WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Veteran White House journalist Helen Thomas, who has covered every president since John F. Kennedy, abruptly retired on Monday amid a storm of criticism over her controversial remarks about Israel.
The departure of Thomas, 89, as a Hearst Newspapers columnist was announced after she was captured on video saying Israelis should “get the hell out of Palestine” and suggesting they go “home” to Germany, Poland or the United States.
The comments drew widespread condemnation, including from the White House.
Thomas, long considered the dean of the White House press corps, apologized for her statements, recorded in an impromptu interview dated May 27 and posted on the website www.rabbilive.com.
The controversy prompted Thomas to be dropped by her public speaking agency and also led to the cancellation of her plans to deliver a high school commencement address in suburban Washington.
“Helen Thomas announced Monday that she is retiring, effective immediately,” Hearst News Service reported. “Her decision came after her controversial comments about Israel and the Palestinians were captured on videotape and widely disseminated on the Internet.”
The Hearst statement came shortly after White House press secretary Robert Gibbs called her remarks “offensive and reprehensible.”
Thomas was absent from Monday’s White House briefing, where she has a reserved seat in the center of the front row.
The White House Correspondents Association called her remarks “indefensible” and, before the announcement of her retirement, scheduled a meeting on whether an opinion columnist should have a front-row seat in the West Wing briefing room.
“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,” the association’s board said in a statement.
Thomas had issued a statement over the weekend saying: “I deeply regret my comments I made last week regarding the Israelis and the Palestinians. 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 became a columnist for the Hearst newspaper chain in recent years after working for decades as a White House correspondent for United Press International.
Editing by John O'Callaghan