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THOMAS: Some know when its time to hit the door

Anti-Semite: ‘‘a person who discriminates against or is prejudiced or hostile toward Jews.’’

Some prejudices are tolerated by elites in this country. Examples: One can regularly smear political conservatives as know-nothings; Evangelical Christians as believers in a fantasy; Roman Catholics for their church’s stand against abortion and birth control; and Republicans as greedy people who care only about profit and power. Bill Maher regularly serves up a menu of these prejudices on his HBO program. Comedy Central is working on a cartoon series mocking Jesus Christ, but altered a sketch featuring the Prophet Muhammad for fear of a Muslim backlash. Some prejudices must be controlled.

One prejudice seems to be gaining a certain cachet. Like a volcano, it occasionally erupts to reveal what has been churning below the surface. That prejudice is anti-Semitism and the exploding volcano that set it off is Helen Thomas, the longtime ‘‘senior’’ White House correspondent for United Press International and more recently a columnist for Hearst Newspapers. That is until Monday, when Ms. Thomas, bombarded by criticism over her recent statements regarding Jews in Palestine, relinquished her front-row seat at presidential press briefings and announced a hasty retirement.

Ms. Thomas’ latest trouble began May 27 at a White House ceremony marking Jewish Heritage Month. Rabbi David Nesenoff saw Thomas and asked her opinion about recent developments in the Middle East. Thomas, who is of Lebanese descent, said the Jews in Israel should ‘‘go home to Germany, Poland and the United States.’’

Should the ‘‘Palestinians’’ go home to Jordan, which is where many of them are from? Where would Thomas like to send the 1 million Jews from Arab countries, or the Ethiopian Jews? Perhaps Thomas should ‘‘go home’’ to Lebanon. Besides, the Jews are home.

After her remarks went viral on the Internet, Thomas issued one of those statements that could have come from a politician she has covered: ‘‘I deeply regret my comments I made last week regarding the Israelis and the Palestinians. They do not reflect my heart-felt belief that peace will come to the Middle East only when all parties recognize the need for mutual respect and tolerance. May that day come soon.’’ Cue ‘‘The Age of Aquarius’’ music.

A generous person might forgive a one-off ‘‘slip of the tongue,’’ but Helen Thomas has a long history of questioning and opposing anything Israel does in its own defense. While not all criticism of Israel should be translated as anti-Semitism, Thomas’ rhetoric over the years seems to betray a deep-seated hatred of Jews.

During the Israeli battle with the terrorist organization Hamas in Gaza in 2008-2009, Thomas was interviewed by NPR and, according to Yid With Lid, a Weblog of commentary on Jewish issues, compared the Israeli Defense Force action to Nazi Germany. That is like blaming African Americans for police brutality during the civil rights movement.

Has Thomas forgotten that many of the Jews she wants to ‘‘go home’’ to Germany and Poland had relatives who died in the Holocaust because they could not escape from those countries? One — but by no means the only — reason Israel was reconstituted as a nation in 1948 was so that Jews would have a place to go should their existence again be threatened. Jews also have a long-established and legitimate relationship with not only the land in which Israelis now live, but also a much wider geographical, cultural and religious heritage, which they have relinquished in repeated bids for peace.

I have known and sometimes admired Helen Thomas for many years, but every professional — be it an athlete, or a journalist — needs to recognize when it’s time to go. And, thankfully, Helen Thomas knew it was time to go. Most employers would not want to be associated with a prejudiced employee, now Hearst Corporation won’t have to.

E-mail nationally syndicated columnist Cal Thomas at calthomas@tribune.com.