On the one hand, what Helen Thomas said was (understatement warning!) Not OK. Telling people to go back where they came from is all kinds of wrong. Telling people to go back to places that once had a program in place to wipe them off the planet, is extra-wrong.
I would argue that the 20th-Century Jewish immigrants to Israel are every bit as wrong as immigrants to Canada are. We’re both oppressors and occupiers, and while we may not have individually done or chosen it, collectively we’ve been assholes about it. And those of us who aren’t first-generation, even though we’re wrong to be here, where are we supposed to go? We don’t really fit in our mothers’ wombs any more. I don’t even know exactly where my grandparents (the last of my family who were from somewhere else), if they were still alive, would go back to. Somewhere in Russia or the Ukraine, but I don’t know if there’s anybody alive who remembers the names of the towns. Right or wrong, I’m in Canada to stay and I call this place my home. Presumably many, if not most, Israeli Jews feel similar about Israel.
So, being here or there, and not having anywhere else to go, what can non-Aboriginal Canadians, and Israeli Jews, do? I suggest we start by not being evil, and follow that up with not being assholes, both individually and collectively. In Canada that means we suck it up and pay our taxes and pay out settlements to victims of residential schools, and we settle honestly and quickly, and pay up promptly. We settle disputed land claims – again, fairly and promptly. And we get to serious work on ending the racism that infects us.
My knowledge of Israel’s history is spotty, and tainted with the Zionism that comes with a Christian Fundamentalist upbringing, so I can’t say authoritatively what Israel has to do. Except stop being evil. The way Israel treats Palestinians is just that: evil. Not just cruel, but gratuitously so. The blockade of Gaza, in particular, needs to end, as does building new settlements in the occupied territories. As long as Israel hasn’t done those two things, it is a country that will not hold the moral high ground on anything.