WASHINGTON — Decades ago, she was a pioneer breaking down barriers for women in journalism. For years, she was in the front ranks of the White House press corps posing blunt, often uncomfortable questions to the world's most powerful leaders. But it was her own blunt answer to a question that abruptly ended her career.
Helen Thomas, the dean of the White House press corps, resigned as a syndicated columnist Monday amid controversy over comments about Israel that she made to a filmmaker last month.
Video of the characteristically caustic Thomas saying Israeli Jews should "go home" to Europe quickly shot around the Web, prompting condemnations from Jewish groups, the White House and her colleagues.
"I deeply regret my comments I made last week regarding the Israelis and the Palestinians," Thomas, 89, wrote on her website. "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."
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Thomas, a Lebanese-American who grew up in Detroit, was well known as a critic of Israel. As a Hearst News Service columnist she had described Israeli settlements as illegal "colonies" and in a column last year was critical of U.S. support for a state "that oppresses a helpless people with its military power and daily humiliation."
But the video and its apparently raw and unfiltered view drew widespread attention after it was posted on the site RabbiLIVE.com.
In it, Thomas is asked if she had any comments on Israel and she responds, "Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine.
"Remember, these people are occupied, and it's their land," she said. Asked where Jews should go Thomas says, "They could go home."
Over the weekend, Thomas was dropped by the speakers bureau that represented her. A Washington-area high school canceled her scheduled graduation speech. On Monday, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs called the remarks "offensives and reprehensible."
Thomas covered 10 presidents in her sprawling career, most of which was spent as a reporter for the news wire United Press International. She came to the White House to cover President Kennedy at a time when women reporters were largely expected to write about the first lady's social calendar, fashion and manners.