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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. Eric

    Israel is the embodiment of 1984's Pigs wearing trousers. Those who were dispossessed of their land and property dispossessed the Palestinians of their land and property. Israel wasn't a barren land that was given to the Jews. It had a population who had been living there continuously for almost 2000 years. Jewish freedom was won at the price of Palestinian freedom. Jewish freedom is sustained by continually oppressing the Palestinians. I wish no harm whatsoever against any Jewish person in the world. What was done to the Jewish people during WWII was horrible. I simply ask, how can two wrongs make a right? If the United States was given back to the Native Americans today, and all of us living here for the last almost 500 years had to move into an oppressively cramped corner of the country, does any American think we'd ever accept this within our lifetime, or our children's lifetimes? Be honest, if Jews were given America, instead of Israel, and the rest of us had to move over, who would support Israel? No one.

    June 8, 2010 at 1:46 pm |
  2. Dr Hope

    Damn, was she drunk and really told the truth or is she just plain old and ugly? Ha Ha she is done for, way to go Helen you jew hating slob!

    June 8, 2010 at 1:45 pm |
  3. Geek Mom

    First, what she said is absolutely positively wrong. However, I really have to wonder that someone with the career she has had, if perhaps there was an underlying factor that caused her to respond in a way that is the complete opposite of what she is well known for. She is 89 years old. Not everyone is lucky to have full good health (including mental and personality) at that age. You have to consider that perhaps a personality change due to health reasons at her age could be the culprit. It is certainly a common enough occurrence and we are all told to watch for radical personality changes in our elderly loved ones. I certainly hope this is the case and can get the treatment she needs, because it is sad to see someone end their career the way this happened and everyone hating you without even considering WHY her personality changed so radically and give some pause instead of making her the instant piranha.

    June 8, 2010 at 1:45 pm |
  4. Rachel

    To all the people who keep saying that Israel was not the home of Jews: there were Jews living there long before there were Christians or Muslims – and they continued to live there until the present day. Yes, many were scattered; but many remained. Furthermore, many Jews who lived in neighboring areas moved to and settled what is now Israel; and Arabs followed. So, most of the "refugees" had only lived there for a few years when (as happened in many cases) they chose to leave their homes.

    June 8, 2010 at 1:44 pm |
  5. Chad

    Helen at least had the GUTS to ask Bush why he really wanted to go to war. Her impact is well known to veterans of the media. However twisted her thoughts on Israel are, they need more reporters with her zeal , if nothing else!

    June 8, 2010 at 1:44 pm |
  6. bailoutsos

    The $6 BILLION a year going to Israel for weapons should would help out the Social Security account, don't you think?

    June 8, 2010 at 1:43 pm |
  7. Ari in Ohio

    We easily forget our history.....Hebrews inhabited Israel for centuries and were finally liquidated or enslaved by Rome in 71AD. After Constantine many in the region became Christian. Muslims conquered the region some 14 centuries ago. Modern day Hebrews simply returned from their Roman exile as a result of Russian, Polish, German persecutions as well as persecutions in Arab-Muslim lands. Israel is the only safe haven for the Jewish people.

    June 8, 2010 at 1:40 pm |
  8. God

    Genesis 17:8

    8 "And I will give the entire land of Canaan, where you now live as a foreigner, to you and your descendants. It will be their possession forever, and I will be their God.”

    June 8, 2010 at 1:39 pm |
  9. Troy

    The resignation of Helen Thomas has nothing to do with the position of the current administration on Israel or her position. There are plenty of members of congress in both chambers who probably share her point of view or at least back Palestinians in some way. Rather, this resignation came because of pressure created by the media. At her age, it is hard to imagine she would want to fight for her job under the extremely bright lights of media scrutiny when she could simply resign and move on. Regardless of the "side" you're on; Palestine or Israel, it has to be noted that neither side has ever made a true attempt at peace in the region. This small stretch of land has seen more blood spilled than anywhere else on Earth and will continue to because it is all in the name of "God." I'm certain that God does not approve of either.

    June 8, 2010 at 1:39 pm |
  10. OmegaMann

    Jews demand their rights, but when other people do the same thing they Jews call them racists.
    "Some are more equal than others..." –Orwell

    June 8, 2010 at 1:39 pm |
  11. badger5079

    Helen Thomas was born into a Lebanese-American family. That means she is a Semite. Is she also anti-Semitic? The more correct term for her views is anti-Zionist, that is, she does not agree with the occupation of a majority land for a Jewish state. She does not agree that the Israelis have the right to ethnically cleanse Arabs from Palestine to shift the demographic balance in favour of a "Jewish state".
    The founding of Israel as a Jewish state without allowing for the self-determination of the majority of the population is the source of the conflict in the region.
    The solution is to have Israel obey international law and withdraw to the 1967 borders including East Jerusalem. International law states that the acquisition of territory by war is inadmissible.

    June 8, 2010 at 1:36 pm |
  12. miamialbo

    Most of above posts are obviously clueless people....try to learn a little about a topic before proffering an opinion; stop embarrassing yourself!! Ms. Thomas certainly has the right to free speech..just as her employer had the right to cast her out. Tell me about the morons who started shooting at israel commandos, then learned...l"oh gosh....they're shooting back at us!!" Isrel has been the land of the jews for over 2,000 years. Remember Jesus? Go talk to the arabs living in Israel....they live very well!! Go talk to the jews who used to live in Iran; Libya, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq. Or, would you rather just mindlessly repeat arab propagnda??

    June 8, 2010 at 1:35 pm |
  13. NS

    Everyone needs to understand that he is a rabbi. So, his opinion on Israel is most likely extremely biased as well, albeit on the other spectrum of Thomas' beliefs. It's wrong for him to want to be garnering attention and an apology when he's the one who asked her the question. If he didn't want her answer, then he didn't have to ask it. All she did was say what's on her mind and he took it as anti-Semitism. I am not anti-Semitic in the least, but I am pro-Palestine. He just needs to get over himself.

    June 8, 2010 at 1:35 pm |
  14. May

    Perhaps her outburst came from the attack on the peace keepers who were killed by Isreal on their way to the Gaza Strip?
    Where is our outrage? Why is it okay to kill the peace keepers?

    June 8, 2010 at 1:35 pm |
  15. DB

    The greater examples of real hate can be found in the writing of people here, responding to this story – not Helen Thomas!

    June 8, 2010 at 1:34 pm |
  16. Cindy

    Nobody's attacking Native American aid ships.

    June 8, 2010 at 1:34 pm |
  17. Adam

    fact of the matter is, the Jewish nation was placed in territory that is hostile to them.
    They have no business in the region (They have as much religious right as christians and muslims) and SHOULD relocate, for the sake of their own safety and the sake of peace in the middle east; something their antagonistic presence is preventing in the region.

    Were looking at World War 3, I'd be willing to bet money its the Israeli's that fire the first shots.

    June 8, 2010 at 1:34 pm |
  18. Jonah

    She is totally right....if u go to Israel most of the jews in there came from somwhere, and the native people (palestinians) were driven and killed by those settlers. Now there's about 10% native jews that do have the right stay, everybody else are occupiers. Turth hurts...

    June 8, 2010 at 1:30 pm |
  19. Tim

    Don't some Jewish Rabbis feel the same way?

    June 8, 2010 at 1:30 pm |
  20. DB

    HATE! The biggest source of hate is not in Helen Thomas; it is in the writers, responding to this story!

    June 8, 2010 at 1:30 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.