WASHINGTON — Helen Thomas, the longest serving White House correspondent, retired Monday after comments she made about Israel over the weekend drew condemnation from both the White House and the White House Correspondents Association.
Hearst News Service announced Thomas's retirement in a news story transmitted Monday morning. The story said her retirement was immediate.
"I deeply regret my comments I made last week regarding the Israelis and the Palestinians," the story quoted Thomas as saying. "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.
Thomas will mark her 90th birthday on Aug. 4.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Monday that Thomas's comments, in which she said Jews should leave Israel and return to Europe, were reprehensible. The White House Correspondents Association called them indefensible.
The association's board also said it was reconsidering Thomass special seat in the front row of the White House briefing room.
"I think those remarks were offensive and reprehensible," Gibbs said when asked about her comments at Mondays press briefing.
"I think she should and has apologized. Because, obviously, those remarks do not reflect, certainly, the opinion of, I assume, most of the people in here and certainly not of the administration."
Thomas did not attend Monday morning's briefing, which feaetured Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the administration's point man on the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
Thomas was asked about Israel on May 27. The video was recorded by the website RabbiLive.com on the day the White House held a Jewish Heritage event. The video was released Friday.
"Any comments on Israel," an offscreen voice asks Thomas.
Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine, Thomas says.
Where should they go? the offscreen voice asks.
She responds that they should go home to Germany, Poland or the United States.
After a special meeting Monday, the correspondents association board issued a statement condemning Thomass comments.
Helen Thomas' comments were indefensible and the White House Correspondents Association board firmly dissociates itself from them, the group said.
"Many in our profession who have known Helen for years were saddened by the comments, which were especially unfortunate in light of her role as a trail blazer on the White House beat.
While Helen has not been a member of the WHCA for many years, her special status in the briefing room has helped solidify her as the dean of the White House press corps so we feel the need to speak out strongly on this matter.
We want to emphasize that the role of the WHCA is to represent the White House press corps in its dealings with the White House on coverage-related issues. We do not police the speech of our members or colleagues. We are not involved at all in issuing White House credentials, that is the purview of the White House itself.
But the incident does revive the issue of whether it is appropriate for an opinion columnist to have a front row seat in the WH briefing room. That is an issue under the jurisdiction of this board. We are actively seeking input from our association members on this important matter, and we have scheduled a special meeting of the WHCA board on Thursday to decide on the seating issue.