constituency among far rightwing ‘Greater Israel’ parties intent on usurping Palestinian land, and his American constituency among the third or so of US Jews who oppose trading land for peace.

For the rest of us in the US, being yoked to Netanyahu’s angry expansionism is like being forced to date Charlie Sheen. It won’t do our own reputation any good, and it won’t rescue him from his self-destructiveness.

The ’1967′ borders are actually those that obtained before Israel launched its 1967 ‘Six-Day War’ on Syria, Jordan and Egypt. (There is no doubt that Israel launched this war, and that its aggressiveness with Syria in the previous six months contributed mightily to the tensions that led to it.)

The reason Israel has to go back to 1967 borders is that the annexation of territory from a neighbor through warfare is illegal according to the United Nations Charter, which is a treaty to which Israel and the United States are both signatories. ‘Greater Israel’ apologists attempt to get out of this difficulty by saying that countries used to conquer land away from their neighbors all the time. This is a bogus argument, since countries used to do a lot of things, including sponsor the slave trade; Britain even insisted on China allowing the sale of opium in the early 19th century. The world changed when World War II ended and the countries of the world established the United Nations to forestall any recrudescence of Axis techniques of conquest and rule. If Israel does not believe in the UN Charter, it should renounce its UN membership.

It is not just the UN Charter. The Hague Agreement of 1907 and the Geneva Convention of 1949 forbid a power occupying enemy territory in war time from annexing it or in any way changing the life ways of its people.

Another bogus argument the Greater Israel expansionists trot out is that the UN Charter only forbids the acquisition of territory from other countries, and the Palestinians did not have a country, and so they are fair game. This argument is morally despicable, since the Israelis made the Palestinians stateless, thwarting the intention of the League of Nations that Palestine become a state; and now they are using the abjectness and statelessness as an argument that Palestinians can be stolen from at will. But the argument is also incorrect. Both the League of Nations and the UN made it perfectly clear that they intended that the Palestinians have a state in the future, so in preventing this from happening the Israelis are defying international law. The 1947 UN Partition Plan, the legitimacy of which the Israeli government says it recognizes, awarded Gaza and the West Bank to the Palestinians. So it is not true that these territories are no-man’s land or that there is no legal framework for their people’s existence, such that anyone could enslave them or expropriate them at will.

Netanyahu’s argument for not going back to 1967 borders is that it is inconvenient. He says that the 1967 borders are indefensible. This assertion is a logical fallacy, known as special pleading. You can’t launch a war and annex your neighbor’s territory because you fear that your own presents security challenges. Lots of countries are unhappy with their borders. Saddam Hussein annexed Kuwait in 1990 in part because he felt that the British had erred in not giving modern Iraq a deep water port, which made Iraq ‘indefensible’ and put it at an economic disadvantage. Pakistan believes that its failure to secure the headwaters of the Indus Valley rivers in Kashmir in 1947 puts it at a permanent disadvantage vis-a-vis India and makes the country overly vulnerable (‘indefensible’). Netanyahu’s immoral argument that a country just has to take by main force whatever it feels will make it more secure is astonishing and is a standing danger to world peace if it were taken seriously by other countries.

Aljazeera English reports on Netanyahu’s rejection of 1967 borders and anything like them:

International law forbids Israel to colonize the West Bank– not only the UN Charter but also the Geneva Conventions of 1948.

But beyond the specious character of Netanyahu’s rhetoric (according to which it would have been perfectly all right for George W. Bush to annex Iraq to the United States), the fact is that the whole tiff over ’1967 borders’ is a smokescreen for Israeli expansionism. The settler movement could put down settlements in much of the sparsely populated south of Israel proper with no problem. Instead, they insist on taking Palestinian land. They are not colonizing the West Bank only to make it more ‘secure’ (they are making it less so), but rather out of greed, ambition, and expansionism. It is not about defense, it is about offense.

(Courtesy the BBC)

The Likud Party led by Netanyahu does not believe in allowing the Palestinians to have a state, and does not believe in withdrawing from the Occupied Territories. This obstinate stance and commitment to undermining the international rule of law is why there is no point in ‘engaging’ the Likud with ‘ compromises.’ Netanyahu led the charege against the Oslo Peace process pursued by then PM Yitzhak Rabin in the early 1990s, and when Rabin was assassinated and Netanyahu came briefly to power he did whatever he could to destroy the peace process. He admitted this obstructionism on tape:

Netanyahu rudely lectured President Obama in front of the cameras that the Palestinian desire to see some of the refugees expelled from their homes by the Israelis in 1948 ‘isn’t going to happen’ and he urged Obama to frankly tell the Palestinians that it isn’t going to happen. But he may as well also have instructed Obama to tell the Palestinians that the two state solution is dead.

Israel by now has not only planted colonies all over the West Bank and moved hundreds of thousands of people in, but it has secretly withdrawn residency rights from 140,000 Palestinians. The ‘separation barrier’ removed another 12 percent of Palestinian territory. No one can look at a map of Gaza and the West Bank as they actually exist and see a viable state that could protect the rights of its citizens (the point of a state). Israel keeps announcing new settlements or expansions of existing ones on Palestinian territory.

Netanyahu is saying ‘no’ to peace, ‘no’ to negotiations, ‘no’ to dignity and rights for Palestinians for generations to come.

Ben Franklin said that ‘Experience keeps a dear school, but fools will learn in no other.’ Netanyahu’s children and grandchildren and great grandchildren will one day regret that he slapped away the hand of help and the good will of Barack Obama in favor of a stubborn and greedy Israeli expansionism.

The most likely outcome of Israel’s present course is a one state solution, achieved over decades, with much heartbreak and violence and ruined lives in the meantime. The Jews of Israel will likely end up like the Maronite Christians of Lebanon. France created Lebanon in 1920 for a then Christian majority, but Christian out-migration and rapid Muslim population growth reduced the Maronites to only about 22 percent of the population today if we count children. Likewise, Israeli Jews have already lost their majority among first-graders in what was Mandate Palestine in favor of Palestinians and Palestinian-Israelis. Current demographic trends will likely produce an Israel that is a third Arab by 2030 and that is not even counting the Occupied Territories. The instability in the Arab world and the Greater Middle East, which is growing, could well over time increase Jewish out-migration (out of sheer nervousness) so that it outstrips in-migration of Jews. I can’t see a way for Israel to escape this demographic and geopolitical fate and remain viable as a nation-state. Plans on the Israeli right to denaturalize and expel the 1.5 million Palestinian-Israelis are unrealistic and do not reckon with the likely backlash from the Arab world, which won’t remain weak and abject forever. (We can already see glimmerings of a new, more assertive Egypt).

The course Netanyahu is charting will harm the United States in so many ways they are hard to count. But he is also digging the grave of his own vision of a Jewish state.

Barry Lando: The Speech Obama Should Have Given to AIPAC – Truthdig

The Speech Obama Should Have Given to AIPAC

Posted on May 22, 2011

White House / Pete Souza
President Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu converse near the Oval Office during a visit by the Israeli prime minister last week.

By Barry Lando

Editor’s note: Former “60 Minutes” producer Barry Lando imagines what the president might have said to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

My fellow Americans, I could say it is an honor to speak again before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. I could also dish out the usual rhetoric you expect from American political leaders of both parties—an emotional, iron-clad guarantee to maintain America’s undying support for Israel, the embattled outpost of democracy, and so on and on and on, to great applause.

But, as befits a conversation among longtime friends, I’d rather be frank.

As we all know, the reason I’m here is because you are the most powerful lobby in Washington. The mightiest senators and House members live in terror of your disapproval, and your support will be a key factor in the coming presidential elections.

That power has brought you innumerable victories. Though Israel is one of the smallest nations, altogether it has received more foreign aid from the United States than any other country since World War II. Though we condemn Iran’s nuclear program, we still officially ignore the fact that Israel has had the bomb for more than 40 years.

Our leaders have gone along with the fiction that Israel is somehow a key strategic asset for the U.S. in the Middle East, when, in fact, the opposite is true. Our unwavering support of Israel has won us the hostility of much of the Muslim world.

But that’s the past. Today, the U.S. and Israel face huge new challenges in the Middle East. And I have decided that provoking your disapproval is a risk I must take, for the sake of America as well as Israel.

We can no longer afford to confuse supporting the state of Israel with supporting the policies of the leaders who control the Israeli government at a particular time. The interests of the two are not necessarily the same—particularly when, in my view and the view of many Israelis, those policies undermine the long-term security of Israel.

Indeed, within the American Jewish community itself there are new lobbying groups, such as J Street, that are highly critical of Israel’s current leaders and make it clear that AIPAC may not represent the consensus of American Jews.

As I have said, the government of Israel can no longer put off serious negotiations with the Palestinians. Population growth and the current uprisings sweeping the region are certain to work against Israel’s long-run security.

Unfortunately, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made it more than clear that his government has no real interest in taking the steps needed to convince the Palestinians that negotiations would be worth their while. This is not just me saying this. The prime minister’s political opponents and important Israeli commentators are saying it as well.

Therefore, as president of the United States—of all Americans—I am today announcing a change in policy toward the Middle East. I have decided that we will no longer stand in the way of a United Nations resolution next September to recognize the existence of a Palestinian state. I realize that resolution will not actually create a state—but it may be the best way to start the process.

I am also calling once again on the government of Israel to cease the construction of illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank. I made that same request not long after I became president but I backed down when Prime Minister Netanyahu refused. I was wrong to back down. It will not happen again.

The Israeli government charges that Hamas is a terrorist organization. It is, and we have labeled it as such. I call upon Hamas to reconsider its aims if it truly wants to achieve a settlement with Israel.

On the other hand, other violent groups once labeled terrorist organizations—such as the Irish Republican Army—changed their tactics amid the lure of peace negotiations. Indeed, at one time in their careers two of Israel’s most renowned leaders—Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir—were condemned as terrorists.

I realize this new policy may well subject me to a barrage of the most virulent political attacks—from right-wing TV talk shows to lurid ads filling our media to congressional resolutions. It will be charged that all along I—Barack Hussein Obama—have been secretly plotting with radical Islam to destroy Israel—and after Israel, the United States.

They will say, of course, that I am anti-Semitic—a charge that is leveled these days against any prominent individual who criticizes the current conservative government of Israel. An irony, since—as I’ve said—some of the strongest attacks on Israel’s current policies come from Israeli Jewish commentators and politicians themselves.

I understand the emotional storm that is roiling this audience right now—I can hear the boos and catcalls. I can feel your enormous upset. But I ask you, members of AIPAC, before you and your allies start an attack against me in the media and in the Congress and in communities across the country, by unleashing such a massive campaign isn’t there a danger you would demonstrate to the American people exactly the point I have been making in this speech? That is, the extent to which your lobby has distorted the workings of our democratic system.

In the end, your attempt to defeat my desire to pursue a policy that is in the interests of all Americans—as well as the state of Israel—could lead to your own downfall.

Think about it. And thanks for letting me talk.

Barry M. Lando spent 25 years as an award-winning investigative producer with “60 Minutes.” He has produced numerous articles, a documentary and a book, “Web of Deceit,” about Iraq. Lando is finishing a novel, “The Watchman’s File.”

I had a hard time putting this one blog. I do not want to link to PlayBoy for any reason, but this story is just too good to be missed.
I put the whole story here, the complete interview since I am sure many of my visitors can not and will not be able to visit the source of the article.
This is an unbelievable interview with a great woman. One of the very few reporters who dared say what he believe in and was forced to resign from her post.
It is also an emotional interview, a one on one interview with a reporter who questioned 10 US presidents. One of the very few who asked questions NO OTHER REPORTER dared to ask and she finally paid the price for it.
This is a long article, but take your time and read it, it is worth it, it will help you a lot to understand this great woman.

Playboy Interview with Reporter Helen Thomas, April 2011 Playboy Magazine

Special Feature

For more than half a century, Helen Thomas owned the most valuable piece of real estate in the White House briefing room. Her front-row seat at presidential press conferences and its attendant benefits—she was often called on first and usually ended the gatherings with a signature “Thank you, Mr. President”—made her the unofficial dean of the White House press corps. Her bold, irksome questions were like hot pokers to 10 U.S. presidents, and her fearless approach rattled press secretaries and set a tone for generations of straight-shooting, badgering reporters.

Last summer, still working full-time at 89, she saw her decades-long career fall to pieces after a two-minute video clip went viral on YouTube. A Long Island rabbi and blogger visiting the White House turned his camera on Thomas on May 27 and asked for “any comments on Israel.” Thomas instantly shot back, “Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine,” adding that the Jews “can go home” to “Poland, Germany and America and everywhere else.” Endless media outrage ensued, prompting Thomas to issue an apology and abruptly “resign” from Hearst Newspapers on June 7. Her speaking agency dropped her, journalism schools and organizations rescinded awards named in her honor and she lost that prized seat in the White House.

Thomas’s comments were not a complete shock to those who follow her. In recent years she practically scolded presidents and their gatekeepers for favoring Israel. She had previously asked the White House about Israel’s “secret” nuclear arsenal and why President Obama did not condemn last May’s Israeli attacks on the aid flotilla headed for Gaza.

Born August 4, 1920, Thomas herself is of Arab descent. She was the seventh of nine children born in Winchester, Kentucky to Syrian-born emigrants from Tripoli, Lebanon. Her family soon moved to Detroit, where her father ran a grocery store even though he couldn’t read or write in English. News was often a topic around the house, and after college Thomas landed a job as a girl Friday at a Washington, D.C. newspaper toward the end of World War II. That led her to the copy desk and a cub reporter position and eventually to a job covering government bureaucracy for the wire service United Press International. She remained at UPI for much of her career. As White House correspondent from the Kennedy administration on, Thomas had unusual prominence despite standing just under five feet tall.

Famously direct, Thomas was especially forceful with George W. Bush, whom she once called “the worst president in American history.” She was relentless about getting him to explain his decision to go to war in Iraq, asking over and over, “What was your real reason? What was it? Why did you go to war?” His minions promptly moved Thomas to the back row of the briefing room.

Thomas now writes a column for the Falls Church News-Press in Virginia. She still wakes early to read various newspapers delivered to her door, and she’s still out many nights talking politics at favorite D.C. haunts.

Contributing Editor David Hochman got the idea to call Thomas to see if she wanted to talk. “She picked up the phone and said yes immediately,” he says. “I think she really appreciated the opportunity to do a long-format Q&A to express her side of what happened.”

Based in Los Angeles, Hochman flew to Washington to meet Thomas at her apartment near Dupont Circle. They also broke bread at her favorite Palestinian restaurant. “I was curious whether I’d find the ranting woman from the YouTube video,” Hochman says. “She turned out to be a person in full possession of her faculties and impressively articulate. Mostly she was the Thomas the public has known forever: feisty, passionate and not afraid to speak up.” Does Hochman, who is Jewish, believe Thomas is an anti-Semite? “I’ll let the reader decide. But I did think it was amusing when she presented a plate of ham sandwiches and then said, ‘Oh, I hope I haven’t served the wrong thing.’ ”

PLAYBOY: So is this how you pictured retirement?

THOMAS: I’m not retired! I was fired. In fact, I’ll die with my boots on. I’m still writing and I’ll continue to write and ask hard questions. I will never bow out of journalism.

PLAYBOY: Take us back to the White House courtyard on May 27 when Rabbi David Nesenoff pointed his camera at you and asked for your comments on Israel.

THOMAS: He pulled that thing out like a jackknife. I mean, he started out very nice, introducing me to these two young boys who wanted to be in journalism. He said, “Got any advice? Go for it.” I didn’t know it was Jewish Heritage Month, which is why he was at the White House and also why he asked “So what do you think of Israel?” That’s when I said, “They should get the hell out of Palestine.”

PLAYBOY: Did you realize how controversial those words were as you spoke them?

THOMAS: I knew I’d hit the third rail. You cannot say anything about Israel in this country. But I’ve lived with this cause for many years. Everybody knows my feelings that the Palestinians have been shortchanged in every way. Sure, the Israelis have a right to exist—but where they were born, not to come and take someone else’s home. I’ve had it up to here with the violations against the Palestinians. Why shouldn’t I say it? I knew exactly what I was doing—I was going for broke. I had reached the point of no return. You finally get fed up.

PLAYBOY: What was life like in the immediate aftermath as millions started viewing the video on YouTube?

THOMAS: I went into self-imposed house arrest for two weeks. It was a case of “know thyself.” Isn’t that what Socrates said? I wanted to see if I was remorseful—and I wasn’t.

PLAYBOY: Did the phone ring off the hook?

THOMAS: No. Nobody called. But I still have some friends in the White House press pool, who reached out to me. I understand they formed Jews for Helen Thomas at one point.

PLAYBOY: That’s interesting.

THOMAS: I also heard from Jimmy Carter. He called a few weeks later.

PLAYBOY: He did? What did he say?

THOMAS: Basically he was sympathetic. He talked about the Israelis in the Middle East, the violations. It was very nice of him to call, but I don’t want to get him into trouble.

PLAYBOY: His reaction certainly wasn’t typical.

THOMAS: No. Every columnist and commentator jumped on me immediately as anti-Semitic. Nobody asked me to explain myself. Nobody said, “What did you really mean?”

PLAYBOY: What did you really mean?

THOMAS: Well, there’s no understanding of the Palestinians at all. I mean, they’re living there and these people want to come and take their homes and land and water and kill their children and kill them. How many are still under arrest in Israel—never been charged, never been tried, never been convicted? Thousands. Why? Meanwhile, we keep giving Israel everything. Our government bribes the Israelis by saying, “Please come to the [negotiating] table and we’ll give you this and we’ll give you that.” Obama’s last offer to the Israelis was $22 billion in new fighter planes [Editor’s note: The offer was actually just under $3 billion], a veto at the UN for anything pro-Arab or pro-Palestinian and a three-month freeze on the colonization and settlers. I mean, what is this? They gave away the store, just as Reagan and every other president did. Why do you have to bribe people to do the right thing? I don’t want my government bribing anybody. I want them demanding. Stop all this aid to Israel when they’re killing people!

PLAYBOY: It was your follow-up comment, when you said the Jews should go back to Poland, Germany and America, that really infuriated people.

THOMAS: Well, that immediately evoked the concentration camps. What I meant was they should stay where they are because they’re not being persecuted—not since World War II, not since 1945. If they were, we sure would hear about it. Instead, they initiated the Jackson-Vanik law, which said the U.S. would not trade with Russia unless it allowed unlimited Jewish emigration. But it was not immigration to the United States, which would have been fine with me. It was to go to Palestine and uproot these people, throw them out of their homes, which they have done through several wars. That’s not fair. I want people to understand why the Palestinians are upset. They are incarcerated and living in an open prison. I say to the Israelis, “Get out of people’s homes!” It’s unacceptable to have soldiers knocking on a door at three in the morning and saying, “This is my home.” And forcing people out of homes they’ve lived in for centuries? What is this? How can anybody accept it? I mean, Jewish-only roads? Would anyone tolerate something like that in America? White-only roads?

You mean Israeli-only roads, not Jewish only, right? [Editor’s note: Israel closes certain roads to Palestinians, but roads are open to all Israeli citizens and to other nationals, regardless of religious background.]

THOMAS: Israeli-only roads, okay. But it’s more than semantics because the Palestinians are deprived of owning these roads. This is their land. I’m sorry, but we’re talking about foreigners who came and said, “God gave this land to us.” [Former Israeli prime minister ­Yitzhak] Rabin said, “Where’s the deed?” I mean, come on! Do you know that an Arab Palestinian trying to go home to see his mother has to go through 10 checkpoints and then is held there, while an American tourist can go through right like that? The Palestinian people have to carry their kids to hospitals and are not allowed to drive cars and so forth. What is this? No American Jew would tolerate that sort of treatment here against blacks or anyone else. Why do they allow it over there? And why do they send my American tax dollars to perpetuate it?

PLAYBOY: Do you acknowledge that some Palestinian behavior over the years, including hijacking and the use of suicide bombers, has been wrong and has added to the problem?

In an ideal world passive resistance and world disarmament would be great. Unfortunately we don’t live in that world. Of course I don’t condone any violence against anyone. But who wouldn’t fight for their country? What would any American do if their land was being taken? Remember Pearl Harbor. The Palestinian violence is to protect what little remains of Palestine. The suicide bombers act out of despair and desperation. Three generations of Palestinians have been forced out of their homes—by Israelis—and into refugee camps. And the Israelis are still bulldozing Palestinians’ homes in East Jerusalem. Remember, Menachem Begin invented terrorism as his MO—and bragged about it in his first book. That’s how Israel was created, aided and abetted by U.S. money and arms. To annex and usurp an occupied people’s country is illegal under international law. The Israelis know that, but their superior military force has always prevailed against the indigenous people.

PLAYBOY: What’s your reaction to the changes sweeping through the Arab world as throngs of demonstrators take to the streets across the region?

THOMAS: I love the new revolutionary spirit in the Middle East and North Africa. The power of the people is removing ruthless dictators in Tunisia and Egypt—and that’s only the beginning. There is no stopping this free new movement. The Arab world is waking up to the possibilities of democratic life and freedom for its people, and I am happy to see this happening in my lifetime.

Do you have a personal antipathy toward Jews themselves?

THOMAS: No. I think they’re wonderful people. They had to have the most depth. They were leaders in civil rights. They’ve always had the heart for others but not for Arabs, for some reason. I’m not anti-Jewish; I’m anti-Zionist. I am anti Israel taking what doesn’t belong to it. If you have a home and you’re kicked out of that home, you don’t come and kick someone else out. Anti-Semite? The Israelis are not even Semites! They’re Europeans, and they’ve come from somewhere else. But even if they were Semites, they would still have no right to usurp other people’s land. There are some Israelis with a conscience and a big heart, but unfortunately they are too few.

PLAYBOY: In the wake of your anti-Israel comments, a blogger from The ­Atlantic argued there’s really no distinction between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. He wrote, “Thomas was fired for saying that the Jews of Israel should move to Europe, where their relatives had been slaughtered in the most devastating act of genocide in history. She believes that once the Jews are evacuated from their ancestral homeland, the world’s only Jewish country should be replaced by what would be the world’s 23rd Arab country. She believes that Palestinians deserve a country of their own but that the Jews are undeserving of a nation-state in their homeland, which has had a continuous Jewish presence for 3,000 years.…”

THOMAS: [Interrupts] Did a Jew write this? [Editor’s note: The writer is Jeffrey Goldberg.]

PLAYBOY: “…and has been the location of two previous Jewish states. This sounds like a very anti-Jewish position to me, not merely an anti-Zionist position.”

THOMAS: This is a rotten piece. I mean it’s absolutely biased and totally—who are these people? Why do they think they’re so deserving? The slaughter of Jews stopped with World War II. I had two brothers and many relatives who fought in that war against Hitler. We believed in it. Every American family was in that fight. But they were liberated since then. And yet they carry on the victimization. American people do not know that the Israeli lobbyists have intimidated them into believing every Jew is a persecuted victim forever—while they are victimizing Palestinians.

PLAYBOY: Let’s get to something else you said more recently. In a speech in Detroit last December, you told an Arab group, “We are owned by the propagandists against the Arabs. There’s no question about that. Congress, the White House and Hollywood, Wall Street, are owned by the Zionists. No question, in my opinion. They put their money where their mouth is. We’re being pushed into a wrong direction in every way.” Do you stand by that statement?

Yes, I do. I know it was horrendous, but I know it’s true. Tell me it’s not true and I’ll be happy to be contradicted. I’m just saying they’re using their power, and they have power in every direction.

PLAYBOY: That stereotype of Jewish control has been around for more than a century. Do you actually think there’s a secret Jewish conspiracy at work in this country?

THOMAS: Not a secret. It’s very open. What do you mean secret?

PLAYBOY: Well, for instance, explain the connection between Hollywood and what’s happening with the Palestinians.

THOMAS: Power over the White House, power over Congress.

PLAYBOY: By way of contributions?

THOMAS: Everybody is in the pocket of the Israeli lobbies, which are funded by wealthy supporters, including those from Hollywood. Same thing with the financial markets. There’s total control.

PLAYBOY: Who are you thinking about specifically? Who are the Jews with the most influence?

THOMAS: I’m not going to name names. What, am I going to name the Ponzi guy on Wall Street [Bernard Madoff] or the others? No.

Then how do you make the claim that Jews are running the country?

THOMAS: I want you to look at the Congress that just came in. Do you think [New York Democratic senator Charles] Schumer and Lehtinen—whatever her name is—in Florida [Republican representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a strong supporter of Israel] are going to be pro-Arab? No. But they’re going to be very influential. Eric Cantor, the majority leader of the Republicans, do you think he’s going to be for the Arabs? Hell no! I’m telling you, you cannot get 330 votes in Congress for anything that’s pro-Arab. Nothing. If you’re not in, you’re eased out, just as Senator William Fulbright was in the 1960s [after claiming that millions of tax-deductible dollars from American philanthropies were being sent to Israel and then funneled back to the U.S. for distribution to organizations with pro-Israel positions]. Congressman Paul Findley from a little old rural district in Illinois made the mistake of shaking hands with Yasir Arafat years ago. It ended up costing him his reelection. He later wrote a book called They Dare to Speak Out about how impossible it is to have a position in this country that takes on Israel. Maybe there is a handful that can, but in general you cannot speak against any Zionist movement in this country.

PLAYBOY: Do you begrudge people like Steven Spielberg? He created the Shoah Foundation to chronicle the life stories of Holocaust survivors. What’s your feeling about him?

THOMAS: There’s nothing wrong with remembering it, but why do we have to constantly remember? We’re not at fault. I mean, if they’re going to put a Holocaust museum in every city in Germany, that’s fine with me. But we didn’t do this to the Jews. Why do we have to keep paying the price and why do they keep oppressing the Palestinians? Do the Jews ever look at themselves? Why are they always right? Because they have been oppressed throughout history, I know. And they have this persecution. That’s true, but they shouldn’t use that to dominate.

PLAYBOY: In America you’re talking about a relatively small community. Jews make up roughly two percent of the U.S. population. On a worldwide level, the percentage is well under one percent. Those numbers don’t exactly spell domination.

THOMAS: I get where you’re leading with this. You know damn well the power they have. It isn’t the two percent. It’s real power when you own the White House, when you own these other places in terms of your political persuasion. Of course they have power. You don’t deny that. You’re Jewish, aren’t you?


THOMAS: That’s what I thought. Well, you know damn well they have power.

PLAYBOY: Why did it take you so long to speak out like this?

THOMAS: It hasn’t taken that long. I’ve told all my friends and so forth. This has been an issue for me since I first came to Washington.

PLAYBOY: You’ve kept quiet publicly since the 1940s?

THOMAS: It was certainly on my mind back then. The United Nations Partition Plan was being debated at the UN and in the Arab community, and I knew what the Arabs were going through since I have an Arab background. I was part of that community. Like I said, I’ve never hesitated to tell my views to all my friends. They knew exactly where I stood. But I finally wanted to speak the truth. And I think I’m old enough to get away with it. Well, almost. Not quite.

PLAYBOY: Were you surprised that people like David Duke and even Hezbollah came out and said you were courageous and a hero for them?

THOMAS: I don’t want to be a hero to anyone. I just want to be me, and I want to tell the truth. I want everyone to accept the truth. It’s horrible to say some of my best friends are Jews, but they are and they have been.

PLAYBOY: Don’t take this the wrong way, but the question many people have is, Has Helen Thomas lost her mind? You’re 90, after all. Do you still have all your faculties?

THOMAS: I resent that question! I thoroughly resent it. Why are you interviewing me if I’m crazy? It wouldn’t be worth it to you, would it?

PLAYBOY: It’s not an unreasonable question.

THOMAS: I resent it. You should apologize.

PLAYBOY: But it’s the question everyone wants answered—and you’re the one who always tells journalists to ask the hard questions.

THOMAS: They want to know if I’m crazy? You have to be crazy to criticize Israel? You have to be crazy to criticize tyranny? I learned before Hitler that you have to stand up for something. You have to stand up. We always have to take a stand against human tyranny wherever it occurs. [pauses] Would you like a Coke or a ginger ale?

PLAYBOY: No, thank you.

THOMAS: We have Diet Coke. Wine?

PLAYBOY: No, we’re good.

THOMAS: Scotch?

PLAYBOY: No, thank you. How’s your health, by the way?

THOMAS: I’m a little rickety.

PLAYBOY: Do people live a long time in your family?

THOMAS: I had a brother who just died at 100.

PLAYBOY: Wow. How long did your parents live?

THOMAS: Into their 60s. I’d like to live a long life.

PLAYBOY: Do you fear dying?

THOMAS: No, but I’m not ready to go. You never know, though. It’s fate.

PLAYBOY: Life is unpredictable, that’s for sure.

THOMAS: There’s an Arab expression, “Maktub.

PLAYBOY: Which means?

THOMAS: “It is written.”

PLAYBOY: Meaning whatever will be will be?

THOMAS: I don’t know if I’m that fatalistic, but yes.

PLAYBOY: Do you picture heaven in any way? What would heaven be for you?

THOMAS: I never thought about heaven per se. I think when you’re dead, you’re dead. If anything happens after that, you just hope you don’t go to hell.

PLAYBOY: When people write your obituary——

THOMAS: [Eyes suddenly fill with tears] Oh, I know what they’re going to say: “anti-Semite.”

PLAYBOY: That has to bother you after all your years of hard work.

THOMAS: [Starts to cry] I’m a reporter.

PLAYBOY: What’s making you emotional?

THOMAS: I’m a reporter. [sobs] I know damn well what they’re going to say because they have their print, they have their ink. They don’t give a damn about the truth. They have to have it their way, and they’ll be writing my obituary.

PLAYBOY: Isn’t that their job?

THOMAS: Well, I don’t want to be treated that way. [pauses but continues to cry] I’m sorry. But what am I supposed to do, love every Jew because they want to take Palestine? It’s a real cause with me. They should have a conscience and they don’t if that’s what they’re going to do. Is there such a thing as a conscience? I think there is. Stop taking what doesn’t belong to you! Stop killing these people. These children throw stones at them, and they shoot them. Where is the Jewish conscience? I want to know. Have some feeling. They can’t just come in and say, “This is my home,” knock on the door at three in the morning and have the Israeli military take them out. That’s what happens. And that’s what happened to the Jews in Germany. Why do they inflict that same pain on people who did nothing to them? [takes another break to compose herself]I sure didn’t want to cry. But I do care about people. And I don’t care what they write about me. They’ve already written it. My family will be disappointed in me for crying.

PLAYBOY: We in the public never get to see you cry. Helen Thomas has always been the picture of toughness and strength.

THOMAS: Oh, I’ve cried all my life. I’m a crybaby. It’s not that I’m soft; I just cry at the drop of a hat.

PLAYBOY: Let’s shift gears. You have literally had a front-row seat on the presidency. What should the American people know about how the White House really operates?

THOMAS: They don’t know how intense the pressure from different special interests is on the president and congressmen. Politicians more often than not give in to that pressure. These elected officials are supposed to be doing what we want them to do. But I suppose that’s the reason we have the Tea Party. People are unhappy. The trouble is, swinging to the right is always dangerous. We end up losing so much in the rush to conservatism. But even Obama has fallen down that hole. He’s pushing a conservative agenda.

PLAYBOY: The right doesn’t see Obama that way. How is Obama conservative?

Look at Guantánamo. With a stroke of a pen, the day after Obama took the oath he should have said, “We’re getting the hell out of here.” Same thing with Iraq and Afghanistan. There’s no reason for us to be in a war. “They’ll all come here if we don’t go there.” That is baloney. Go halfway around the world to kill and die? Why? Now the veterans can’t get jobs. I see stories every day about soldiers being liberated from Iraq only to end up unemployed. Where is Obama? How can he continue these Bush policies that were so mean and rotten and unjust? People had this impression that Obama would be a peaceful president, but there he is, as hawkish as any of them. And Hillary Clinton is no liberal either. She put out the word to “capture or kill” for Afghanistan. What would she do that for, really? Capture or kill? What does this mean? I thought, naively perhaps, that she and Obama would bring change, that they would be different. I assumed wrongly that they would be liberal because he’s black and she’s a woman. It’s maddening.

PLAYBOY: Who’s the greatest president you’ve covered?

THOMAS: Well, I think Carter was most impressive from the perspective of pure intellect. He was the smartest, if not the most effectual. A man of bold ideas and great wisdom. But that doesn’t mean he was a great president. He wasn’t a schmoozer. He didn’t know how to do that part of the job.

PLAYBOY: Incidentally, Carter recently said America is ready for its first gay president. Do you think that’s true?

THOMAS: Why not? Absolutely. Don’t underestimate America.

PLAYBOY: So who was the greatest president you’ve covered?

THOMAS: I’d say it was a draw. Kennedy and Johnson both impressed me the most for knowing the country, knowing how to legislate and how to get things done and for having monumental ideals. They were presidents who served during remarkable times and lived up to those times.

PLAYBOY: Then there was Richard Nixon. Why didn’t you see Watergate coming?

Because we were on the body watch.

PLAYBOY: Meaning what?

THOMAS: When you’re with a wire service, you’re always with the president. You’re always trailing him; you’re always there when he’s in public. You don’t have time to chase the backstory. I mean, I didn’t think Nixon was totally honest, but I didn’t know about Watergate per se because when you’re following the president you can’t go digging.

You were the only female print reporter to accompany Nixon on his landmark visit to China in 1972. What’s your lasting memory from that trip?

THOMAS: Everything. It was a magnificent trip—eight days when you never wanted to sleep you were so afraid to miss something. Everything was a story: what the Chinese wore, what they ate, even what I ate. I would call my office and say President Nixon was going to meet with so-and-so, and they’d say, “No, wait a minute. We want to know what your room is like and what you’re having for breakfast.” Every reporter in Washington wanted to be on that trip, but it was very limited.

PLAYBOY: How do you explain your ability to get access like that? Nobody else had the front-row spot at the White House as long as you did or got to ask the first question at press conferences. What was your secret?

I thought it was my due, actually. [laughs] I worked hard. And while I’ve always felt privileged to go to the White House, I felt this was what I was supposed to do, which is ask hard questions. So many people outside the White House gates wonder what’s going on in there. When I walk in or out, they always ask, “Is the president there? Is he working?” You want to just say, “Come in. It’s your house. This is your house.” [points to plate of ham sandwiches] Here, have a sandwich.

PLAYBOY: No, thank you. Did you go into journalism because you wanted to make a difference?

THOMAS: Hell no. I got into it because I am very nosy, very curious, and because I thought it was a great profession. It’s an education every day to be in journalism, and it’s given me a great life.

PLAYBOY: Were you the kid in the front row at school, asking questions the teacher didn’t want to hear?

No. That came later. I was afraid of authority as a kid. I certainly wasn’t going to challenge teachers. But I had great parents who taught me never to be seen as less than anyone else. My mother and father couldn’t read or write English, but they were very involved with their friends in talking politics. We were thrilled when my father made a check mark for Roosevelt to be elected. He was a proud man. He ran a small grocery and fed our whole ethnic neighborhood in Detroit—Italians on one side, Germans on the other, everybody hungry. It’s the classic immigrant story, but they were more liberated than most. They always told me I didn’t need to get married or have children to be successful. That was unusual in those days and still is. And I saw from an early age that women weren’t being treated right, weren’t getting opportunities. I wanted to be a newspaperwoman, and I got on the high school paper. I worked on the college paper at Wayne State University and loved it. When I came to Washington I got a job as a copyboy, running for coffee, cutting copy. This was during World War II. Soon enough, I was covering politics. Perhaps there was some element of wanting to do good. I saw what was happening with blacks, civil rights and everything else. Something had to be done in our country, by God, and I was going to help any way I could.

PLAYBOY: What’s your earliest memory of being at the White House?

I sort of assigned myself to the White House. I went to cover the Kennedy family on Inauguration Day. I covered men, women, children, animals, everything that moved in the Kennedy White House. I was like the woman who came to dinner; I never left. After the inauguration, UPI said, “Okay, Thomas, you’re assigned.” It was a three-person staff: Merriman Smith, Alvin Spivak and myself. Merriman Smith was the brilliant reporter who won the Pulitzer in Dallas the day Kennedy was killed.

PLAYBOY: Where were you that day?

THOMAS: I was getting ready to go on a vacation and was in a fancy restaurant on Connecticut Avenue in D.C. with someone from Jackie’s office and an AP reporter and rival who was my closest friend. We ordered lunch and I heard a radio. It sounded like a sporting event, football maybe. But I thought, It’s Friday; how strange. So I went over to listen, and that’s when I heard “Kennedy’s been shot.” We all shot out of that restaurant and left Jackie’s staff with the bill. The AP girl ran to her office and I ran to mine. I walked in and they said, “You’re on vacation.” I said, “No, I’m not.” They said, “Okay. Get in a cab and go to Andrews Air Force Base. You’re going to Dallas.” It was assumed that Kennedy was still alive. By the time I was in the cab, it was formally announced that he was dead.

So you stayed in Washington?

THOMAS: I stayed at Andrews and waited there until Air Force One came in with the body. I saw Jackie and the pink suit and the blood. I was brokenhearted like everyone else. Kennedy was as brilliant as he was charming, and I had a wonderful personal relationship and rapport with him. He teased me a lot. I remember on St. Patrick’s Day one year JFK came over to the press pool, and I said, “It’s a great day for the Irish, Mr. President.” And he said, “Well, what are you doing here, Helen?” I mean, his wit was that quick.

What was it like being inside the White House during that time?

THOMAS: The days after the assassination were surreal. Jackie hadn’t yet moved out of the White House and LBJ hadn’t yet moved in, so every day we were going to LBJ’s home and talking to him in the motorcade. It’s funny thinking about it now. Today Biden rides by like a monarch with all sirens blaring. He has eight outriders, two scout cars and I don’t know how many police trailing in the back. LBJ demanded total silence for his motorcade around town and into the White House.

PLAYBOY: What does that say about Joe Biden?

THOMAS: It was Cheney who started it, I think. That was his MO. Now, there was a vice president. [laughs] The idea that he could have been president. I think Cheney is diabolical. How much money has he made from Halliburton? Now they’re all in hiding, he and his men. They’ve all slipped away into corporate life, universities or think tanks. But getting back to LBJ, he used to do these moving press conferences, which was especially hard since I was in heels and would be falling this way and that trying to keep up with him. He had this habit of whispering, so we had to stay close. On walks around the South Lawn he would let his hair down. We were privileged because we were getting what was really on his mind. Then he’d say, “You know, this is all off the record.” Well, none of us thought it was off the record. We knew, whatever he was trying to tell us, that he wanted the story out but not attributed to him. We’d have to go and find the information on our own. It was quite a study in press relations. You had to work hard not to be manipulated.

PLAYBOY: You certainly never had a problem asking hard questions. George W. Bush moved you to the back of the briefing room to get you off his back.

Actually, it was Ari Fleischer, the number one liar in the White House. He didn’t like that I was asking too many mean questions about where the Israelis were getting their arms and whatnot. So I got pushed to the back. But the first opportunity I had to challenge Bush, I did.

PLAYBOY: You asked him a bold question in 2006. You said, “Your decision to invade Iraq has caused the deaths of thousands of Americans and Iraqis, wounds of Americans and Iraqis for a lifetime. Every reason given, publicly at least, has turned out not to be true. My question is, Why did you really want to go to war?” He danced around the answer. Did you have an answer in mind when you asked that question? What do you think has driven America’s involvement in these recent wars?

THOMAS: You tell me.

PLAYBOY: No, you tell us.

THOMAS: Well, no president has ever told the truth about why we’re there. I think oil has a lot to do with it. I think there’s an Israel connection. Our government feels compelled to protect Israel. With Bush, some people say it was George Jr. avenging for Daddy. At least Bush’s father understood what war was about. He had been in war. He was more cautious. He certainly lined up the Arab countries to support fighting the invasion of Kuwait. The Bush family has always been rich people in search of a job, but George Sr. had been head of the CIA and chairman of the Republican National Committee. He knew politics and he knew foreign policy, but he didn’t give any of that to his son. Dubya was a hip-shooter. If you look at the Downing Street Memo from 2002, you see the chief of British intelligence had come here just before George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq. It concludes that the president simply was determined to go to war and that he wanted to fix the facts to do it. But there were no facts. We just went to war for no reason.

PLAYBOY: So you never believed the line that the world would be “a safer place” without Saddam Hussein?

THOMAS: I think it was wrong to hang Saddam Hussein. He should have been put before an international court for war crimes and everything else. But for us to just bypass the law and have him hanged was wrong. Not that the press called the president on it. The press rallied around the flag on that one.

PLAYBOY: Who’s your most trusted news source, by the way?

THOMAS: Nobody, really. I like the liberal press. I like E.J. Dionne Jr. in The ­Washington Post. I like Sam Donaldson. I believe he’s an honest man. I loved Walter Cronkite. I certainly loved Ed Murrow. But I don’t see replicas around.

PLAYBOY: What do you think of Fox News?

THOMAS: I don’t watch Fox and I don’t follow Fox.

PLAYBOY: Not even Glenn Beck?


PLAYBOY: Glenn Beck. He’s on Fox.

THOMAS: No, don’t know him.

PLAYBOY: Do you know who Bill O’Reilly is?

THOMAS: Yes, I do. He sent me flowers after insulting me for something or other.

PLAYBOY: Is anyone asking the tough questions about Israel?

THOMAS: We’re still not getting the full story on Israel. I asked both President Obama at a news conference and Hillary if they knew of any nations in the Middle East that had nuclear weapons. Obama danced around it and said, “I don’t want to speculate.” Hillary said, “Oh, Helen, you’re cute” or something to that effect. She laughed it off.

PLAYBOY: Why would our government remain quiet if Israel had nukes?

THOMAS: Years ago we made a pact with Golda Meir never to say it. In her era, they would never say it, and they can’t say it now because they can’t tell Iran and all these other countries that they have nukes. That’s my opinion. Our government won’t tell the truth, and neither will the Israelis. Everyone knows, but I can’t write “Everyone knows.” You have to attribute it to somebody. Again, you don’t see these stories in the news. You have to go to a magazine like The Nation or the offbeat press to find out what is really happening. They don’t say that in The New York Times.

PLAYBOY: Or we can get our news from comedians like Jon Stewart. What’s your take on him?

THOMAS: I don’t know. He called me anti-Semitic. What is this crap? Anti-Semitic? What is he?

PLAYBOY: What about Bill Maher?

THOMAS: I like Bill Maher. Remember when he said the 9/11 bombers were not cowards? He lost his job temporarily, but he was right: Anybody who flies an airplane into a building isn’t a coward. That was too logical for people, though. You can’t be that honest. [laughs] It’s like the Japanese kamikazes in World War II. They were diabolical, flying right into ships, but they certainly weren’t cowards. There are two sides to every story. I guess the trouble is certain stories just don’t sell newspapers.

PLAYBOY: Nothing’s selling newspapers these days.

THOMAS: And it’s a tragedy. I still like a newspaper in my hand. I get The ­Washington Post and The New York Times outside the door every morning and run to them. I like the print press. You don’t get anything in depth anymore without a newspaper. Everything is a headline, a sound bite. I worry about young people really getting to know what’s going on in our world.

PLAYBOY: How much time do you spend online?

THOMAS: Uh-uh. I’m a paper-and-pencil person. I probably should look at Facebook and Huffington Post and these other things, but I don’t. Everyone with a laptop thinks they’re a journalist and everyone with a camera thinks they’re a news photographer. Where are the standards? How can we get back to the ethics and standards of journalism? There’s no editing, no oversight. It’s just thrown to the wind. I’m afraid of what’s happening.

PLAYBOY: But you can’t deny the power of the web. Look at WikiLeaks. What did you think of those diplomatic revelations?

I think it’s great. It’s important to reveal what’s going on behind the scenes. We wouldn’t have known half this stuff without this information, and it’s going to change everything as far as diplomacy. It’s hard to believe we didn’t know some of this stuff before. Maybe I should have been digging into these things myself. I’m probably not a good reporter. [laughs]

PLAYBOY: By the way, did you ever see Marilyn Monroe backstage at the White House?

THOMAS: [Laughs] Now these are the questions I like, not the ones that make me cry. No, I never saw Marilyn. But I saw a lot.

PLAYBOY: What about Monica Lewinsky? Was there talk in the pressroom that Bill Clinton was having sex with someone before that news got out?

THOMAS: There’s always talk, but I never assume anything. That’s the first law of journalism. Your mother says she loves you, check it out. So no, I didn’t suspect.

PLAYBOY: Were you surprised?

THOMAS: No. I knew how women liked Clinton very much.

PLAYBOY: Do you think it’s the public’s right to know what’s happening in the president’s private life?

THOMAS: Absolutely. We need to know everything a president’s up to. He’s on our time, on our payroll. He’s a public servant.

PLAYBOY: Were you all aware that President Reagan was taking naps in the White House when he should have been at meetings?

THOMAS: We knew he fell asleep a lot. But I still feel he was making the decisions, even if some of them weren’t great. Ketchup was a vegetable on the school lunch program. I think Reagan was so conservative, he really believed people could pull themselves up without any government assistance, get out of wherever they were to find a job and so forth. That created a real underclass in this country. But there were also things I liked about Reagan. He began to bend toward the Soviet Union. It was Nancy who pushed him on that. She convinced him to go to Russia to see for himself that these people were real. That began a whole transformation personally for Reagan. He saw that the Russians laughed and cried and were human. After he came back from meeting Gorbachev for the first time, I said to him, “Mr. President, to think that if you had gone to Moscow 10 or 20 years ago, you might have found out back then that they laugh, they cry, they’re human.” “Nope,” he said. “They’re the ones who’ve changed.”

PLAYBOY: How much was Nancy Reagan controlling things behind the scenes?

THOMAS: Nancy certainly was important and powerful, but I think it’s because their marriage was so close. Everybody liked Reagan, but he wasn’t particularly connected to anyone aside from Nancy. It was morning in America and all that jazz, but you never got the feeling he was warm. He’d rather be alone with his wife up in the family quarters.

PLAYBOY: Press secretaries are paid to obscure the truth, are they not?

THOMAS: [Laughs] Tell me about it. But we had a few good ones. I loved Pierre ­Salinger—loved his joie de vivre, his intelligence, his wit—though he was really the first press secretary to attempt to control the press. He exerted tremendous influence in shifting the story to places he wanted it to go. Bill Moyers tried to do the same, and I had to fight him on it. I once accused him of not being honest and he said, “Well, I might shade the truth a little.” Shade the truth? There’s no room for shading the truth in journalism. What’s funny is that so many of these guys ended up working in journalism. Look at George Stephanopoulos. He’s Mr. Journalism now, which is ironic because he started closing the door to the press secretary’s office his first week on the job. “Journalists keep out!”

PLAYBOY: It sounds like he wasn’t your favorite gatekeeper.

THOMAS: I was very unhappy with him when he came to the White House. Dee Dee Myers was the press secretary under Clinton, but Stephanopoulos was head of communications and he kept forcing her out of the way and taking over. He ran the office with tight control, and since he made the mistake of wanting his briefings to be on TV, I kept asking, “Why have a press secretary if we can’t freely go and ask them private questions?” And it was heard from coast to coast. He didn’t treat us civilly. But then immediately after he’s out of the White House, he wants to go into our profession. It’s like he couldn’t stand being out of the limelight. I mean, why should George Stephanopoulos have been a great journalist? Well, he’s not, in my book. The way he treated us. I don’t want to sound like I hold a grudge, but you do have a memory for certain personalities.

PLAYBOY: Has there ever been an honest press secretary?

THOMAS: Jerry terHorst. He lasted one month. He was President Ford’s press secretary. He had covered Ford in Washington. He had been here for 29 years as a reporter from the Grand Rapids paper and then The Detroit News. He understood the press. But he was incapable of lying, and he quit when Ford pardoned Nixon, on the very day. He couldn’t take it. Poor Jerry Ford. He just wasn’t ready to be president. He had prepared himself to be Speaker of the House and stepped into those shoes okay, but he just wasn’t equipped for the big job. We saw that Betty Ford struggled too, of course.

PLAYBOY: You and Douglas Cornell, a White House correspondent for rival Associated Press, were married for 11 years before he died, in 1982. Did you ever regret not having children?

THOMAS: Well, until Doug, boyfriends weren’t exactly beating down the door, so I had a clear path to be a reporter. I worried about having children, actually, what it would have meant for them to have someone working all the time. I know I should have done it, but I feel I didn’t miss anything. Can I get you some wine?

It’s still pretty early in the day. No thanks. By the way, is it true what they say about political journalists being big drinkers?

THOMAS: It used to be. Not so much anymore.

PLAYBOY: Were you ever a drinker?

I don’t think I’m a heavy drinker, but I like to drink.

PLAYBOY: What’s your beverage of choice?

THOMAS: Scotch. On the rocks. I like wine, too, and I like vodka and tonic. [laughs] With lots of limes. Sure you don’t want something?

PLAYBOY: No, thank you. Do you miss being at the White House every day?

THOMAS: Of course I do. There’s nothing to replace being there as a reporter with your eyes and your ears. You see things. You’re not always in the know, but you get the atmosphere and so forth. I’ve had a great career.

What’s your hope for the future?

THOMAS: On a political level, I hope for disarmament. Billions and billions are being spent every week on the war in Afghanistan. We have 700 military bases around the world. What do you think it costs to keep that war machine running? It’s not working. I thought Obama would be for peace, but he’s not. There are no peacemakers left. There’s no antiwar movement to speak of. America just keeps going, keeps fighting, keeps spending. I want the killing to stop.

PLAYBOY: How would you like to be remembered?

THOMAS: As the person who asked why. That’s what I want as my epitaph: “Why?” It’s always been my favorite question, even though it rarely gets answered. As I said before, because of what happened recently, people are going to remember me a certain way. The truth is, I don’t hate anybody. I care deeply about people. I care for the poor, the sick, the lame, the harmed, those who’ve been treated unjustly. I like the fact that you asked me if I’m nuts. People think you’re nuts if you take a stand in this life. I’ve always cared about what happens in the world, and I think what the Israelis are doing is wrong. We have to care about our fellow man, and we don’t. Somehow we’ve lost that sense. It’s become almost a sin to care. But we are all God’s children, right? [laughs]

PLAYBOY: Do you believe in God?

THOMAS: Who knows? I was raised Greek Orthodox, but I never understood what was going on. In college I moved away from religion, and then when I went to work I would go to church with the president. I’d pray to whatever god the president prayed to. I prayed to all of them—just in case. Now I just pray in hopes that something good will happen. I pray to whoever the gods may be.

PLAYBOY: That makes sense. One last thing: I heard you once say journalists shouldn’t say thank you after an interview with a politician. But you famously said “Thank you, Mr. President” for almost 50 years.

THOMAS: I was following a tradition. My old colleague Merriman Smith was the one who invented the phrase during the Truman era. After that, whoever was the senior reporter at a news conference would say it. That was my role for many years. It’s okay to say thank you.

PLAYBOY: Well, thank you, Ms. Thomas.

THOMAS: Thank you.