Saturday, 19 March 2011

Wikileaks: Abdallah of Jordan: "I support a multinational force to fight Hezbollah! "

Via Frday-Lunch-Club 

C O N F I D E N T I A L AMMAN 00548
SUBJECT: TFLE01: GOJ BACKS U.S. EFFORTS WHILE SEEKING TO
DEFUSE RISING PUBLIC ANGER



6. ( C ) In private, the GOJ seeks continued coordination with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the U.S., .... 7. ( C ) Meanwhile, Jordanians across a broad spectrum )from the scotch-sipping elite, to trade unionists, to theIslamists ) complain to us, some emotionally, of U.S.passivity. Faris Breizat of the Center for Strategic andInternational Studies told emboff that the polling numbers heexpects to obtain next week will give Hizballah positives inthe 90 percent range. ....



9. ( C ) Musa Keilani, a columnist with family ties both to the security establishment and to the old guard among the Muslim Brotherhood, lamented that he and others &who used to speak out in support of co-existence8 with Israel must now keep their mouths shut, for fear their friends and families will brand them &traitors.8 The popularity of King Abdullah and his government was bleeding away because of the conflict,./...

 C O N F I D E N T I A L AMMAN 005567
SUBJECT: TFLE01: JORDAN'S KING DISCUSSES REGIONAL CHALLENGES WITH CODEL HOEKSTRA
2. (C) Codel Hoekstra met for an hour with King Abdullah II on July 24 at Queen Alia International Airport, just before the King's departure for Kuwait. Intelligence Committee Chairman Peter Hoekstra thanked the King for his support of a strong U.S.-Jordan relationship and his contributions toward stabilizing the region. ....... The King did not believe Iran was as strong as it pretended to be. There were chinks in its armor. One idea was to use Iran's own tactic, and support minority elements inside Iran. He was considering a trip to Azerbaijan with this thought in mind. The King described the government of Qatar, fearing for its security, as having embraced Iran. Al-Jazeera television was moving the whole Arab street in favor of Iranian objectives..... 3. (C) The King felt it was necessary to address the Iranian threat with one voice, and focus initially on Syria as the most vulnerable of Iran's assets. ..... The King stressed the importance of focusing on Syria in the campaign to curtail Iranian influence. President Asad, he said, argued that the internal choice was "me or the Muslim Brothers." The King advocated concerted efforts to develop other options, perhaps by cultivating a coalition of Kurds, Druze, Sunni tribes, and the Sunni urban class. ....
5. (C) King Abdullah expressed understanding for Israel's situation and its desire to "take down" Hizballah; ... 6. (C) Representative Harman thanked the King for his contributions to peace and stability, made at personal risk, and for his "magnificent" role in getting Arab moderate leaders to stand up. She said the Codel had been reassured by Prime Minister Olmert that Israel is not at war with the Lebanese government or people. The objective was to degrade Hizballah, and every attack was targeted against Hizballah. Our message to him, she said, was of the need to make that case more persuasively in public. Israeli leaders, she continued, are also focused on a NATO/Arab force with a mission to implement resolution 1559 and establish a monitoring group on the Lebanese-Syrian border. The King said he also was working in that direction, .... he supported creation of a multinational force prepared to take on and fight Hizballahand would support that idea in Rome. Jordan for months had proposed providing equipment and training for the LAF, and he hoped that initiative would be accelerated...."
Posted by G, Z, or B at 1:20 AM
River to Sea Uprooted Palestinian

The Bahraini Opposition's Struggle for Survival

Khuloud and Ziad Abu-Rish

Co-Editors

Mar 19 2011
For at least several decades, geopolitical, economic, territorial and ideological considerations have led to serious tensions, if not outright feuds, between the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states. In recent weeks, however, the regimes of GCC states have shown their citizens that when their authoritarian rule is at stake, they will put aside their differences and put up a united front. Exceptional times, it seems, do call for exceptional measures. As such, the GCC endorsed NSC Resolution 1973–authorizing “all measures necessary” in Libya, including a no-fly zone. Indeed, while some GCC states have agreed to send troops to help overthrow one brutal dictator in Libya, others have already sent their US-trained and armed troops to uphold the rule of another entrenched and equally brutal dictator in Bahrain. But what exactly happens when some of the world’s most oppressive dictators unite, not to fight a well-known regional adversary further up North, but to put down a peaceful and democratic popular uprising?
The GCC’s Peninsula Shield Forces—composed mainly of Saudi, but also Qatari and Emirati troops—officially entered Bahrain on Monday March 14th, 2011. While their stated goal is to protect Bahraini government and oil facilities, the level of indiscriminate state violence against unarmed civilians in the last few days has been unprecedented. Firsthand accounts and video footage of Bahraini state security personnel using tear gas, rubber bullets, machine guns, tanks, and other weapons against unarmed civilians and journalists without warning have emerged from many villages, mainly Sitra and Qadham, and not just from the capital, Manama. In one reported incident, an Indian national working for a private security firm in Bahrain was killed while on duty on Wednesday night by a stray bullet from a military helicopter that was firing at protesters.
Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa held a press conference on Friday night in which he denied that his regime is involved in any systematic violence against civilians. He rendered the escalation of violence in Bahrain as an expected consequence of the “volatile situation” as security forces try to “restore order.” While some sense of “calm” has reportedly been restored to a few areas in Bahrain, many neighborhoods and villages are suffering from extreme police and military brutality. Especially alarming has been the shootings at medical facilities as well as the harassment and detention of medical staff. According to the Bahraini al-Wasat newspaper, the Salmaniya Medical Complex remained under siege for days, and at least two of its doctors have been detained so far. Dr. Nada Dhaif, who appeared on Al Jazeera last week, has also been confirmed as missing by her relatives. So was Dr. Mohamed Saeed, member of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR) and one of the twenty-five political detainees that were released earlier last month as a concessionary attempt by King Hamad. Dr. Saeed has been reported missing since the morning of March 17th. Several attacks against medical staff have also been reported, including an attack by thugs against nurses on the campus of Bahrain University. Hospitals in Bahrain have issued pleas for help from the international community, given the alarming number of casualties. However, medical staff traveling to Bahrain in response to a call by the Red Crescent have been denied entry to Bahrain, including a Kuwaiti thirty-plus medical team that was turned away at the Bahraini airport.
While the Bahraini regime purports to still be committed to dialogue, its forces have launched a systematic attack against many members of the formal opposition, protesters, and those who have publicly criticized the ruling family. Security forces have already raided the homes of the members of the “group of 25.” According to the BBC, sixty people have been missing since Wednesday, whereas the Al Manama Voice puts the total number of those missing at 115, thirty-five of whom have been found while eighty remain unaccounted for. As a recent tweet by @Nabeelrajab put it, “As Bahrain arrests the opposition leaders, no one is left for dialogue.” Activists Abdul-Jalil Alsingace and Mohammad Sultan—a BCHR member who is suffering from a brain tumor—were both arrested. Ali Abdulemam, the Bahraini “blog father,” and Ali al-Yaseen, who called Bahrain TV accusing it of inciting sectarianism and maintaining a media blackout in Bahrain, are both missing. Isa Al Radhi had been missing for five days, when on Friday the military hospital contacted his family to collect his body. Many others, whose names are not known, have suffered the same fates. So far, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have condemned the detention of at least eight activists and protest leaders. As details of disappearances and detentions continue to emerge, there seems to be a systematic attempt at torturing some of those in the regime’s “custody” both to deter them from further political activity as well as to extract information on others deemed threatening by the regime.
Bahraini forces, taking cue from their Saudi counterparts, have also escalated sectarian-based harassment and violence. Reminiscent of ID-based killings in Beirut during Lebanon’s protracted civil war, Bahraini officers are reportedly beating up and holding civilians at checkpoints based on their accent (which indicates their sect). Shi’a neighborhoods have also been singled out for random police and military attacks, and several accusations have been leveled at Bahrain TV for inciting sectarianism and sectarian violence. It seems that the predominantly Sunni GCC states will stop at little to prevent what they perceive as a Shi’a takeover of one of their own member states. One of the consequences of the GCC intervention has been the escalation of blatantly sectarian state and security policies against all Shi’a civilians, even those who did not partake in the democratic uprising.
This week’s shootings, torture incidents, arrests, and disappearances are far from collateral damage of the regime’s attempt at “restoring security.” They are part and parcel of its plan to terrorize, silence, and in some instances, eliminate the democratic opposition within its borders. Yesterday’s destruction of the Pearl Roundabout, which in the last month was transformed from a symbol tying the monarchy to Bahrain’s historic pearl diving industry to one indexing the histories of protest against the authoritarian rule of the al-Khalifa, is yet another example of state violence even against the memory and infrastructure of the uprising. By redesigning the space on which the Pearl Roundabout once stood, the al-Khalifa regime  is able to write this momentous month out of its national history while ensuring the future life of the space will not be as welcoming to public gatherings as the previous one was.
Today, the Bahraini people’s resolve is strengthened in the face of the regime’s escalated retaliation against their popular democratic uprising. Today, as Bahrainis defied the State of Emergency and the ban on public gatherings and took to the streets, we are reminded of the currency that the word “samidoun” (resilient) had during the 2006 Lebanon War. Then, “samidoun” emerged as a lynch pin symbol of civilian defiance in the face of Israel’s brutal attack on Lebanon and (some of) its people. Today, the word symbolizes the resolve of Bahrain’s peaceful movement for democracy and justice against the brutal attack by “its” own government, which in turn is aided and abetted by a conglomeration of the world’s most authoritarian petro-regimes and their Western clients. Whether the Bahraini opposition survives this systematic campaign to destroy it remains to be seen. The implications are not just local, but regional as well in that the Bahraini uprising represents the first major manifestation of the “Arab Spring” in one of the Gulf monarchies. That journalists, writers, and bloggers are being harassed and intimidated into silence does not make their struggle any easier. Neither will the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon accusing the Bahraini regime of possible violations of international law, or those in the White House who are “deeply troubled” by the treatment of Bahraini activists and protesters. As Bahraini civilians bare the brunt of the GCC’s sectarian military machine on their own, we stand humbled by their resilience.
The following list of those killed by the al-Khalifa regime in its brutal suppression of the Bahraini people’s peaceful, democratic uprising continues to grow:
Ali Mshemi', 24 years old, killed in al-Dayya on February 14, 2011
Fadil al-Matruk, 21 years old, killed in al-Mahuz on February 15, 2011
Mahmud Abu-Taki, 23 years old, killed in Sitrah on February 17, 2011
Ali Mansur Khudayr, 53 years old, killed in Sitrah on February 17, 2011
Isa Abdul-Hasan, 60 years old, killed in Karzakan on February 17, 2011
Ali al-Umin, 22 years old, killed in Sitrah on February 17, 2011
Abdul-Ridah Muhammad Hasan, 32 years old, killed in al-Malkiyyah on February 21, 2011
Ali al-Dumistani, 18 years old, killed in Dumistan on March 13, 2011
Ahmad Abdullah al-Farhan, 30 years old, killed in Sitrah on March 15, 2011
Ahmad Abdullah Hasan, 22 years old, killed in Hamad Town on March 16, 2011
Jafar Muhammad Abd Ali, 41 years old, killed in Karranah on March 16, 2011
Jafar Abdullah Ma'yuf, 30 years old, killed in 'Ali on March 16, 2011
River to Sea Uprooted Palestinian

PLAYBOY INTERVIEW: HELEN THOMAS

March 18, 2011 posted by Veterans Today

DEAN OF THE WASHINGTON PRESS CORPS TALKS ABOUT ISRAEL, PALESTINE AND HER FIRING

By David Hochman
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?

PLAYBOY:
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?

THOMAS:
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.

PLAYBOY:
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?

THOMAS:
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.

PLAYBOY:
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?

PLAYBOY: Yes.

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?

THOMAS:
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?

THOMAS:
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.

PLAYBOY:
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?

THOMAS:
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?

THOMAS:
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?

THOMAS:
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.

PLAYBOY:
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.

PLAYBOY:
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.

THOMAS:
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?

THOMAS: Who?

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?

THOMAS:
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?

PLAYBOY:
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?

THOMAS:
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.

PLAYBOY:
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.

River to Sea Uprooted Palestinian

Relief will fade as we see the real impact of intervention in Libya

Welcome though it seems on humanitarian grounds, there are six serious problems with this UN resolution

The first reaction was relief. The UN security council resolution 1973 authorising foreign intervention in Libya was held up as an attempt to protect the Libyan rebels and alleviate their suffering, and who would not welcome that? Who would not want to stop a bully intent on "wiping out" those who oppose him? But any relief should be tempered by serious misgivings.

First, what motives lie behind this intervention? While the UN was voting to impose a no-fly zone in Libya, at least 40 civilians were killed in a US drone attack in Waziristan in Pakistan. And as I write, al-Jazeera is broadcasting scenes of carnage from Sanaa, Yemen, where at least 40 protesters have been shot dead. But there will be no UN no-fly zone to protect Pakistani civilians from US attacks, or to protect Yemenis. One cannot help but question the selective involvement of the west in the so-called "Arab spring" series of uprisings.

It is true that the US was reluctant to act and did so only after weeks of indecision. Unwilling to become embroiled in another conflict in the region where it would be perceived as interfering in the affairs of a sovereign state, Obama wisely insisted on a high level of Arab and Muslim involvement. At first the signs were good: the Arab League endorsed the move last week, and five member states seemed likely to participate. But that has been whittled down to just Qatar and the UAE, with Jordan a possible third. This intervention lacks sufficient Arab support to give it legitimacy in the region.

The US was worried about the cost of military action, too, given its ailing economy. Abdel Rahman Halqem, the Libyan ambassador to the UN, has told me that Qatar and the UAE have agreed to foot most of the bill for the operation. And what is the motive of these autocratic states: to protect the Libyan people, a grudge against Gaddafi, or to bind the US further into the region?

So this is the second problem: the main players in this intervention are western powers led by Britain and France with US involvement likely. If Libya's neighbours, Egypt and Tunisia, were playing the leading role that would be something to celebrate. Democratic countries helping their neighbours would have been in the spirit of the Arab uprisings, and would have strengthened the sense that Arabs can take control of their future. It could have happened too: Egypt gets $1.3bn of US military aid a year. Diplomatic pressure by Hillary Clinton could have brought that mighty war horse into the arena, or at least encouraged Egypt to arm the rebels. Instead, an Egyptian foreign ministry spokesperson stated categorically on Wednesday: "No intervention, period."

The third problem is that, although he is often dismissed as mad, Gaddafi is a master strategist and this intervention plays into his hands. He quickly announced a ceasefire in response, which was claimed by some as an early victory for the UN resolution; in fact, it both deflates the UN initiative and allows Gaddafi to appear reasonable. Meanwhile, a ceasefire at this point suits Gaddafi: under its cover, the secret police can get to work. Similarly, Gaddafi accepted the earlier arms embargo: again, this apparent concession suited him. His regime has sophisticated weaponry, whereas the rebels have few arms.

Gaddafi knows how to play the Arab street, too. At the moment he has little, if any, public support; his influence is limited to his family and tribe. But he may use this intervention to present himself as the victim of post-colonialist interference in pursuit of oil. He is likely to pose the question that is echoing around the Arab world – why wasn't there a no-fly zone over Gaza when the Israelis were bombarding it in 2008/9?
Unlike in Tunisia and Egypt, the uprising in Libya quickly deteriorated into armed conflict. Gaddafi could question whether those the UN is seeking to protect are still "civilians" when engaged in battle, and suggest instead that the west is taking sides in a civil war (where the political agenda of the rebels is unknown).
And what of the long-term impact of this intervention on Libya, and the world? Here lies yet another concern. Libya may end up divided into the rebel-held east and a regime stronghold in the rest of the country which would include the oil fields and the oil terminal town al-Brega. There is a strong risk, too, that it will become the region's fourth failed state, joining Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen. And that ushers in another peril. Al-Qaida thrives in such chaos; it played a key role in the Iraqi and Afghan insurgencies and is based in Yemen – and it may enter Libya, too. Several of Bin Laden's closest associates are Libyan, and Gaddafi is no stranger to terror groups – the Abu Nidal Organisation found a safe haven in Libya from 1987 to 1999. Gaddafi has also threatened to attack passenger aircraft and shipping in the Mediterranean.

Fifth, there is no guarantee that military intervention will result in Gaddafi's demise. In 1992, the UN imposed two no-fly zones in Iraq – to protect the Kurds in the north and the Shi'a in the south. Saddam remained in power for another 11 years and was only toppled after an invasion. To date, over a million civilians have died in Iraq. The international community has a duty to ensure that this sorry history is not repeated in Libya.
Finally, there is the worry that the Arab spring will be derailed by events in Libya. If uprising plus violent suppression equals western intervention, the long-suffering Arab subjects of the region's remaining autocrats might be coerced into sticking with the status quo.

The Libyan people face a long period of violent upheaval whatever happens. But it is only through their own steadfastness and struggle that they will finally win the peaceful and democratic state they long for.
River to Sea Uprooted Palestinian

US promoting arms trade mission organized by settlement firm

Jimmy Johnson, The Electronic Intifada, 18 March 2011

The United States Department of Commerce and the US embassy in Tel Aviv are co-promoting the Israel Unmanned Systems 2011 trade mission from 27 March to 1 April. Their partner -- and the primary organizer -- is Airlift, inc., an aerospace and consulting firm based in the settlement of Talpiot Mizrach (East Talpiot) in occupied East Jerusalem. This raises troubling questions about why Washington is promoting the Israeli arms trade and why it is doing so with a firm based in an illegal colony which explicitly contradicts official US policy as well as international law.

Airlift was founded in 2007 by Marc-Philippe Rudel, a French-Israeli electrical engineer and businessman, to "promote economic cooperation and the establishment of global partnerships." The company brings foreign arms industry and military officials to Israel for arranged business-to-business meetings, specially tailored seminars, industry workshops and visits to major Israeli armament firms and research institutes. Airlift's website states that its "offices are located in the heart of Jerusalem" but the address given puts them in occupied East Jerusalem. Airlift's Spanish subsidiary, Airlift Iberia, was established in September 2010.

Though considered a mainstream Jerusalem neighborhood by most Israelis -- including Rudel, judging by his activism in the secular liberal/centrist "Awakening in Jerusalem" movement -- East Talpiot is unanimously considered an illegal settlement by the international community including the United Nations, the International Court of Justice and the US government whose pronouncements consistently oppose Israeli settlements. However, Washington regularly takes actions -- such as the recent veto of a UN Security Council resolution condemning settlements -- to shield Israel from international condemnation and formerly contributed economic aid that was used directly for settlement infrastructure and construction. Promoting a trade mission with a firm based in a settlement points to the latter as being more representative of US policy, in spite of official pronouncements to the contrary. American sponsorship comes at a time when governments like Norway, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom are actively distancing themselves from settlement-related businesses. Requests for comment from the US State Department and Department of Commerce were not answered.

The trade mission's program includes visits to the facilities of several Israeli arms manufacturers deeply involved in the occupation. Israel Aerospace Industries, Aeronautics Defense Systems, BlueBird Aero Systems and Rafael Advanced Defense Systems are all on the schedule for the visiting delegation as well as an "upscale" reception at the US embassy in Tel Aviv. There will also be panels on the market for unmanned systems (drones) and an optional tour on the last day through the occupied Old City of Jerusalem.

Israel is a world-leader in the design and export of unmanned systems, especially unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). It also deploys them extensively in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip and over Lebanon. This battlefield experience, the history of deployment in service of military occupation, is a key marketing aspect for the tools. The website for the trade mission notes, for example, that BlueBird Aero Systems is an "official supplier of the Israeli Ministry of Defense and Israeli Air Force."

There is already a history of partnerships between Israeli UAV manufacturers and American arms and aerospace firms, some of which pre-date Airlift's founding. Boeing, AAI and General Dynamics have all signed marketing agreements to promote Aeronautics Defense Systems models in the US. General Dynamics also helps promote Elbit Systems models, and Advanced Ceramics Research and Cubic Advanced Tactical Systems formerly helped market Rafael's now-discontinued Skylite drone. These firms and others are also engaged in research and development for their own production of UAVs. It is only the US arms industry's UAVs, in fact, which compete with those from Israel.

This is also not Airlift's first joint mission with the US Department of Commerce. In January 2010, they jointly organized and promoted the Israel Space 2010 Trade Mission which brought participants from Brazil, Belgium and the US to learn about and engage with many of the same arms manufacturers involved in the pending Unmanned Systems mission. Airlift regularly participates in trade and aerospace events promoted by the French, Brazilian, Canadian and other embassies. Rudel too is a consultant in charge of the aerospace industry sector for the Economic Mission of the Embassy of France.

The promoters are well aware that the same battlefield experience that gives Israeli UAVs a marketing edge is also a potential liability. A document from the 2010 Space Trade Mission available on the US Department of Commerce's BuyUSA.gov website notes that "geo-political concerns" are "potential obstacles" to Israeli firms tapping international markets more successfully. A recent example of this was Brazil's hesitancy in buying Israeli UAVs, as revealed by Wikileaks. The 2009 US diplomatic cable notes that Brazilian Defense Minister Nelson Jobim prepared arrangements to "prevent Brazil [from] having to buy UAVs from Israel, which had become politically sensitive" (15 January 2009 diplomatic cable, Wikileaks). With the increasing activity and popularity of the boycott, divestment and sanctions efforts aimed at ending the occupation, perhaps "potential obstacles" to future sales will prove more formidable.

Jimmy Johnson lives in Detroit and runs www.NegedNeshek.org, a news, data and analysis project researching Israeli arms exports. He can be reached at jimmy [at] negedneshek [dot] org.
River to Sea Uprooted Palestinian