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Helen Thomas retires after flap Israel remark flap

June 7, 2010

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WASHINGTON—Longtime Washington journalist Helen Thomas abruptly retired Monday, according to her employer, Hearst News Service.

The 89-year-old Thomas, dean of the White House press corps, leaves amid a brewing controversy over remarks she made about Israel and Palestinians.

Thomas, known for her confrontational questioning, apologized for comments that were captured on video and have spread widely on the Internet. On the May 27 video, Thomas says Israelis should "get the hell out of Palestine," suggesting they go to Germany, Poland or the U.S.

The Hearst announcement came shortly after White House press secretary Robert Gibbs called her remarks "offensive and reprehensible."

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Controversial remarks about Israel by veteran White House reporter Helen Thomas drew sharp criticism from the Obama administration on Monday, as well as the cancellation of a high school graduation speech she was to deliver.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs was asked at his daily briefing with reporters about President Barack Obama's reaction to Thomas' remarks. Gibbs called them "offensive and reprehensible."

Thomas, a columnist for Hearst Newspapers, has apologized for comments that were captured on video by an interviewer for the website http://www.rabbilive.com. On the May 27 video, Thomas says Israelis should "get the hell out of Palestine," suggesting they go to Germany, Poland or the U.S.

"She should and has apologized," Gibbs said. "Because obviously those remarks do not reflect certainly the opinion of most of the people here and certainly not of the administration."

Thomas had been scheduled to speak at the June 14 graduation of Walt Whitman High School in the Washington suburb of Bethesda, Md., but Principal Alan Goodwin wrote in a Sunday e-mail to students and parents that she was being replaced.

"Graduation celebrations are not the venue for divisiveness," Goodwin wrote.

Thomas wrote on her website that "I deeply regret my comments I made last week regarding the Israelis and the Palestinians."

She added: "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."

The national director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham H. Foxman, said Sunday that Thomas' apology didn't go far enough.

"Her suggestion that Israelis should go back to Poland and Germany is bigoted and shows a profound ignorance of history," Foxman said in a statement. "We believe Thomas needs to make a more forceful and sincere apology for the pain her remarks have caused."

Thomas, 89, began her long career with the wire service United Press International in 1943, and started covering the White House in 1960, according to a biography posted on her website. She became a columnist for Hearst in 2000.

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