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June 8th, 2010
03:18 AM ET

The rabbi whose question ended Helen Thomas' career

From CNN Senior National Editor Dave Schechter:

Most Americans have never heard of Rabbi David Nesenoff, but they now know his work behind the camera. Nesenoff is an independent filmmaker who asked columnist Helen Thomas the question that brought an end to her decades-long career.

Nesenoff was at the White House on May 27 with a media credential, representing his website www.rabbilive.com, to cover an event marking Jewish Heritage Month. He was accompanied by his 17-year-old son Adam, who also was credentialed – representing his website www.shmoozepoint.com – and a friend of his son.

They had attended a White House news conference at which Thomas, known as the dean of the White House press corps, was one of the reporters to question President Obama. Afterwards, Nesenoff and his son asked various people at the White House – from a TV reporter to a Jewish boxer to visiting rabbis – to offer thoughts on Israel.

It was in the driveway outside the north entrance to the White House where Nesenoff saw Thomas. “Let’s meet her, let’s learn something” Nesenoff recalled telling the boys. “I didn’t remember that she had pro-Palestinian thoughts, anti-Semitic feelings,” he said.

What followed has been viewed online more than one million times on various sites, Nesenoff says.

“Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine,” Thomas told them. “Remember, these people are occupied. And it’s their land. It’s not German, it’s not Poland’s.”

That answer in and of itself might have caused a minor stir. Regular viewers of White House news conferences over the years have heard her ask questions that betrayed sympathy for the Palestinians, perhaps not surprising for a U.S.-born daughter of Christian immigrants from Lebanon. But Nesenoff followed up by asking where the Jews living in Israel should go.

“They could go home. Poland, Germany,” Thomas replied, “ . . . and America, and everywhere else.”

“I was hurt, I was shocked,” Nesenoff told me. He was less concerned about Thomas’ retirement. “There are bigger issues here,” he said, “of anti-Semitism tied into anti-Israel (sentiment).”

After Nesenoff posted the video online, Thomas apologized in a statement. “I deeply regret my comments I made last week regarding the Israelis and the Palestinians,” she said “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."

It was not enough to quiet the uproar. Nesenoff is looking for something more personal. “She owes me an apology,” he says. “She owes my son an apology.”

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Israel • Judaism • Middle East • Politics

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soundoff (1,598 Responses)
  1. Lucifer's Evil Twin

    Hmmm... Lets see if I can gather enough give-a-crap to comment... Religion is a pestilence that holds humanity back from unification, tolerance, equality and peace...

    July 22, 2013 at 1:12 pm |
    • realhamous

      Nice "tolerance" you got going there.

      July 22, 2013 at 1:37 pm |
      • Lucifer's Evil Twin

        I was going to provide a snappy retort, but i've decided that you and this topic are boring...

        July 22, 2013 at 1:52 pm |
  2. realhamous

    The rabbi's question didn't end her career. It was Helen Thomas' hatred of the Jews that ended her career. May God have mercy on her soul.

    July 22, 2013 at 8:31 am |
    • Fr. John Morris

      It is not hatred of Jews to criticize Zionism and to recognize the humanity and rights of the Palestinian people who have had their country taken from them by Jewish settlers from Europe ad America. The American people have not been told the truth about the injustice done to the native people of the Holy Land by the Zionist imperialists who have show no regard for the rights of the Palestinians. Thomas may have been blunt, but she was right and should not have had her career destroyed by the intolerance of Zionism.

      July 22, 2013 at 12:42 pm |
      • realhamous

        Funny, the only place in the Middle East (until Iraq) where Arabs could participate in a democratic government was in Israel. Meanwhile, Christians and Jews in Muslim Arab countries are being slaughtered and not a peep from the Jew haters here in America and around the world. The American people know the truth: Palestine and a people called Palestinian are myths.

        July 22, 2013 at 12:58 pm |
      • David Fischler

        Fr. John, you are aware that Jews were in Palestine long before the Arabs, right? That they are as much "native peoples" as those who invaded and conquered the land in the 7th century, if not more? That there have been Jews living there without interruption for at least 3000 years?

        July 22, 2013 at 2:10 pm |
        • Fr. John Morris

          Yes I know that there has always been a small Jewish community in the Holy Land, but that does not justify European and American Jews moving there and establishing a state that denies the civil rights of the majority of the people whose ancestors have lived there for just as long as Jews. What should have been done was the establishment of a state that recognized all the people living there as having equal rights. Israel calls itself a democracy, but it not a democracy for Palestinians. If you do not believe me talk with a Palestinian about what their life is like under Israeli occupation.

          July 22, 2013 at 2:22 pm |
        • David Fischler

          First, Palestinians–which is to say, Arabs–have not lived in Palestine in any numbers at all nearly as long as Jews. There was not a significant Arab presence in Palestine until after the Muslim conquest.

          Second, I would ask why it is that there even are "European and American Jews"? That would be because they were driven out of their homeland by the Romans, and then driven out of one country after another over the next 1900 years. Western Christians claiming that Jews have no historic right to return to their homeland because they've lived elsewhere for so long is akin to the guy who murders his parents claiming he has a right to mercy because he's an orphan–you set up the conditions, and then try to dictate the outcome.

          Third, Israel is a democracy, an imperfect one certainly, but one where Arab Christians and Muslims have more civil and human rights than in any other country in the Middle East. Palestinians sit in the Knesset, on the Supreme Court, and have had places in the prime minister's government. They have freedom of speech, such that they can even advocate for positions that run contrary to Israel's national interest. They have freedom of religion and association. Is their situation as good as it can be or should be? No. But in Israel there is hope for the kind of state that you advocate, whereas virtually every Arab state is Judenrein, or seeks to be (and as any Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza would be).

          July 22, 2013 at 2:39 pm |
        • Fr. John Morris

          No I do not believe that Jews have any right to take over the Holy Land and deny the people living there civil rights just because their ancestors lived there 2,000 years ago. Jews have full freedom in the United States. I believe in democratic principles and by denying the rights of the Palestinian people Israel violates basic human rights. Read about the history of the Middle East and Zionism and you will see that the Zionist state is built on a ethnocentric ideology. Nothing can justify what the Zionists have done to the Palestinians, especially under Netanyahu, who deliberately worked to sabotage the efforts for peace that began in Oslo. Let Israel get out of the occupied territories and allow the Palestinians to establish a viable state based on the pre 1967 borders.

          July 23, 2013 at 1:00 am |
        • realhamous

          There are no "pre 1967 borders". That is nothing more than an armistice line from 1949. When the Arab countries attacked Israel in 1967 and lost, the armistice line shifted.

          July 23, 2013 at 7:22 am |
  3. Matt

    Helen Thomas is a HERO for speaking the TRUTH. http://www.JewWatch.com

    July 20, 2013 at 1:33 pm |
  4. Fred M.

    No Ms. Thomas, YOU can go back to where YOU came from.

    July 20, 2013 at 10:31 am |
  5. nnnnvvx

    rolex watch for sale prices rolex milgauss black vintage rolex submariner german rolex forum rolex yachtmaster watches

    July 17, 2011 at 11:27 pm |
  6. carpinteyrolrt

    I like religion.blogs.cnn.com, i about i last wishes as prove turn tail from soon.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:40 am |
  7. Cain

    Nesenoff is looking for something more personal. “She owes me an apology,” he says. “She owes my son an apology.”

    For what? For having views that are contrary to your own?

    Sure, she did something dumb, but why does she owe YOU an apology specifically?

    June 14, 2010 at 3:45 pm |
    • Matt

      She did not say anything wrong, she spoke the truth. Israelis should get the hell out of Palestine.

      July 20, 2013 at 1:27 pm |
      • realhamous

        There is no Palestine.

        July 22, 2013 at 9:50 am |
  8. BarbarainPA

    This "rabbi" is the height of arrogance. Saying she owes HIM an apology, and his son too. Hogwash!! He asked her OPINION, and she gave it. It's called "free speech" and this isn't The United States of Israel, although with the amount of money we GIVE them each year, it may as well be.

    This dbag owes the Palestinians an apology.

    Viva Palestine!! May God crush Israel into powder.

    June 14, 2010 at 11:58 am |
    • LANA

      everyboy put words in Rabbi moth...and Jew-haters gladly jump on the horse of blaming the rabbi instead of the comments that advocate for the extermination of the people and their right to have a place in this universe (the only place the jewish people came from). There would be no Israel if not for 6million-gassed by very-so-called-scivilisedGermans. May be all of you defending the comments that resonate with Hitler will build more gas-chambers to please Hamas and Muslims? And Hisbola? And Axhmadenagan? Guess what...you will be next in the Muslims -list to be exerminated...you are infidels according to their religion...they hate you just as much...Choose your enemies....Be true Americans that stnad above the hate-propaganda...be true Americans that is intolerant to hate-promoting slogans by Thomas....Shame on American defending the hitler-like comments toward the very people that were whiped out just 60 years ago from Europe in the most herenous way humans can emagine. may Jews will produce another scinetist to move them to the moon? Who will be the skape goat then? The muslims? not-so-fast

      June 14, 2010 at 6:23 pm |
  9. Robert M Soran - Schwartz

    It's not a total wonder that Nesenoff disagrees with Thomas, and – viceversa – many disagree with him when you read on his website (under "Articles") this
    "Why is it our homeland? ... Everyone knows why Israel is the Jewish homeland. We know, you know, I know. The TV knows. The media knows. The public knows, the world knows. All the schools know. The senior citizens know, the college kids know. Everyone knows why Israel is the Jewish homeland."
    And then he continues (read carefully):

    " ... after the Holocaust in the late 1940s it was a natural for the Jews to go back there– to their land and reclaim it again. And with the world feeling really guilty right after the Holocaust it made it that much easier to get the land back and kick out hundreds of thousands of Arabs who were living there and dwelling peacefully with their families and loved ones.
    But it was ours first as it was promised to us by G-d in the Torah so we have a claim to it.

    And that’s why we have a Jewish Homeland ..."

    Why does this American rabbi guy need two homeleands, one in US, one in Palestine?

    Maybe a loyalty problem, being US citizen is not enough.

    June 11, 2010 at 4:37 pm |
    • Eva

      What a disgusting parasite.

      June 11, 2010 at 7:01 pm |
    • Fr. John Morris

      Just because someone's ancestors lived somewhere 2,000 years ago does not give them the right to go there and deny the human rights of the people who have lived there for centuries since the end of the Jewish state. Just because the Nazis committed atrocities against the Jews does not give them the right to go to the Holy Land and set up a state that denies the civil rights of the people living there. Everyone is descended from a people who one time or another were driven out of their ancient homeland. Look at England. the original inhabitants were displaced by the Celts, then the Romans ruled, then the Anglo-Saxons came only to be conquered by the Normans. There was a Jewish state over 2,000 years ago. Then it became part of the Roman Empire. After AD 70 the Romans expelled the Jews. The roots of the Palestinian people in that land go back just as far as the Jews. They are people who deserve the same rights as all other peoples. Yet they live as a conquered people. Had it not been for the Zionist conquest of the Holy Land, and the establishment of a state that denies the civil rights of the Palestinians, extremists groups like Hamas would not have arisen. Besides, the Mossad helped create Hamas to counter the other Palestinian groups. Why should the Palestinians suffer for the crimes of Hitler and his gang of thugs?

      July 22, 2013 at 2:36 pm |
      • David Fischler

        Here's a question for you, Father: at what point does the Gentile world–that would be the Italians, the Spanish, the English, the Germans, the Poles, the Russians, the Arabs, and every other ethnic group that today possesses its own state(s)–recognize that the "Jewish problem" is one that they created by driving that people from one place to another, depriving them of a home, of livelihood, of human rights, and of life itself? At what point do the Jews get to settle in one place where they can defend themselves and be left alone? If not Israel, Father, where? And when?

        July 22, 2013 at 2:47 pm |
  10. Terri D.

    She doesn't owe him an apology! No matter which side of this issue you stand on, the point here is that he asked for her opinion and she gave it. This is America, where everyone is allowed to have their own opinion. It's a shame that a woman with such an amazing career was forced to retire because she gave an opinion when asked for one.

    June 11, 2010 at 2:45 pm |
    • osa1

      I agree, she doesn't owe the rabbi or his son an apology. He shouldn't have asked the question if the answer was going to offend him.

      June 11, 2010 at 3:24 pm |
    • Eva

      It was an intentional provocation to get rid of a smart woman.

      June 11, 2010 at 4:29 pm |
  11. Grace Lanaris

    Please, get over it and move on. We have more important issues in this country and Helen Thomas is NOT one of them.

    June 11, 2010 at 2:38 pm |
  12. Bob

    Udi... Yes, Bob is my real name. My ancestry is Scots, Irish, English, Welsh, German, and Cherokee (with some family rumors of black blood as well). I'm neither Jewish, Muslim, or any mainstream "Christian" religion, although I do identify myself as Christian.

    As far as the celebrations following 9/11... Well before anyone quotable said it, I thought that America's wrong-headed foreign policy had finally backfired as I expected it would. If you oppress and marginalize any people long enough, you will radicalize them and make your problems worse (remember South Africa?) U.S. foreign policy respecting Israel is every bit as responsible for 9/11 as Bin Laden. Without U.S. foreign policy, there would be no Bin Laden. The CIA taught him how to kill in evicting the Russians from Afghanistan, then provided a natural target for his zealous hatred by rubber stamping every Israeli misdeed and providing the weapons used to more efficiently kill Palestinians.

    I certainly don't support what was done on 9/11, but I do understand what led up to it. As to Arab celebrations afterwords, I can only point to American celebrations following genocidal slaughters during the wars against the plains Indians. In wartime, it's natural for citizens to celebrate major victories, even if the victims were innocent civilians (recall Hiroshima and Nagasaki?) And make no mistake, in the mind of many Palestinians, this is war.

    June 11, 2010 at 2:12 pm |
    • Gary

      Bob, you are correct it is war. ...I hope we nuke every Palestinian and Iranian tomorrow...as far as Hiroshima Nagaski I wish we would have nuked Tokeyo too.....Native Indians and slavery of Africans was a horrible tragidy but life isnt fair...

      June 11, 2010 at 2:32 pm |
    • LANA

      you are one sided Amrecia-hating fellow that talks as if Jews are the skape-goats for all that is not to your liking....You do justify 9/11...and therefore justify the terorism as being the right thing. Who knows ....if you have some black blod in you, you could be partially Jewish as well..how about it? what are going to 'hate' now? The muslims? may be they are the one's that have and agenda to 'get reed' of cristians like you?

      June 14, 2010 at 5:59 pm |
  13. jerry w

    if you do not want the answer, do not ask the question. we all have our opinions. she owes nesenoff nothing, he is only stirring the pot and getting his 15 minutes.

    June 11, 2010 at 1:27 pm |
  14. Travis Seals

    Are you trying to say that if I don't agree that Israel should be a nation that I hate Jews?

    June 11, 2010 at 12:48 pm |
  15. Travelightly

    The Rabbi did not end Thomas' career. She ended it. As a journalist on duty, whatever the question, her answer should have been less biased in keeping with her job. She was at the White House attending a news conference and in professional mode. She wasn't sitting at home having a private conversation, where she was free to speak as a private citizen. Her right of 'free speech' was not infringed upon, but her right to be unprofessional was exercised fully! THAT's the difference. Whatever her stance on Israel, she could have answered this question in a less biased way and more in a journalistic way to make her point.

    June 11, 2010 at 12:15 pm |
  16. John K

    People, Helen didn't get fired for criticizing Israel. She's done that many times legitimately in the past with no problems. She got fired for saying the entire population of Israel should be marched back to Germany and Poland (presumably back to the concentration camps from whence they came). If you don't understand the line that was crossed by making that statement, you will never understand anything about the Israeli-Arab conflict.

    June 11, 2010 at 11:55 am |
    • Cain

      I don't think she was referring to the concentration camps. She also said "To America. To everywhere." Meaning that they should return to whatever country from which they immigrated.

      I'm not saying I agree with her, but let's try not to twist her words too much.

      June 14, 2010 at 3:49 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.