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The Detroit News

University Cancels "Helen Thomas Spirit of Diversity in the Media" Award

Remarks on Palestinians, Zionism, brought 'negative light' to honor, official says

Kim Kozlowski and Oralandar Brand-Williams

“I paid a price, but it’s worth it to speak the truth,” former White House reporter Helen Thomas said Thursday about her controversial comment about Israeli Jews. (Robin Buckson / The Detroit News)

DETROIT - Wayne State University said Friday it will no longer offer an award named in honor of one of its most famous alumni, former White House press corps member Helen Thomas.

The Helen Thomas Spirit of Diversity in the Media award has been retired because of controversial remarks Thomas, an Arab-American, made at a conference Thursday in Dearborn and earlier this year, school officials said.

Thomas said at a diversity conference that "Congress, the White House and Hollywood, Wall Street are owned by Zionists. No question, in my opinion."

Her remarks have cast a shadow over the award, which was set up more than a decade ago to honor diversity and excellence in journalism, officials said.

"The controversy has brought a negative light to the award, which was never the intent of the award," said Matthew Seeger, interim dean of the College of Fine, Performing and Communication Arts at Wayne State.

Thomas, 90, resigned as a columnist for Hearst Newspapers in June after telling an interviewer that Jews should "get the hell out" of the Palestinian territories and go to Germany, Poland or the United States. She didn't back away from those remarks on Thursday but instead expounded on what she called the influence of Zionists worldwide.

Thomas could not be reached Friday.

Thomas' sister, Barbara Isaac, said they had expected WSU might eventually make such a decision, especially with this week's controversy.

"It boils down to more punishment for being honest and forthright," said Isaac. "She wanted to tell the truth. She's trying to get justice for the Palestinian people."

Wayne State is "showing its fear" of losing donors, Isaac said, adding that her sister was not referring to Jewish people when she used the word "Zionists" but to people who are "pro-Israel."

"All Jewish people are not Zionists," Isaac said.

But Jewish leaders applauded WSU's decision: "(We) applaud their courage in rescinding the award and distancing themselves from this blatantly anti-Semitic rhetoric that has no place in an academic institution," said Betsy Kellman, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League.

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