First off, lets correct the misquotation
here. She didn't say they should go back to "poland and germany" as the video clip implies, she said that they should go back to "Poland, Germany, America and wherever else they came from" - she was cut off. After saying "remember, these people are occupied, its their land"
Here is the original Rabbi Live clip:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Aeqb8h0I-Bg
Now, I don't agree with Thomas remarks that Israelis should emigrate (though I do agree they should get out of Palestine), I think they should end their racist immigration laws and allow all the Palestinian refugees to return home, as citizens of a secular state for both Arabs and Jews equal under the law, and return all of the land and property that was stolen...they should have to move off of stolen land elsewhere in Palestine/Israel, except for the open-air prisons that is Gaza, there is enough enough room for everyone if not for Israeli racism.
Thomas remarks need more context to be treated more fairly though.
Thomas didn't just out of the blue say that the Israelis should go back to Germany, Poland, and America (why, incidentally, does everyone forget that those were the three countries she named, instead of just Germany and Poland??) and wherever else they came from...
Thomas was asked about Israel.
She said it should get the hell out of Palestine - that they are occupied and its their land.
The person informally interviewing her asked where they should go.
She said in a very off the cuff manner, like she wasn't really thinking about it, that they should go back to Germany, Poland, America, or wherever else they came from. This did not sound like the calculated political statement of an anti-semite but of someone who was understandably pissed off at zionist colonialism and was trying (failing?) to think on her feet.
Bare in mind, that Helen Thomas is *older than Israel.* Israel was established when she was well into her adulthood. She remembers the waves of Zionist colonial immigration to Israel. And that is what it was.
Of course there is a native Jewish population in Palestine many of whom, incidentally, vehemently opposed Zionism, and had lived peacefully with the rest of the native Arab population for centuries. Many Palestinian rights advocates such as the PLO and Fatah do not consider these Jewish people Israeli in the same sense as the Zionist colonists - they are legally Israeli as far as Israel is concerned, but the native Mizrahi Jews have also been historically oppressed by Zionists in practice and Arafat for instance considered them part of the Palestinian people. Its unlikely that Thomas was referring to them (they've always been in Palestine). The political class that dominates Israeli politics, in fact, the ruling class among Jewish Israelis, is in fact largely European, largely of very recent origin. (this is not of course to say that I agree with Thomas that they should go back to Europe and America, I don't, but that her position has a context that isn't being well explained)
Israel's racist immigration policy bans Arab immigrants while allowing any Jewish person (defined by ethnicity, not religion, atheists can make use of it too) anywhere in the world to become a citizen of Israel upon setting foot in Israel. This is done to ensure an ethic majority of Jewish people. At the same time, the state was founded by evicting Arab people from their homes, and now creating prison-like bantustan's in Gaza and the West Bank, punishing the local, indigenous population for the crime of being the wrong race.
Remember also that Helen Thomas is Arab, and she grew up and lived the beginning of her adult life while the Arab nation was under colonial rule by the French and British and being carved up. She is said to be of Lebanese origin, but then, there wasn't a Lebanon for the first two decades of her life either. People forget the colonial history and context of Zionism, Israel, and the division of the Arab nation into puppet states of the west. Helen Thomas doesn't, she watched it, she wasn't even a child at the time.
If an African reporter had, in 1980, been asked her opinion of South Africa, and said that the Afrikaners should go back to Holland, Germany, England, and wherever else they came from...she might still be wrong.
But I highly doubt any progressive people would insist she was racist against white people. Or demand her resignation. I think we'd be mature enough to understand where the anti-colonial impulse was coming from.
Why can't we do the same here? My sense is that anti-Arab racism is so pervasive that people don't even think about it. Thats why we can leap to thinking "anti-semitism" without even considering the anti-Arab racism that underpins this entire media scandal.