The real scandal is the stuff it’s OK to say about Israel

Helen Thomas, who spent the bulk of her career as the dogged and distinguished White House correspondent for United Press International, will now be remembered as much for how she left journalism in disgrace – a rude and cranky Jew hater, spewing filth from her perch as a Hearst columnist.

Her resignation yesterday was hardly surprising, for her friends and former colleagues were already abandoning her for her recent comments, circulated on YouTube, that Jews should “get the hell out of Palestine” and go home to “Poland, Germany … and America and everywhere else.”

Her speaking agency, Nine Speakers, Inc., had summarily dropped her, and such former White House spokesmen as Ari Fleischer, the former press secretary to President George W. Bush, and Lanny Davis, the former spokesman on scandal-related issues to President Clinton, denounced her bitterly.

Thomas’s comments and the storm of controversy they generated, however, are beside a larger point.

Michael Kinsley, the brilliant writer and journalistic entrepreneur, reportedly once said that the “scandal” was not what’s illegal. It’s what legal – what politicians and others can do without running afoul of the law.

Similarly, when it comes to Israel and Jews, the scandal is not what’s unacceptable – the hatefilled comments of Thomas, for instance – but what’s acceptable. News coverage of the last few days makes the point well.

In its “On Leadership” column on Sunday, the Washington Post asked a provocative question about Israel: “How do you behave when a close friend and ally misbehaves?”

Interesting.

Israel, which has blockaded Gaza to prevent arms shipments to the terrorist group Hamas (which runs that Palestinian territory), intercepts a ship with passengers who seek a confrontation, eagerly anticipate reaching Gaza or martyrdom, refuse Israeli offers to deliver their humanitarian aid by truck, and attack Israeli soldiers with knives, metal bars, and other weapons when they come aboard.

Yes, as the violence ensued, nine of the ship’s activists died, while seven Israel soldiers were injured. But of which other U.S. ally, defending itself against the possibility of terrorist attack, would a leading newspaper ask what to do “when a close friend and ally misbehaves”? As former Senator Slade Gorton, one of the responders to the question, wrote in the Post, “What misbehavior?”

A day earlier, Post readers were treated to an even more strikingly special treatment for the Jewish state.

“Since its creation more than six decades ago,” Scott Wilson wrote, “the state of Israel has been at times a vexing ally to the United States. But it poses a special challenge for President Obama, whose foreign policy emphasizes the importance of international rules and organizations that successive Israeli governments have clashed with and often ignored.”

Fascinating.

Apparently, it’s not Iran, the terror-sponsoring, nuclear weapons-seeking state whose behavior poses a “special challenge” for a rules-based president. Nor North Korea, the nuclear weaponspossessing state that has violated numerous deals with the United States to stop its nuclear program in exchange for food and oil. Nor Hamas, Hezbollah or other terrorist groups on Israel’s border that seek its destruction. No, the “special challenge” comes from the region’s lone democracy and America’s most loyal ally.

“So far,” Wilson explained, “Obama has little tangible to show for his Middle East policy; the raid threatens to undercut what progress he has made.” Actually, Obama has nothing to show for his high-profile regional efforts – engaging Iran, blocking its nuclear pursuit, pursuing regional peace, and nourishing warmer U.S. ties to the Muslim world – and Israeli action on the water near Gaza has nothing to do with it.

Let’s not pick on the Post, however. The New York Times displayed a similarly skewed view of reality over the weekend.

“Washington Asks: What to Do About Israel?” the Times headlined an article in Sunday’s “Week in Review” section.

Writer Helene Cooper centered her article on a recent piece by Anthony Cordesman, a Center for Strategic and International Studies scholar who argued that “the depth of America’s moral commitment” to Israel “does not justify or excuse [its] actions that unnecessarily make Israel a strategic liability when it should remain an asset.”

Amusing.

Yes, those pesky Israelis, refusing to let Hamas have the weapons to achieve its apocalyptic goals for their homeland.

And what should Israel do, according to this scholar whose views the Times showcased? It must become, Cordesman wrote, “far more careful about the extent to which it tests the limits of U.S. patience and exploits the support of American Jews.”

Here, Oh Israel: Defend yourself. Just don’t aggravate America’s presidents, its scholars, or its Jews in the process.

Marvelous.