Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Arab Americans ask for reversal of WSU's decision to pull Helen Thomas award, warn against stifling the debate

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Distributed by the www.ArabAmericanNewsWire.com

Arab Americans ask for reversal of WSU's decision to pull Helen Thomas award, warn against stifling the debate

DETROIT - The Congress of Arab American Organizations (CAAO) in Metropolitan Detroit is condemning last week's decision by Wayne State University to pull its Helen Thomas Spirit of Diversity in the Media Award following comments she made at a diversity conference in Dearborn. Thomas, an Arab American, is perhaps the best-known alumna of WSU, having covered every President of the United States from the last years of the Eisenhower administration until the second year of the Obama administration. She was the first female officer of the National Press Club, the first female member and president of the White House Correspondents' Association, and the first female member of the Gridiron Club. She has written five books.

At the conference, held December 2, Thomas reiterated the claim she first made earlier this year at the White House’s Jewish Heritage Day event on May 27 that the Israelis should withdraw from the West Bank and Gaza. In the Dearborn conference she lamented U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and added: "Congress, the White House and Hollywood, Wall Street are owned by Zionists. No question, in my opinion." WSU leaders said they considered the remark anti-Semitic and pulled the award the following day.

CAAO leaders met with WSU officials this morning to discuss the decision, its meaning and ramifications. "We do not understand why a remark against a political group - the Zionists - would be interpreted as being anti-Semitic," said Osama Siblani, CAAO spokesman. "We categorically reject equating Zionism with Judaism. We believe the real problem here is that some in the pro-Israeli community donor base are doing what they do whenever they can, which is silencing debate on the subject of Israel. But for an academic institution to silence debate is unconscionable. Universities are where debate should begin."

"Helen Thomas is not now and never has been anti-Semitic," said CAAO executive committee member Imad Hamad. "She has worked her entire career, 60 years, to bring truth to the American public and she is simply continuing to do that."

CAAO warns that unless it is properly addressed and corrected, this hastily-made decision will negatively impact relations between the university and the Arab American community for many years. CAAO has asked the university to reconsider its decision. "The ball is now in their court," Siblani said.

University officials said they would respond to the CAAO concerns by Friday, December 10. 

CAAO members will meet at the Lebanese American Heritage Club at 6 p.m. tomorrow, December 8, to further discuss the matter.