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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. Norman

    Bigotry is alive and doing well in the United States and around the world. There is no distinction on who you spill this garbage on it's still being a bigot. Abraham gave his religion life to humans on G-D's instructions. From one human being came Christianity and Muslims and all those you hate is nothing but ugly asinine trash.

    June 8, 2010 at 1:11 pm |
  2. Jeffrey

    Does anyone actually remember why the "state" of Israel is in Palestine? It’s not because they held that land before WWII.

    “We” messed up and unlawfully gave the Jews some land in the Middle East because of their hardship during WWII; reparations if you will.

    I know, let’s start drawing arbitrary lines on the map, and force people to live in certain areas and take away land from others. That won’t start a war! That sounds like a great idea...... really people?

    She said nothing wrong, and should not have apologized. And it has nothing, nothing to do with anti-Semitism. That term has become a race card much like any other, overused and misused.

    June 8, 2010 at 1:11 pm |
  3. Adder

    I don't get it. She was honest. Israel was invented in order to provide a safe haven for Jews from the countries she mentioned, and more. Jews and Arabs lived in that area, pretty peacefully, but there was no Israeli nation at that time.
    Then it was invented from territory cut out from existing nations...creating a homeland for the Jews, but also creating significant tension.
    Then there was the war, and Israel occupied enemy lands...and, against all international law began to settle those lands and continues to do so to this day.

    Look, the Jews spent centuries trying to regain a homeland that they were forcibly evicted from...can we expect any different from the Palestinians?

    June 8, 2010 at 1:11 pm |
  4. Dorie

    She does not owe him an apology. He asked questions – she answered the questions. Everyone has an opinion – this is hers. It sounds to me like he wanted to create an incident – and he succeeded to drum up business for his and his sons' websites.

    June 8, 2010 at 1:10 pm |
  5. Stanley

    Helen Thomas doesn't owe any apology. She was right!, Any time any politician or reporter criticizes Israel, it's the end of there career. They can kiss there career goodbye. That's why the ADL and others keep the press quiet about the Israeli atrocities. They are the NEW NAZI's not the Palestinians. Look at the Israeli blockdade of the Gaza and what they did to the Turkish vessel bringing aid to the Gaza residents. it's just slow Starvation of the Palestinian people so the Israeli's can take the P. people land and occupy their land without just compensation. Jimmy Carter was right, "PEACE NOT APARTHEID".

    "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.”

    June 8, 2010 at 1:10 pm |
  6. nando

    "So 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 and so I went there this summer with my family for my son’s Bar Mitzvah."

    This is what the Rabbi believes and so because jews once lived there they have the right to go back there and claim it again. What sense does that make?

    People should visit his site and read the articles section. Really shows how he thinks.

    June 8, 2010 at 1:10 pm |
    • Rabbi Nesenoff

      You idiot, read the whole article. Those words you quote were an example of an incorrect concept as to what people think is why the Jews have a right to Israel. Read the whole article or are there too many words for you to handle? Or maybe you are not an idiot but an anti Semite who like s to lie to prove your anti Jewish thoughts.

      September 7, 2010 at 6:28 pm |
  7. Naor

    This is outer ridiculousness. People here are going crazy, and the media is partly to blame. Stop claiming that Helen was fired by some "Jew controlling the media." She RESIGNED people! No one fired her over her words, freedom of speech is still alive.

    June 8, 2010 at 1:09 pm |
  8. Freedom of Speech

    Gosh... I can't believe there in NO freedom of speech anymore in the US. Helen was not reporting an event she was asked for her opinion and that is what she did!! I am afraid next week she will be found dead because of "Natural Causes" you know..
    When it comes to criticizing Israel for wrong doing you might be risking your life of being accused of all kind of BS.... The US has been extremely weakened because of its blind support to Israel.. created to itself a lot of unnecessary enemies all over the world and fueled the religion extremism because of these policies...

    I might be asked to quit my job this afternoon after this post is published... Stay tuned..

    June 8, 2010 at 1:09 pm |
  9. Jordi Basque

    All Israel has to do is the right thing.....1967 borders

    June 8, 2010 at 1:08 pm |
  10. John K

    Go back to Germany and Poland? I'm sure Helen is well aware of what happened to the Jewish people who lived in Germany and Poland.

    June 8, 2010 at 1:07 pm |
  11. benjammin'

    Is Isreal a flawless state?
    Are all their actions above reproach?
    Is this blockade lawful, and if the U.S. blockaded the Rio Grande for these reasons, keep out drugs & illegals, would it be ok with you all?
    Isreal needs the U.S. very much, the U.S. doesn't really need Isreal.
    Does that make me anti-semetic, or just a pragmatic American who is tired of our government tieing our policies to a country that has spied on us in the past and will continue to do what they think is in THEIR best interests.
    The U.S. needs to do what is best for its people.
    Getting dragged into a conflict with those who supply us with a good portion of our major drug.......OIL.

    June 8, 2010 at 1:07 pm |
  12. Chris

    Good for her for finally speaking the truth on the matter! To bad it has to cost her so much at the end of her career.

    June 8, 2010 at 1:06 pm |
  13. Tommy

    All the Survivors I have had the privilege of speaking with have said "Don't ever forget'. In a mere sixty years, Israel has forgotten.

    June 8, 2010 at 1:05 pm |
  14. Regina

    Ms. Thomas was asked her OPINION and she gave it - nothing more, nothing less. She was not asked to comment on how the United States, Israel, Palestine feels but how she felt - I always thought free speech and freedom to believe as you want was basic in the U.S. I am neither pro Israel nor pro Palestinian - I don't have the right to be involved in those decisions.... I don't live there....... I have an opinion about the matter but, I've not been asked for it!

    June 8, 2010 at 1:05 pm |
  15. Gordon

    Telling Israel to get out of Gaza is not Anti-Semetic. Telling Jews to go back to Germany and Poland, where they were shot and gassed by the millions a generation ago, is anti-Semetic or at least very offensive. By the way almost a million Jews came from Arabic countries after 1948 including 500,000 from Iraq. None of them have been offered there homes back.

    June 8, 2010 at 1:05 pm |
  16. sabah

    I heared rabbies saying what Helen said – in so many marches in DC and infront of the white house – nothing happend to them .I also saw aat foxnews another rabbi saying the same thing to cavotto .just points of views.

    June 8, 2010 at 1:05 pm |
  17. Katie Mund

    Go back to Poland and Germany? Perhaps MS. Thomas forgot that they left Poland & Germany to ESCAPE THE GAS CHAMBERS. She is an anti-Semite of the first order... send her back to Lebanon!

    June 8, 2010 at 1:05 pm |
  18. EDC

    Why is it that no one in the entire world can speak out against Israel or its policies without fear of being labeled anti-Semitic or, in Helen Thomas's case, being forced to retire? There are those of us that are not anti-Semitic but don't necessarily agree with the formation of the State of Israel or the way in which it was done. What about the Palestinians? What about their homeland? War is war and the Jewish people lost that piece of land in warfare. The Native Americans lost this land in warfare to Europeans and we've never established a state for them out of pity or self-determination. And, I might add, the loss of the Native American population due to Europeans was over 25 million people. Stalin killed 30 million; Pol Pot killed 3 million; the Rwandan genocide was over 1 million. The Jewish people are not the only group of people to have genocide committed against them. In fact, they're not even the last people to have suffered such a fate. And suffer they did. No doubt about it. I am most certainly not making light of the Holocaust but there will be those out there that will now say that I am. Such is life when you speak a single word against Israel. So be it.

    June 8, 2010 at 1:04 pm |
  19. Freedom of Speech

    Gosh... I can't believe there in NO freedom of speech anymore in the US. Helen was not reporting an event she was asked for her opinion and that is what she did!! I am afraid next week she will be found dead because of "Natural Causes" you know..
    When it comes to criticizing Israel for wrong doing you might be risking your life of being accused of all kind of BS.... The US has been extremely weakened because of its blind support to Israel.. created to itself a lot of unnecessary enemies all over the world and fueled the religion extremism because of these policies...

    I might be asked to quit my job this afternoon after this post is published... Stay tuned..

    June 8, 2010 at 1:04 pm |
  20. Mike

    This gentleman is looking for an apology after seeking her opinion on something? Sounds to me like this fellow is a little too sensitive to be doing ad-hoc interviews.

    June 8, 2010 at 1:03 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.