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Monday, December 27, 2010

NAAJA letter protesting SPJ planned action on Helen Thomas Award

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Letter sent to the board members and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists protesting their planned intention to terminate the Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award

Dec. 12, 2010

Society of Professional Journalists
National Board of Directors

Dear Board members:

I am writing to urge the board not to take any action to terminate the Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award. The purpose of the award was to recognize journalists who have dedicated their lives in the pursuit of the principles of professional journalism including accuracy, fairness and objectivity.

Helen Thomas has been an important role model for American Arabs who have and are pursuing journalism as a career choice. As you may know, there are so very few Americans of Arab heritage working in professional journalism. NAAJA maintains a census of American Arabs in Journalism and we have identified only about 300, with the majority employed in the ethnic media.

Being Arab in America is a challenge, far more so for Arabs than for any other ethnic group. The political realities of a Middle East conflict that has raged for more than a century weigh heavily on our community. While the majority of American Arabs seek a peaceful resolution of the conflict, it has been very contentious and has been the source of great anger, animosity and worse.

During her career as a journalist, Helen Thomas offered a special insight in to the issues that have made the Middle East conflict so radioactive for many in this country. As the Dean of the White House Press Corp, Helen Thomas often would ask the question that many in the media either did not think worthy or felt was too politically sensitive to address. It is a simple question but it has raised the volume in the already heated Arab-Israel debate. That question is, “Why is the United States insisting that inspections be made of Iran’s nuclear program, which seeks to build a nuclear bomb, and yet not insisting that Israel’s more than 250 nuclear weapons be inspected?”

It is politically incorrect. It may not be of importance to mainstream Americans, but it is important to American Arabs who believe there is a hypocrisy in American foreign policy and a failure on the part of the mainstream media to address these issues.

Tragically, I and other American Arabs in professional journalism believe that the mainstream media is afraid to ask these and other questions that deal with our coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict, a conflict that is so intrinsic to the day-to-day lives of all Americans. The Middle East dominates our news coverage, but it appears skewered and biased against the views of American Arabs. Americans do not understand basic concepts about the Middle East and mainstream journalism coverage has been broad-stroked and often filled with stereotypes.

I have never heard of a major mainstream journalist removed from his (or her) job for writing critically about or against Arabs.

Yet, many months ago, Helen Thomas was approached by a blogger – a Rabbi who has a controversial past, depicting in a YouTube video racist stereotypes of Mexican Americans. The Rabbi asked Helen Thomas about her views on Israel.

Here is the dialogue that took place.

Nesenoff: Any comments on Israel? We're asking everybody today, any comments on Israel?Thomas: Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine.
Nesenoff: Oooh. Any better comments on Israel?
Thomas: Remember, these people are occupied and it's their land. It's not German, it's not Poland ...
Nesenoff: So where should they go, what should they do?
Thomas: They go home.
Nesenoff: Where's the home?
Thomas: Poland, Germany and America and everywhere else.
Nesenoff: So you're saying the Jews go back to Poland and Germany?
Thomas: And America and everywhere else. Why push people out of there who have lived there for centuries? See?

I want to point out that in the exchange the issue presented to Helen Thomas was about Israel, a foreign country. She wasn’t asked about “Jews.”

Yet, in almost every news media report of the incident, it was reported that Helen Thomas said that “Jews” should “get the Hell out of Palestine.”

She was denounced as anti-Semitic.

I am astounded how someone can argue that her response to a topic she did not initiate can be described as anti-Semitism.

Was her reference to “Germany” and “Poland” insensitive? Surely, if in fact the issue of the Holocaust had been addressed.

But regardless of the intent of the Rabbi, Helen Thomas’ response was specific to the questions she was asked.

The video did not immediately surface until many weeks later when an activist, and not a journalist, turned it in to an issue. The writer twisted the words, replaced the word “Israel” with the word “Jews.”

It became a story. And Helen Thomas was immediately fired by the Hearst Newspapers – the media insists she resigned, she insists that she was fired without anyone at the newspaper asking her to explain her remarks.

On Dec. 11, 2010, I was honored to be one of many speakers addressing a diversity workshop organized by, one of the country’s leading American Arab online news web sites., for full disclosure, and its publisher are members of the National Arab American Journalists Association.

More than 300 people attended the event. I addressed the issue of media bias. I challenged the failure of UNITY: Journalists of Color to include American Arabs as partners in the organization. I challenged the SPJ’s unilateral decision earlier this year to close the Arab Journalism Sector on the grounds that the blog and the site were being used to address political issues.

At the very end of the full day of workshops, with less than 100 people present, Helen Thomas, who is 91 years old and a frail 80 pounds and who can barely walk on her own without some assistance, spoke about what happened to her.

She spoke about the need for American Arabs to become more involved in journalism. She spoke about the failure of American Arabs to be as active as those who oppose their community agenda. She referred to them in one sentence as “Zionists.” Again, she never used the word “Jews.”

Here is her precise sentence in that context as she spoke to the attendees. I videotaped the speech and it is on my Morning Talk Radio Web Site at  Before you judge her, please listen to her words and read what she said.

“There are so many who want to denigrate us and we are put in a position to defend ourselves. That is horrible.”

(She then criticized American foreign policy and the war in Iraq.)

“The whole question of money involved in politics. We are owned by propagandists against the Arabs. There is no question about that. Congress, the White House, Hollywood and Wall Street are owned by the Zionists. No question in my opinion. They put their money where their mouth is. It counts. For us to be called the militants, so forth, we are being pushed in to the wrong direction in every way. I hate the fact the Arabs who have given so much to this country are so maligned.”

Zionism is a political movement in this country and in other countries. You can say you disagree with her remarks. You can say you passionately and strongly disagree with her remarks. You can criticize her. But to act so rash as to accept the broadly and unfairly applied label that she is “anti-Semitic” is morally wrong.

Journalism is about accuracy. It is about fairness. It is about allowing a healthy and vibrant debate to ensue on every topic that consumes our society. This should be no different than any other debate. But, it is far from anti-Semitic. It is far from hate speech. Others may wish to twist her intentions. But the fact is this, despite her strong words of challenge to American foreign policy at press conferences, her belief that the Arabs are treated unfairly or that Israel’s government policies are wrong, she has never in her entire career uttered anything that could be close to being viewed as anti-Semitic.

It may be disliked by the Zionist Organization of America. It may be disliked by strong proponents of Israel inside and outside of the mainstream American media.

But to call her anti-Semitic is outrageous and wrong. It violates our fiduciary responsibilities in the trust of professional journalism.

To enter into this debate not by evaluating, debating or dissecting the controversy but by reacting would be a shameful act by the Board of the SPJ.

The Helen Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award is an award that reflects 50 years of outstanding professional journalism.

To allow two events at the end of that career to so damage that entire lifetime achievement would be an injustice.

I would urge you to not terminate the award and to continue to offer it to those who will continue to view the receipt of that award as a great honor.

One day the Middle East conflict will be over and Arabs and Jews will, hopefully, become the friends they once were.

But in the meantime, professional journalists whose primary responsibility is to report the news and offer insight, not judgment, should in fact refrain from engaging in the debate as newsmakers and not risk compromising their sacred role as news observers and reporters.

Thank you
Ray Hanania
National Arab American Journalists Association
PO Box 2127
Orland Park, IL., 60462

Thursday, December 09, 2010

NAAJA condemns defamatory attacks by ADL head Abe Foxman, criticizes censorship at Huffington Post

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The National Arab American Journalists Association today condemned as defamatory a column authored by Abe Foxman, the head of the Anti-Defamation League, which condemns Helen Thomas and calls for schools and institutions across America to cancel all awards that have been issued in her name.

NAAJA has also denounced Arianna Huffington and the Huffington Post for its campaign of censorship against American Arabs, blocking and editing any comments they view that are too harsh against Israel.

"It's not a surprise that the Huffington Post is running the hateful call by Abe Foxman to destroy and intimidate Helen Thomas because she dared to challenge the influence of an political movement in America which champions the politics of a foreign nation," said NAAJA coordinator Ray Hanania.

Click HERE to read Foxman's diatribe against Thomas.

"The bullying and intimidation against Helen Thomas from Foxman and other extremist American activists supporting Israel is reaching new heights of bigotry and racism," Hanania said.

"The Anti-Defamation League has a history of defaming Arabs and Muslims and using turning every debate and point of contention into a crisis of vengeance and fear mongering. The ADL's call will be heeded by organizations and educational institutions across America not for the principles that the ADL distorts regarding Thomas' comments, which challenge Zionism, but because many organizations and educational institutions cower and fear int he face of ADL bullying."

Hanania said that rather than contributing to a debate about the remarks that Helen Thomas has made challenging Zionism and its influence in this country, the Huffington Post has decided to allow Foxman and others to fear monger, serving as a mountain top from which anti-Arab and anti-Muslim activists like Abe Foxman can scream their fear mongering across America.

"Foxman's hateful assault will have an impact of many educational institutions that honor courageous journalism with awards named for Helen Thomas, whose journalism career spanned the administration of every President from Eisenhower to Obama," Hanania said.

Hanania said the organization was issuing this statement on Helen Thomas and her remarks which were made first to a video blogger with a questionable reputation, and then at a workshop held in Dearborn Michigan last week:

Helen Thomas’ remarks were twisted to mean something other than what she means. She has the right to challenge an identifiable political constituency in America that advocates for a foreign country.

Helen Thomas NEVER used the word Jews or Jew in any of her remarks and focused specifically on the political aspects of a very complex issue. To have some extremists in the American supporters of Israel twist and distort her remarks is a tragedy that reflects the continuing deteriorating situation of those who support Middle East Peace.

From the Detroit Free Press:
At the end of her speech, Thomas spoke about bias against Arabs and then recalled the words of a rabbi at Martin Luther King's 1963 civil rights march on Washington D.C., when he made his, I have a dream speech. Thomas said that the rabbi, who survived Nazi concentration camps, told the crowd "the greatest sin of all in the Nazi era was silence."
Rather than respond with vicious accusations against Helen Thomas, Americans should be allowed to debate, discuss and argue without fear of defamation or retribution issues that are important to all of us as Americans.

America prides itself on free speech, tolerance, the First Amendment and those inherent qualities of Americanism should not be compromised to advance a foreign-driven agenda. It is important that every organization understand the issues Helen Thomas has raised without fear of being slandered or defamed.

You cannot have true diversity without free speech and a tolerance for opposing and divergent views, and you cannot have diversity when individuals resort to using bullying and intimidation as a part of that discussion.

-- Ray Hanania

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Helen Thomas challenges the Teflon protection of the extremist defenders of Israel's brutality

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Helen Thomas speaking to a gathering at the Diversity Conference hosted by Arab Detroit ( She is defiant and refuses to back down and challenges the cowardly government and media for not standing up to the pro-Israel extremists in this country.

Helen Thomas challenges the Teflon protection of the extremist defenders if Israel's brutality from Ray Hanania on Vimeo.

Video taped by Ray Hanania

NAAJA Arab journalists denounce Wayne State Uni move canceling Helen Thomas award

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Ray Hanania

American Arab Journalists denounce Wayne State University's cancellation
of Helen Thomas Award as a move to undermine Free Speech

Chicago, Il - The National Arab American Journalists Association Saturday denounced the decision to Wayne State University to terminate its annual Helen Thomas Spirit of Diversity Award, calling the move a cowardly act surrendering to racist hate.

Wayne State University, which has a large American Arab student population located in the heart of the nation's largest American Arab community, took the action in the face of pressure from Pro-Israel hate organizations angry because Helen Thomas expressed an opinion criticizing the influence of Zionist American organizations on American Foreign Policy.

Thomas, the keynote speaker at a Diversity Conference hosted Dec. 3 by and attended by more than 300 participants, criticized those who attacked her for challenging Israel's actions in Palestine. She repeated her belief that the Zionist political movement in the United States "controls" the White House, the Congress and American foreign policy.

"The topic of Zionism is irrelevant to this debate. The real issue is free speech. Is America a nation of Free Speech or has our free speech been compromised by oftentimes vicious and hateful special interest organizations," said NAAJA coordinator Ray Hanania.

"This is America and America is the nation that is supposed to be the country of Free Speech. Instead of cowering in the face of pressure and special interest lobbying groups, journalists especially and other mainstream organizations should allow an open and full public discussion of the issues, controversial or not."

Hanania said that American Arab journalists have come under intense pressure from their news organizations and from organizations across the country in the wake of Helen Thomas' public crucifixion.

Thomas denied she resigned from the Hearst media corporation and said she was "fired" for expressing her views. She called President Barack Obama and other mainstream journalists "who fear challenging Israel's influence" in this country "cowardly."

The Society of Professional Journalists this year closed down the American Arab Journalism section and blog specifically because American Arab journalists have expressed opinions that challenge the news media's failure to be objective on the issue of the Middle East. The decision by Wayne State University to cave to special-interest political pressure is a continuation of growing anti-Arab sentiment.

"Mainstream American journalism is being bullied and pressured into censoring pro-Arab and pro-Palestinian free speech. American Arabs have never said that the pro-Israel view should be silenced. We have only demanded that the mainstream American news media include our views equally and present them fairly. They have not done that. Helen Thomas is a perfect example of that lack of professionalism."

NAAJA has more than 250 members across the country working in mainstream American journalism positions and the ethnic media.

American Arab Journalists from across America will converge in Dearborn March 4 - 6, 2011 to participate in a national conference to address this and other topics. The conference is being held at the Hyatt Regency in
Dearborn. The web site is

"The voices of American Arabs will not be silenced in a country where we, too, have served our country valiantly in every war, in every military branch and in every public and government position that has been open to us. Wayne State University's actions ate shameful and undermine the very aspect that makes this country great, free speech," Hanania said.