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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. Dan from the North

    Is being critical of Israel the same as being anti-Semitic? Honestly I do not know, but reading the posts one group sees it that way and another makes the distinction.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:42 pm |
  2. Matt T

    Helen didn't say anything anti-semetic in her comments people are really overreacting. Personally I don't think it would be possible for israel to be withdrawn entirely from the middle east nor do I think it would need to. They do however need to stop killing the palestinians. Sure the palestinians were shooting rockets at them and that is wrong but it still is their own fault for occupying them and sending a bunch of refugees off in 1948. Then israel had the nerve to artillery shell parts of that refugee condensed ghetto that the palestinians live in? Where theres condense populations of men women and children there? This would be the same as if mexico reclaimed parts of texas and then texans started shooting rockets at the occupying forces. It really is time for the israelis and palestinians to work out their differences and to give palestinians the right to live in their home again without occupying them instead of forcing all the palestinians to live in these ghettos where they have no rights and horrible lives.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:41 pm |
  3. BOG

    Thomas spoke the truth and I support her view %100. Keep in mind that Palestinians are semetic too. It is amazing how much influence the Jews have in our society and foreign policy, and how much we pay for it, enough is enough.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:41 pm |
  4. Frank Rizzo

    If you took a poll today the majority of Americans will end their love of support for Israel, it's idiots in Washington, DC that don't get it. America needs to start electing people who will standup against this rouge nation and why not?

    June 8, 2010 at 12:41 pm |
  5. Steve

    I wonder if she would have commented about any other country, still she would have to resign?
    If even reporters aren’t allowed to voice their opinion, then where is our freedom of speech?
    Being a daughter or son of an immigrant perhaps is about all of us!
    I guess David Nesenoff loved getting a comment like that from an important person and now is trying to play race or realign card to get more attention. As the article says no one knew of him before!
    This is David Nesenoff, who should bear the responsibility and should be banned and apologize to all immigrants.
    As for my opinion, I am neither pro Palestine nor pro Israel. What is important is that in today’s day and age with online media “You cannot hide the truth and point finger at each other”. All I can say to David Nesenoff is that to enjoy the very short period left as the world is changing.

    People like David Nesenoff come and go and nothing would changes but achievers like Helen Thomas are rare and will be missed!

    June 8, 2010 at 12:41 pm |
    • Frank Rizzo

      Steve nice post thank you.

      June 8, 2010 at 12:43 pm |
  6. Belarius Marek

    Why is it that when someone criticizes Israel for the genocide they have fostered for decades, they are classified as anti-semitic? Everyone knows that Israel has done everything it can thus far to wipe out the Palestinians. They want them gone. No question about it. If it were another nation doing this, we would all be up in arms. Israel is using the horrible acts of over sixty years ago to shame the world to bow to whatever they want. Me thinks they repeat history.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:40 pm |
  7. Tuffyturf

    Do not feel bad for Helen, at least she has that booming Modeling career to fall back on...she is gorgeous!

    June 8, 2010 at 12:40 pm |
  8. Killian

    Thomas never should have apologized. A question was asked, she answered. The guy got offended, just imagine what anyone else who has a pro-Palistine view feels knowing that you can get fired for agreeing in them.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:40 pm |
  9. John Cohen

    There is a lesson about American Media to be learned in the Helen Thomas/Israel flap-do not speak the truth. Israel exists not on land they inheritd or wooon by conflict. Their land, in part, was given them by the Allied Powers after WWII and land taken with the help of the United States in 1965. One should note that without the input of U.S. cash($30B each year) Israel would cease to exist. It is the price American taxpayers fork over so politicians can be elected lby the jewish vote.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:39 pm |
    • D in VT

      You are right. Israel was a Cold War creation to try to align countries in the ME with the US. Didn't work to well did it?

      June 10, 2010 at 1:46 pm |
  10. Reason

    Nothing that happened to an oppressed people gives them the right to oppress others. Period. The holocaust doesn't give Israeli's the right to oppress and colonize the Palestinians. 9/11 doesn't give the US the right to attack any country it wants and to torture whoever it wants. U.S. foreign policy does NOT justify 9/11.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:39 pm |
  11. jfusa

    The Zionist control of Israel is creating a bad situation for Jews in general and dragging Americans and Muslins with them. What you see happening with Helen is the result.
    Because of the pro-Zionist Israel lobby, the US government is unable to intervene as a neutral party and find a peaceful solution for the situation.
    Harvard professor Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer go into more details on this issue.
    You can watch their interview at MIT on the Israel lobby.
    mitworld.mit.edu/video/488

    June 8, 2010 at 12:38 pm |
  12. Lee

    Ralph Gentry says that a good reporter does not let their personal views impact their writing and reporting. Anyone who says that is naive, has no clue as to how reporters really do their job or simply not telling the truth. Usually this statement is made about left leaning reporters while right leaning reporters are charged with distorting what they report.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:38 pm |
  13. Fred

    pro-Palestinian thoughts do not equal anti-Semitic feelings

    June 8, 2010 at 12:38 pm |
  14. AllanB

    as a politician or public figure if you dare to criticize Israel, you are a dead man walking. AIPAC is by far the most poweful lobbying group in the DC. As a candidate for public office, without their approval, your chances of getting elected are zero. Ariel Sharone, former Israel prime minister Said " we control US's foregin policy" Check that on u-tube!!

    June 8, 2010 at 12:37 pm |
  15. Bob

    I'm tired of hearing Israeli sympathizers characterizing political views as racist. And the unhealthy level of influence of the Israeli lobby in the U.S. is exemplified by Ms. Thomas's having to resign for her words. If she had commented similarly on the Palestinians or – say – the Armenians, she'd still have her job. Perhaps she should have retired long ago, but this should not have been the catalyst for it, and unless we all want to fear speaking what we think when it's out of step with powerful groups, we ought to be fearful about what her having to 'retire' portends. No doubt this little note will – too – be spit upon as anti-Semitic. Careful thinkers, be wary.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:37 pm |
    • Suha

      Well said!!

      June 8, 2010 at 1:38 pm |
  16. David

    What arrogance! To think that she owes an apology for her opinion; Grow up! The fact that her job was threatened because of this honest answer, which is something to be frightened of! Especially if you are Jewish, because no matter whose side of the issue you are on, lack of liberty and freedom is a deadly poison consumed in mass by tyrants and dictators.

    Political Correctness is the language of moral relativism.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:37 pm |
  17. Dennis

    All I have to say is that Helen Thomas should not of retire. She was right.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:37 pm |
  18. L. E.

    I can understand anyone being pro whatever country they may align themselves with but a comment to be so stretched out of proportion as to label Mrs. Thomas as an anti-semite is nothing short of a modern day crucifiction. This is a woman who is highly regarded in her own right with an under the breath opinion shared my many, many people not just in the United States but around the world. With the current administration's lax direction in the support of Isreal more people and government for that matter are trending toward the same sentiments. I feel that Mrs. Thomas should not have retracted her statement but actually moved forward with solidifying her statement. At Mrs. Thomas's age, she has nothing to lose and regardless of the statement which I do disagree with to a certain degree has an underlying thread that i do agree with.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:37 pm |
  19. Roberto Alexander

    I didn't read anything helen thomas said specifically against jews. It was against Israel as a nation, and thomas is correct, historically. But then, when some write that Israel commits genocide against arabs or Palestinians, or to be called a "tyranital state" is over the line. To compare Israel to Nazi Germany is even more absurd. In general, most here defend the old lady for speaking her mind. Freedom of Speech is an American right. Some on this site wail over the poor Palestinians. But it was the Palestinians who have been rocketing jews, hijacked/blew up planes, mortared their towns, danced in the streets at 9/11. Hard to find compassion for a nation that loaths America, Israel or India. I for one would support any step toward the creation of a Palestinian state, but not at the cost of another holocaust of jews, gays, gypsies, the mentally ill, political opponents, or civil right activists. FREE PALESTINE! FREE ISRAEL AND THE WORLD FROM FURTHER TERRORIST ATTACKS! MAKE PEACE NOT SQUASH FREEDOM OF SPEECH!

    June 8, 2010 at 12:36 pm |
  20. b

    They hate Helen for saying the truth!!

    June 8, 2010 at 12:36 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.