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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. jon

    Can we all just get along??

    June 8, 2010 at 12:47 pm |
  2. Luke

    The truth has set Helen free.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:46 pm |
  3. Richard B

    FREE SPEECH should always trump any presumed insight to reality. Ms. Thomas obviously lost hers this week when
    she expressed opinions that most of us don't hold to. Sadly, Israel has become a Sacred Cow.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:46 pm |
  4. mrb1513

    i believe it was the answer that ended her career. The question alone did nothing.

    Also, people lose their JOBS for much worse reasons, reasons that do not have to be illegal. you can be fired for lying to your boss about getting a job done before a deadline, yet legally speaking you did nothing wrong. it is important to distinguish between the two.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:46 pm |
  5. LID

    It wold have been ok if Helen Thomas had just indicated her pro-Palestinian sentiment, however, in her wording she clearly crossed the line. She did not call for peace but for the dismemberment of Israel and for a famous press reporter that should be embarassing, controversial and should lead the world to question her credentials. It is good that she had to resign, and that we do not allow for such anti-Semitic commentary in our country...YET. Unfortunately the way the Obama Administration is leaning all of this may change soon.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:46 pm |
  6. ELI

    I totally disagree with what she said, but as far as offering this man an apology-– NO ---. I just love how he says he did not remember her having pro-palestine feelings-I AM SO SURE. Rabbi sounds like he might not tell the truth.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:46 pm |
  7. willow09

    Interesting reading all of these comments. This is a very heated issue to say the least. First of all what would all of you say to the American Indians demanding their land back – because after all not thousands of years ago but merely hundreds of years ago the United States belonged to them and it was stolen from them. So, why, when they ask for their land back to we laugh at them – it is ok for people to say that the Israelis should have their land back and the Palestinians should leave – so why, should we not leave and let the American Indians have their land (country) back! Sound a bit absurd – yeah, no kidding! So, why should either the Palestinians or the Israelis leave their land? Just as absurd. But let us not forget, there is plenty of blame to go around here. Both sides are guilty of killing innocent people. So neither side is right in this issue and for us, who do not have to deal with the situation over there really have no right to criticize either side. They are both victims and perpetrators of terror – Israel has its share of terrorists too not just Palestine. This is an extremely complicated issue and one that will not resolve probably ever! But, not every comment made against Israel is anti-semetic and we need to stop crying every time Israel is criticized. Constructive criticism can be beneficial to the future of both countries.

    Not that I agree or disagree with what Helen Thomas said, I do agree with her right to say it. Freedom of speech used to exist in this country – guess not so much anymore! Watch what you say, next time it may not be just your job that you lose but your life!

    June 8, 2010 at 12:46 pm |
  8. Avi Shlomo

    you people have lost it. ypu can see it here on CNN blogs..in Cyner space ..etc. Is not Israel poistion to the Palestinian the same? Get the Hell outr of your own home land..Go to Jordan...Egypt, Lebanon and so forth. Please save me from your guilt. The Rabbi is a neo-fascist Zionistm racist...You are all happy to decalre that the Palestinians Have no rights nothing. It is about time some one said what Helen Thomas was brave to say. you all have fear of antsemtism. you do not border Israel. Get real.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:46 pm |
  9. Jessica

    I am not opposed to the state of Isreal because I think jews do not have a right to have their own land/country. I am opposed to it's existence because of the way it came about, and the way it continues to unfold. The thing is, they came in, fought for and took the land. Now, Palestinians are fighting back to take back their land. I cant fault Palestinians and I refuse to call them terrorists because their methods of attack arent "sophisticated" like the US, using unmanned drones – though, ultimately the results are the same. I am an american, I exist because europeans came to this land and exterminated native americans in this BS thing called "manifest destiny"...so ultimately, I belive in Karma and I expect someday, America will get a taste of what they dished out. thats how the world works. I wish that Isreal would wake up and smell the coffee and be open to sharing the land in a peaceful way, even if at the end of the day, they dont believe thats what Palestinians truly want. Sometimes, you have to be willing to take the high road and hope and pray that you'll reap the rewards of doing the right thing. One would think that the experience of the Holocaust would have leant present day jews to being morally and emotionally available to other peoples plight, and yet, its just the opposite. It reinforces the notion that people who've been abused, end up being abusers.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:46 pm |
    • mkeey

      I am glad you found the right words. Those were the words I 'have beein looking for to write. There are no perfect ways to describe the way things are really are over there. Israel needs to rethink its policy und be fair. The palestinians have the right to a peaceful live in their own land!! It is not fair to call people terrorist cause they are fighting back to regain just fewpart of what is theirs. If the had had sophisticated weapons as you have said, maybe we wouldn't have been calling them terrorist.

      June 8, 2010 at 1:12 pm |
    • E. Saab

      Jessica: Many Israelis want to do the right thing by establishing a Palestinian state. However, you must understand that Hamas is still determined to push ever Jew there into the sea. You have to have someone with whom to negotiate. If Israel acted unilaterally, because the country is so small, she would not really be able to protect her citizens. Sad but very true.

      June 8, 2010 at 2:50 pm |
    • Howard Markowitz

      Wrong! The land was never the 'Palestinians' to take back. Read some history, I am getting tired of posting it.

      Israel has bent over backwards to live in peace and has been met with suicide bombers and an agenda for anniliation. As someone has quoted before and I will paraphrase, 'If Hamas laid down their arms, there would be peace. If Israel did, they would be destroyed'.

      June 8, 2010 at 5:13 pm |
  10. Edmundburkeson

    In terms of credit ... the Rabbi does deserve praise for asking the right question. As far as blame ... How did she last as long as she did in the Press Corp. without someone asking this question? She certainly did not deserve a seat in this body. It could have been filled with someone with a clearer head ... not someone stewing and seething over everything Israeli.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:45 pm |
  11. Charles

    “I didn’t remember that she had pro-Palestinian thoughts, anti-Semitic feelings,”

    I love how it's assumed that if you have "pro-Palestinian" feelings, it is automatically implied that you are anti-Semitic. Nice. Anyone who has any honest feelings for peace in Israel/Palestine should indeed be "pro-Palestinian"...Otherwise, you're just as bigoted as you say Helen is.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:45 pm |
  12. Paul Richardson

    hasn't thomas learned not to talk against israel? sure everything she said was true - but you never talk about israel that way, especially in a public venue - its anti-semetic. freedom of speech? well sure, but not if it disagrees with our ally israel. i say good riddance. we don't need that type of honest discussion clogging our minds and polluting our ears. its not palestinian land - its the promise land of the israelites. god said so .

    June 8, 2010 at 12:45 pm |
  13. Paul Richardson

    hasn't thomas learned not to talk against israel? sure everything she said was true - but you never talk about israel that way, especially in a public venue - its anti-semetic. freedom of speech? well sure, but not if it disagrees with our ally israel. i say good riddens. we don't need that type of honest discussion clogging our minds and polluting our ears. its not palestinian land - its the promise land of the israelites. god said so .

    June 8, 2010 at 12:45 pm |
  14. Sandee Cohen

    Helen Thomas does not owe the Rabbi or his son an apology. How absurd. They were acting as journalists asking questions of well-known people.

    Helen Thomas actually did them a favor by answering candidly and honestly, albeit too honestly to continue her career.

    But it sounds like the Rabbi feels that if someone answers a journalist with a bigoted or hurtful answer, the journalist has the right to demand an apology.

    Sorry rebbe. You got what you asked for.

    And if she insulted you as a Jew, that's too bad. You asked the question, she gave you the answer.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:44 pm |
    • lostnspokane

      I agree she does not own them an apology. And why was she made to apologize and then made to retire. I don’t believe that being anti-Zionist = anti-Semitic. I looked up yesterday and found a website where orthodox Jews are against the state of Israel for religious reasons. Not being Jewish I cannot comment on the validity of it, but it was interesting to read.

      I do agree that the situation isn’t good in Gaza, and it will get worse. Israel is going to have to fix it. Should they leave Israel no, should they work at peace yes. Their actions create an environment that validates retribution (in the militant view). Is it right no, but it happens. Take away the militant cause and their reasoning false to pieces. Palestine would not have backers when inappropriately if they did not have someone poking them with a stick.

      June 8, 2010 at 1:04 pm |
    • Josh

      It is time for the hateful old bitter battle ax to move on. The only reason she was still afforded the privelages she had was because she was a muslim woman at heart. Her comments show her true feelings and stupidity and there is no place for that in a job where she is supposed to be objective. I will be glad to never have to look at her hideous face again.

      June 8, 2010 at 1:47 pm |
  15. Rikitix

    All this because a rabbi/reporter asked Ms Thomas her opinion. Oh, and this rabbi/reporter did not know her anti-Israel feeling? Pilesss! I'm sure he knew and wanted it to happen. Otherwise, why post the video all over?

    June 8, 2010 at 12:44 pm |
  16. RalphPootawn

    @david g

    I don't see how feeling that the theft of land from Palestine back in 1948 is a 'bad thing', could be considered antisemitism. It says nothing about how she feels about the jewish religion. Only that she believes in the right of people to own and keep property.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:44 pm |
    • Jane

      Excuse me? Who stole land from whom? If you will think a little, you will realize that Jews have been in, and ruled, the land of Israel, since long before the Romans took over, and The British Commonwealth took over. Who exactly do you think that King David and King Solomon were? And where did they rule, if not right from the place that ttwo thousand years ago and at the holy temple of the Jews? I don't recall any movement back then for Jesus to return to Poland, land where he came from.

      June 8, 2010 at 12:53 pm |
      • Jacob Lock

        Land that they stole from Canaanites that they slaughtered. You might want to read a bit of Exodus. They literally ethnically cleansed the Canaanites from Canaanite land and then occupied it. If you're going to spout biblical names you should learn a little bit about the Bible. The Jews never had claim to Canaan/Palestine/Modern Israel.

        June 8, 2010 at 12:56 pm |
        • Joe in VA

          Interesting. so who are the decendants of the caananites? surely not the palestinians because they would have used that argument long ago if it were true. i submit that the jews have the most authoritative, historical claim to the land of Israel. And since we're talking about history, here's some you and others should research. when the jews began emigrating to israel, they didn't steal the land from the people living there at the time, they bought it from those that owned it. to cal their living there an "occupation" is an outright lie perpetrated for decades by the arab nations that could have and should have made peace long ago.

          June 8, 2010 at 1:14 pm |
        • Jacob Lock

          So it's okay to occupy land that isn't your own, you just have to ethnically cleanse everyone in it to stake your claim? Good to know.

          June 8, 2010 at 1:16 pm |
        • Stretch

          By that logic, why haven't we given the majority of the United States back to the Native Americans? The logic of "historically, we got her first" is inherently flawed, especially coming from those of us living in the US...

          June 8, 2010 at 1:22 pm |
        • Jacob Lock

          Because not enough people cared at the time, not many people care now, and not many people will ever care in the future. Nobody did anything while there was still a chance to right the wrongs being inflicted upon Native Americans.

          June 8, 2010 at 1:32 pm |
        • Dr Hope

          That is why you must destroy all inhabitance because they started taken on other gods and idol worship like Christmas and Easter. The balls(ornaments) on the tree are the testilcles of the sun-god Ra. Easter is another babylonian holiday that jews should not take part in. When I say Easter, I do not mean Christian holiday.
          So I ask you, why should they take on the arab reiligon of Islam? They have every right to protect their land and people, remember the holocaust...how soon you forget like everyone else.

          June 8, 2010 at 1:43 pm |
      • Jessica

        hmmm...I thought Jesus was born in bethlehem? Poland...I hadnt heard that one before. (Jesus was jewish you know that right?)

        June 8, 2010 at 12:58 pm |
      • DB

        Ruled in what way? Where was the infrastructure? Are we to go back 2,000 years for deeds and plats? What does that say about the American Indians? Where is their claim to New York and Miami?

        Sorry; I can't buy your argument. There are three – count them – basic religions that claim that area, and any number of sects within those religions. Which one has rights to the land? And how are you to claim that the others have no validity to their claims? What does that say about your tolerance for the views and religions of others?

        June 8, 2010 at 1:12 pm |
      • DB

        Ruled in what way? Where was the infrastructure? Are we to go back 2,000 years for deeds and plats? What does that say about the American Indians? Where is their claim to New York and Miami?

        Sorry; I can't buy your argument. There are three – count them – basic religions that claim that area, and any number of sects within those religions. Which one has rights to the land? And how are you to claim that the others have no validity to their claims? What does that say about your tolerance for the views and religions of others?

        June 8, 2010 at 1:16 pm |
      • Karen

        Land is fluid, and every piece of it can be claimed by many 'native' communities. They were not the current occupants of the land, nor were current people really considered. If a native group of the Americas cleared a large population out of their current home because they wanted to reclaim their homeland – how do you think that would work out? I don't think the world would expect them to merrily move along with no resistance.

        June 8, 2010 at 1:28 pm |
  17. david

    The Balfour declaration helped create the Jewish homeland. However as typical of the British, they hedged by have equal numbers of Arabs immigrate into the same territory. Many of the displaced "Palestinians" were relative newcomers as well.

    As has been previously noted, Jews who attempted to return to their European homes were typically killed by German and Polish squatters.

    The Palestinians would do well to give up on the "right to return" and not permit themselves to serve as stooges for other Middle Eastern powers. Israel should allow them a lives of dignity. Clearly, Israeli policy is not working.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:44 pm |
    • oceans

      Well said David. One of the few sensible comments in this whole thread.

      June 8, 2010 at 6:01 pm |
  18. CB

    Freedom of speech does still exist in the US. No one ever said you couldn't say what you want, and no one ever promised that what you say wouldn't be held against you in some way. If someone has something to gain by what you say, they have and will use it against you. People should be able to practice their religion where ever they want to as long as it doesn't infringe on other persons rights. I just don't believe anyone has the right to claim another persons land as their own in the name of any particular religious belief. Israel is an occupied land, in the same way the Europeans took the native Indians land here and called it America, forcing their religious beliefs on the natives and destroying them as a people.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:44 pm |
  19. Hawaii Gene

    Sharon Beverly is right but she for got to mention, that if the Arabs had won the war in 1948 do you think we would be arguing about giving the land back to Israel?

    June 8, 2010 at 12:44 pm |
    • Jessica

      To give back implies it was their's to begin with. Now if we continue with the belief that land is no ones, except to those who conquer it...well, then what exactly is Palestine doing wrong currently? They are attempting to conquer the land by whatever means possible. Its apparently their current right, as it was apparently the jews right in 1948, no? There is no rule that after one war, the loser walks away with their tail between their legs and all is final. Though, I can see why some would want that rule...it simply doesnt exist.

      June 8, 2010 at 12:52 pm |
    • paris2venice

      Hey, Jessica, the Ottoman Empire was one of the losers in WWI and England and France were among the victors. The British and French took over most of what is now Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Jordan as "spheres of influence" and the Ottoman Empire dissolved into modern-day Turkey. In 1917, the Balfour Declaration pronounced British Palestine as a Jewish state and it has been a Jewish state ever since even though Jewish people were emigrating there as long ago as the 1880s. In 1948, that "Jewish state" fought and won a war of independence. What you say about the Palestinians waging war today may be true in the context of world history but that doesn't mean that the current world accepts war as a viable alternative. It isn't.

      June 8, 2010 at 2:56 pm |
  20. seer

    newspapers are going bust for one simple reason: people don't like to read and are uneducated and lacking in intellectual curiosity in our country. most people get their news from tv – which is disgustingly inaccurate, forget biased.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:42 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.