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Should Colleges Rescind Honors for Helen Thomas?

December 6, 2010

The Anti-Defamation League on Friday called on colleges to rescind honors for Helen Thomas, the pioneering journalist who retired this year after an uproar when a video of her making anti-Israel comments went viral online.

The ADL cited a speech Thomas gave last week in which she defended her earlier remarks -- and went further. "We are owned by 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," she said, according to an account in The Detroit Free Press.

Those remarks led Abraham H. Foxman, ADL's national director, to issue a statement in which he said that "Helen Thomas has clearly, unequivocally revealed herself as a vulgar anti-Semite. Her suggestion that Zionists control government, finance and Hollywood is nothing less than classic, garden-variety anti-Semitism.... Unlike her previous, spontaneous remarks into a camera, these words were carefully thought out and conscious. It shows a prejudice that is deep-seated and obsessive."

As a result, Foxman said, "it is time for those schools and professional organizations that have honored Thomas in one form or another over the years to consider rescinding those honors in light of her pervasively anti-Semitic rhetoric. Professional associations and academic institutions should not want to be associated with an anti-Semite."

Thomas, known for her decades of work covering the White House at a time when female journalists were decidedly unwelcome in such positions, has received numerous honorary degrees and other accolades from colleges and universities. Among the institutions that have given her honorary doctorates: George Washington University, Siena College, Washington and Jefferson College and the University of Kentucky. The ADL says that she has received more than 30 honorary degrees. (Generally, colleges are hesitant to revoke honorary degrees once awarded.)

One college moved quickly Friday to revoke an honor for Thomas -- even after rebuffing early suggestions that it do so after her White House remarks. At that time, Wayne State University defended its decision to keep the Helen Thomas Spirit of Diversity Award in honor of its alumna. A statement then said that while the university "strongly condemns" her "wholly inappropriate comments," the controversy shouldn't detract from her "many years of exemplary service."

But on Friday, the university said it would end the award with the Helen Thomas name. A statement said: "As a public university, Wayne State encourages free speech and open dialogue, and respects diverse viewpoints. However, the university strongly condemns the anti-Semitic remarks made by Helen Thomas during a conference yesterday. As a result of these remarks, Wayne State will no longer offer the Helen Thomas Spirit of Diversity Award."

 

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