Tony Snow to Helen Thomas: “Thank You for the Hezbollah View”

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We play an excerpt of Tuesday’s White House press conference. In it, Press Secretary Tony Snow is questioned by veteran correspondent Helen Thomas about the Israeli assault on Lebanon. [includes rush transcript]

We play an excerpt of Tuesday’s White House press conference. In it, Press Secretary Tony Snow is questioned by veteran correspondent Helen Thomas. Commonly referred to as “The First Lady of the Press,” Helen Thomas is the most senior member of the White House press corps. What many people don’t know is that she is also of Lebanese descent. At Tuesday’s new conference, she questioned Tony Snow about the US response to the Israeli assault.

  • White House press conference, July 18, 2006.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We are talking to former presidential candidate Ralph Nader, leading consumer activist in this country. Ralph Nader, I wanted to play for you an excerpt of Tuesday’s White House press conference. In it, Press Secretary Tony Snow is questioned by veteran correspondent Helen Thomas. Commonly referred to as “the First Lady of the Press,” Helen Thomas is the most senior member of the White House press corps. What many people may not know is that she’s also of Lebanese descent. At Tuesday’s news conference, she questioned Tony Snow about the U.S. response to the Israeli assault.

HELEN THOMAS: The United States is not that helpless. It could have stopped the bombardment of Lebanon. We have that much control with the Israelis.

TONY SNOW: I don’t think so, Helen.

HELEN THOMAS: We have gone for collective punishment against all of Lebanon and Palestine.

TONY SNOW: What’s interesting, Helen —

HELEN THOMAS: And this is what’s happening, and that’s the perception of the United States.

TONY SNOW: Well, thank you for the Hezbollah view, but I would encourage you —

HELEN THOMAS: Nobody is accepting your explanation. What is restraint? You call for restraint.

TONY SNOW: Well, I’ll tell you, what’s interesting, Helen, is people have. The G8 was completely united on this. And as you know, when it comes to issues of —

HELEN THOMAS: And we stopped a ceasefire. Why?

TONY SNOW: We didn’t stop a ceasefire. Let me just tell you — I’ll tell you what.

HELEN THOMAS: We vetoed —

TONY SNOW: We didn’t even veto. Please get your facts right. What happened was that the G8 countries made a pretty clear determination that the guilty party here was Hezbollah. You cannot have a ceasefire when you’ve got the leader of Hezbollah going on his television saying that he perceives total war —- he’s declaring total war. When they are firing rockets indiscriminately -—

HELEN THOMAS: We had the United Nations —

TONY SNOW: Please let me finish. I know this is great entertainment, but I want to finish the answer. The point here is, they’re firing rockets indiscriminately into civilian areas. The Israelis are responding as they see fit. You will note the countries that disagree with the —

HELEN THOMAS: —- bombardment of a whole country -—

TONY SNOW: — that disagree with the government of Israel in terms of its general approach on Palestine, many of our European allies agree that Israel has the right to defend itself, that the government of Lebanon has the right to control all its territory, that Hezbollah is responsible, and that those who support it also bear responsibility. There is no daylight between the United States and all the allies on this. They all agreed on it. This was not difficult.

AMY GOODMAN: White House Press Secretary Tony Snow responding to reporter Helen Thomas’s comments. Ralph Nader, beginning with his comment, when she asked about isn’t this collective punishment, saying this is a Hezbollah response.

RALPH NADER: Well, of course, the history of this is not just two weeks old. In 1982, when Israel invaded Lebanon, violating all kinds of Geneva conventions and UN resolutions, the New York Times’s Tom Friedman accused the Israeli military, actually reported, indiscriminate bombing in Beirut, and there were warships, Israeli shelling indiscriminately in Beirut. These are total war crimes, massive damage and death and destruction to innocent people.

The border between Israel and Lebanon involves raids of Israel, much more than Hezbollah, because of the more powerful factor. They still control large farm acreage, the Shebaa Farms, which are Lebanese soil. The Israelis have abducted Israeli civilians. They won’t tell the United Nations or the Lebanese government the location for thousands of land mines in South Lebanon so they can be deactivated. And during the 18-year occupation of South Lebanon, itself illegal under international law from 1982 to the year 2000, Israel drew water, precious water, from the Litani and even took fertile topsoil back to Israel, and other plunders. So, you know, for Tony Snow to act like, well, you know, everything started with this attack by Hezbollah, which is basically an attack designed to provide for a prisoner exchange. This has happened numerous times over the Lebanese-Israeli border.

But as Israeli commentators pointed out, this invasion of Lebanon doesn’t have anything to do with it. This is just a pretext by Israel, that Israel wants a puppet regime in Lebanon. It cannot stand an independent Lebanon, and it seeks to achieve that objective by this massive invasion and dividing the sectarian conflicts, as it did in 1982. So, it’s really tragic to see the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Nicholas Burns, and others acting as if they were emissaries of the Israeli embassy. When Mr. Burns said on the McNeil-Lehrer Report the other night that all the civilian deaths and destruction in Lebanon are due to Hezbollah, that is the kind of go signal that the Israeli regime wants to hear from the United States.

But I think it’s important for all peace-seeking people to move to pressure the U.S. government to get a ceasefire and to finally involve the Bush administration in serious negotiations as an honest broker to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict with a two-state solution, a viable Palestinian state, which is supported by large numbers of Israelis, as well as, of course, Palestinians, and I might add about 70% of American Jews support a two-state solution to this problem, which has gotten us involved into more and more quagmires in the Middle East, not to exclude the Iraq war.

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