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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. Jason from Hollywood CA

    Not everyone HAS to agree with Israel, I don't know why people lose their jobs because they don't share this blind devotion...

    June 8, 2010 at 1:02 pm |
  2. Jordi Basque

    What happened to Ms. Thomas is unconscionable it only evidences what the world knows, who runs the media in the US of A? Where do loyalties lie? America stands to lose internationally, not only credibility but our own self determination because of this blind support for Israel because of the spineless politicians, does Israel dictates our international policy?

    June 8, 2010 at 1:01 pm |
  3. JRCT

    You asked her opinion and she gave it ti you. Regardless of whether it is right or wrong, you shouldn't be upset with the answer. Your being upset is the basis (for Israel) for the conflict and her opinion is the basis on the Palestinian side. As long as both sides continue to agree to disagree, there is no end in site.

    June 8, 2010 at 1:01 pm |
  4. wa

    THE ARTICLE SAYS THIS WOMAN IS OF LEBANESE DECENT AND THIS BETRAYED HER BIAS TOWARDS THE PALS....BUT WHAT ABOUT ALL THOSE JEWISH AMERICANS IN THE MEDIA AND THE CORPORATE WORLD....DONT THEY HAVE A BIAS TOWARDS ISRAEL? YET THIS IS NEVER MENTIONED OR QUESTIONED...AND WHY IS THAT?
    THE TIME HAS COME FOR THESE WARS TO END......THOUGH WHAT THOMAS SAID IS NOT PRACTICLE SHE MAKES A REAL POINT.....IN THAT THE JEWS WHO WENT TO PALESTINE WERE NOTHING MORE THAN DISPLACED EUROPEANS WHO REALLY HAD LITTLE TO NO RIGHT TO SQUAT ON THE LAND OF PALESTINIANS...THIS TRUTH IS RARELY EVER MENTIONED AND IT IS NOT MENTIONED BECAUSE OF THE ENORMOUS WEALTH, INFLUENCE AND POWER THE AMERICAN JEWS HAVE ATTAINED IN THE UNITED STATES AND THROUGHOUT THE WORLD!!! DONT LIE....LIES WILL GET YOU NOWHERE HERE.....AS FOR THE SOLUTION? THE SOLUTION IS PEACE....THE SOLUTION IS FOR THE JEWS AND PALESTINIANS TO SIT DOWN AND BEGIN TO FIGURE OUT WHAT THEY ARE GOING TO DO TO PROVIDE A LIVABLE EXISTENCE FOR THEIR PEOPLE.....AS FOR THE UNITED STATES....THE UNITED STATES HAS TO STOP SUPPORTING THIS HOLY WAR THAT HAS BECOME SO VERY VERY DESTRUCTIVE......IF NOT FOR THE RABID CHRISTIAN ZIONISTS IN THE UNITED STATES THERE MIGHT BE ENOUGH IMPETUS FOR PEACE...AND IT IS REALLY ANNOYING TO SEE THESE CHRISTIANS PUT FORTH THIS ABSURD STANCE, A STANCE THAT SUPPORTS WAR IN THE NAME OF JESUS, THE KING OF LOVE, AGAINST A POOR PEOPLE, THE PALESTINIANS, SO AS TO LEND CREDENCE TO THE REVELATION OF ST JOHN....HOW TRULY TRULY ABSURD....AS FOR THE JEWS....THE JEWS NEED TO LOOK IN THE MIRROR, THIS IS THE LEGACY YOU WANT TO LEAVE YOUR CHILDREN? ARE YOU KIDDING? A LEGACY OF WAR AND VIOLENCE AGAINST THESE NATIVE PEOPLE.....WHATS THE MATTER WITH YOU? YOUVE LEARNED NOTHING FROM YOUR OWN TRIALS SAVE BUT TO DO ONTO OTHERS AS THEY HAVE DONE TO YOU!!!! WAKE UP.

    June 8, 2010 at 1:01 pm |
  5. Ed K

    Many Jews agree with what Helen Thomas said, when Isreal was founded many Mezrahi Jews in Egypt, Syria and Iraq were against it. Mezrrahi Jews lived in Palastine along Christian and Muslims and have all the right to live there. But all the Jews who came from Soviet Union, Poland, Germany and other parts of Europe and Later US and Ethioupia have no right to live in Palastine and kick the original inhabtaints out. England Belfore should never promised palastine to the Zionist , if he wanted to dreate a country for them, he should gave them a piece of thje UK. One day the Palistinain will ask England for componsaition Just like Geramny gave the German Jews.

    June 8, 2010 at 1:00 pm |
    • Dr Hope

      so ou think jews should let a holocaust happen again? How absurd of you to think they were wanted in eastern europe only because the russian pogroms forced them into poland. Jews could never own land in France and were killed if they did not renounce their religion...Europe has always been jew-haters and that includes Martin Luther.
      So no, jews belong to Israel!!! The Israeli people will fight to the last child if need be...

      June 8, 2010 at 1:54 pm |
  6. jJohn

    HCL it is a real question. Last 100 years Jews have gotten over 100 Nobel prizes, Moslems 1 !!!!

    June 8, 2010 at 12:59 pm |
  7. dnsmith

    Thomas does have the right to voice her opinion. I have yet to see anyone arrest her for her comments. As to her "firing", that also is a right – of her employer – who also has the right of hiring or firing those who do not meet their standards. What about that? Employers don't have the right to their opinion?

    June 8, 2010 at 12:59 pm |
  8. sara

    I think it's ridiculous that voicing your concern about Israel's atrocious activities against the people of Palestine makes you anti semitic.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:59 pm |
  9. Jordi Basque

    What happened to Ms. Thomas is unconscionable it only evidences what the world knows, who runs the media in the US of A? Where do loyalties lie? America stands to lose internationally, not only credibility but our own self determination because of this blind support for Israel because of the spineless politicians, who dictates our international policy?

    June 8, 2010 at 12:59 pm |
  10. darp

    What about the rampant anti-Muslim sentiment that is freely expressed here in our post-911 America? Is that not news-worthy?? The Hebrews aren't the only people to be robbed of their homeland in ancient times, but the Zionist Israelis seem to feel they have a right to displace hundreds of thousands of Arabs who have since been living there for a thousand+ years (peacefully, and with Jewish people) to get it back. Zionist Israelis also seem to be a most hypocritical people, constantly complaining that they have been so oppressed throughout history (which is mostly true) while at the same oppressing the s**t out of the people of Palestine. Zionist Israel is quickly becoming the new Nazi Germany. And what does that make us (the U.S.)? I'm not an anti-Semite. I don't hate Jews. At all. But an aggressive nation bent on subjugating people of a certain race is an aggressive nation bent on subjugating people of a certain race any way you slice it. Its not right.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:58 pm |
  11. azlib

    Personally I think the country of israel is fine. They can do what they want; They don't want to share the land fine... They really don't want peace fine. It's none of my buisness! As an American I just don't want to pay for it any longer. People in Israel have socialized medican, they have a good life style. They have declareed independence then by all means be independent. I don't want my gov sending $6Billion a year where there are so many other truly needy countries that could use the money. There long standing war with the pals and their neighbors is no longer our business. They insult our President, Vice President and past president. They fill our news nightly with their problems... Heck Mexico is more of an issue for the US then *Israel, but Isral fills our news and drains our banks. This needs to stop. They are NOT part of our vital interests. We also send money to Egypt and that should stop as well. It's time we pick better who to supply foreign aid to these days.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:57 pm |
  12. Jason F.

    To Sanjose Mike,

    By your login, if I'm against Tibet being a separate country, then I'm Anti-Tibetan and if I'm am for Tibet, then I'm anti-Chinese?

    June 8, 2010 at 12:57 pm |
  13. Don

    Helen, don't let the door hit you on the way out! For those who wish to have a factual perspective on the current "crisis", the Palestine Arabs left their homes before the start of the war because they were sure that the Arab armies would destroy Israel. As a matter of fact, this was done at the request of the invading Arab forces. Of course, the Arab forces were totally destroyed and lost – so these people abandoned their homes to support an invading army. You picked the wrong side, and you and your heirs should not get squat. The sooner Islam is relegated to the dustbin of history, the better. A nasty backwards religion for a nasty, backward people.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:56 pm |
    • DB

      That ain't exactly correct. Many were TOLD by their elders to leave, because the Israelis were going to massacre them. They held onto deeds that promised their ownership would be honored. Some saw evidence of Israeli massacres, which were related and fed the gossip of others.

      Be careful about too much generalizations, please.

      June 8, 2010 at 1:21 pm |
  14. Lawrence S

    Ms. Thomas owes the Rabbi NOTHING. You "forgot" about her pro-Palestinian views? Really? Or you were looking for your 15 minutes of fame and saw her as a way to get it? She did not say anything that is not true, did she?
    Although I think she should have retired years ago, this was not the way it should have heppened.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:56 pm |
  15. Sympathy Sure

    "betraying sympathy for the Palestinians" you mention in this article. All people, including journalists, have "sympathies" and to say that they were "betrayed" suggests sinister value. Little is said by journalist about how the Jews got their Israel and little "sympathy" can safely be expressed for the displaced people who have lived in that land longer than the Jewish people, as remarkable a people as the Jews actually are. Most of the world feels that the Jews wrongfully took land by expelling the owners thereof. If this could be rightfully acknowledged and equitably redressed, terrorism would loose much of its legitimacy.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:55 pm |
  16. R.Levy

    The problems are with the governments or lack of government of these nations, including the U.S..Everyone has a right to live where they want! The U.S should have a six month waiting period for foreigners to be aloud to enter here as citizens. The militants in the Middle East are the problem. Also, the fundamental differences in the way the Arab nations educate there young. They teach them too hate from the beginning. All governments need open minds. Militants should be disarmed, so there's no threat. Disband the UN and start over with the leaders of each country speaking to one another behind closed doors.STOP HATING AND FIND OUT WHAT WE ALL HAVE IN COMMON. WE HAVE NO CHOICE FOR US TO SURVIVE AS A PLANET. Lets concentrate on the planet itself as the common denominator and work from there.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:54 pm |
  17. Suha

    God bless her. She is obsoletely right!!!!. Ethnic Jews need to go back to there forefathers land. As she stated, Poland, Russia America etc...Palestine is in the Middle East. It belongs to modern day middle eastern Arabs/Palestinians. She has a point.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:54 pm |
  18. Jacob Lock

    Uh oh, somebody is pro-native for Palestine. Better label them an anti-semite and turn the entire thing into a giant straw man while obliterating their career.

    I guess there were no heroes when European colonists and their descendants forced the Native Americans, using the Treaty of New Echota, out of the land promised to them by the Indian Removal Act in 1830. This was all after they had already been forced from their original homelands.

    There won't be any heroes for what's left of Palestine either.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:54 pm |
  19. John

    what she said is exactly right

    June 8, 2010 at 12:54 pm |
  20. SP Fix

    Since I am a Jewish-American I guess I should go "home" as well – to present day Israel.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:54 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.