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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. Paul gherabi

    Helen is 89 years old, there is no more time, she has to say the truth and she did.

    June 8, 2010 at 2:31 pm |
  2. John in Houston

    The Jews had not been in the Middle East for a VERY long time when the British gave up that area just after WW II. You're saying it makes SENSE to put the world's Jewish population in the middle of an ethnic group who only wants to accomplish what Hitler failed to do? Most of those 1948 Jews were from Europe! Why didn't they take Bavaria? Much nicer climate!
    NO! They wnated the Palestinians land! The Jews are NO DIFFERENT than we arrogant Americans who wanted the Native Americans land. And WE darn near exterminated THEM for IT! Does THAT make US right?

    June 8, 2010 at 2:31 pm |
    • Bill

      John, The Isreali people lived in that are for centuries. Remember all the problems the Romans had with them? You need to get a little bit of history before you make comments like this. Oh wait .... is your brain overloaded with HATE? Then there is probably no room left!

      June 8, 2010 at 2:57 pm |
  3. Kjetil A.

    What I hear mostly about Israel is that is a "democracy". I have always been taught that in a democracy, one has the freedom to voice ones opinions. What is this woman's crime? Is it that she made direct threats against Israel, or that she spoke and a minority did not like what she said?

    June 8, 2010 at 2:30 pm |
    • John D

      She didn't commit a crime, and no one has alleged that she did.

      What we mean when we talk about "free speech" is speech free of state-imposed restraint.
      Thomas is not being punished by the state. She was perfectly free to express the idea that she did, and that much is neither challenged nor assailable.

      She's been "punished," no question, but not by the public authority.
      Her employer just decided, in light of her remarks, that it's no longer in their best interest to retain her.

      She had the right to say what she did without public consequences.
      Privately, it got her fired.
      This is not an abrogation of the free speech princple, though; indeed, if her employer did NOT have the leagl right to fire her for this, its OWN right to free expression would have been violated!

      June 8, 2010 at 2:38 pm |
  4. John D

    Say what you will about the particulars of the situation in the Middle East, Thomas really did speak to a fringe position–certainly in American society, at any rate–when she insinuated that Israel doesn't have a right to exist.

    I think Israel ought to dismantle its settlements and to back that that fence up, if it's going to keep it at all, onto its own territory. The current state of affairs is intolerable, and I believe in full sovereign statehood for an independent Palestine.
    ...But I also believe that Israel has a right to exist.

    This is actually the position of most sane, peace-minded people.

    June 8, 2010 at 2:29 pm |
  5. R.Sarah

    I'll every reporter who had to sit for decades listening as the Dame poked her finger and asked the 'unaskable' questions are saying toodle loo. Glass celings in this field have been broken and rebroken at every level, unfortunately Ms. Thomas didnt have the grace to know when it was time to retirement and give space to the next generation-these statements are an excuse to get rid of her.

    June 8, 2010 at 2:27 pm |
  6. Bill

    If Helen Thomas has the right to free speach, (and she does), then so do the Rabbi and his son. They did not libel or slander her. She showed real regret with her statement. Perhaps she was forced to retire, perhaps she choose to. The point is that no ones right were infringed upon during this unfortunate incident.

    What is more bothersome are some of the posts I am seeing here. Most of you here disgrace her with your defense of her. She at least had enough class to respond in a manner that was genuine...

    June 8, 2010 at 2:27 pm |
  7. Carmen

    As an American I have learned a long time ago that the US President do not reside in D.C. but in Tel Aviv, Israel decides for us, we give tax payers money in the billions, they have free housing, vacations, health, all paid by the shmucks like us.
    Israel is the # 1 seller of weapons, has nuclear weapons, are the closest to the Nazis than any skin heads. They insult other religions, and believe the world owes to them, they never mention the other 7 million that were killed by Hitler.
    Mrs Thomas should not apologize.

    June 8, 2010 at 2:24 pm |
  8. David (American in Berlin)

    Please don't say the Rabbi ended her career. Helen Thomas ended her career with such language. I also believe that the Palestinians deserve their own state in coexistence with Israel. But Helen's comments are distasteful and wrong. "Jews should go back to Germany, Poland or the USA" she says. This is highly offensive language. She got what she deserved.

    June 8, 2010 at 2:23 pm |
  9. Sam

    What apology you waiting for from her? since when the freedom of speech stop @ subject called Israel?
    Give me a break its ok to Insult Muslims and their prophet but its not ok to say the Truth..?
    she doesn't owe you or any one any apology its a freedom of speech she can speak her mind any time she wants
    Last time I checked Israel wasn't part of U.S states ? unless U.S and Israel are one country?

    It has nothing to do with anti-Semitism any speech against Isrel doesn't mean its an anti-Semitism !

    Oh by the to the people who are listing the history ... Arab and Christian and Jewish people lived there side by side with no Issue for hundred of years when Islam came to Palestine some of the Jew and christian became Muslim too so some of these people's lineage go back to Jewish families who became Muslim so its there LAND not land of people come Russia, and Germany.

    June 8, 2010 at 2:22 pm |
  10. Jeff

    While I don't agree with her about Jews "going back", its also true that the Israeli's are occupiers of an oppressed people, whom they are oppressing. And, she doesn't owe the Rabbi or his son anything. That was her view, end of story.

    June 8, 2010 at 2:22 pm |
  11. Max

    You owe our G-d an apology for supporting state sponsored terrorism. Helen Thomas is a non-issue. The Israeli PR machine is just trying to take air time away from the real issue of the Zionists State's continued apartheid of and murder of the palestinians. Many brave Israelis and brave Jews speak about this injustice and how it's not in line with the values of their forefathers who suffered so much throughout centuries. The brave and just ones realize that to do this to another human being is just plain wrong and no one will win in the end. When will the madness end?

    June 8, 2010 at 2:22 pm |
  12. Chris

    Here's what I don't get.... she didn't say she hated Jews, or hated arabs.... or hated anyone, for that matter. The situation between Israel and Palestine is a political one, and she gave her opinion on the political situation between these two parties.

    American journalists have no problem coming out 100% for (or against), say, the recent healthcare legislation.... which is expressing a political opinion. However, these people aren't asked to resign... why should she?

    June 8, 2010 at 2:22 pm |
  13. gofigure

    Hey Mr Rabbi,

    No one owes you or your son an apology. Ms Thomas has a right to free speech.This is america and no one should be sorry for saying what they want to say.

    First Amendment - Remember.

    June 8, 2010 at 2:22 pm |
  14. Realistic

    Most of the posts on here are the usual ignorant idiots. A few completely hiding their lack of understanding and knowledge by the thin veil of long words. The Rabbi was there to "to cover an event marking Jewish Heritage Month." Most of you clearly never saw the video. What she said sounds worse coming out of her own mouth and her tone was equally hateful. Obviously she has contempt for Jews and tops it all of by saying "I am of Arab decent". Most of you morons don't understand that the blockade, established in 2007, is there to stop the shipments of arms and rockets, which were being used to kill people, from landing in Gaza. Gaza being encompassed by Israel on three sides is open to the sea on the other. You fools don't realize that a Naval blockade in their own waters is completely legal and protects everyone. Did any of you consider why there is a blockade, or even still, why after all this time, not one of these terrorist supporting "activist" groups has accepted Israel's offer to ship the relief supplies overland? Because customs agents would find the rockets!! Did any of you see the video of the "activists" with steel pipes and weapons beating those Israeli soldiers as they came aboard? Why don't you try geting your history and news from something other than Comendy Central and maybe you can make an informed opinion. Since most of the foolish posts give off an arid smell of high school dropout, you may want to look up when Israel was settled in B.C., and by whom, rather than listening to morons like anti-religion nuts talk about establishing it in 1948, when in actuality it was returned to them. You fools are probably the same people rioting when David Duke said the blacks should go back to Africa. You fools don't realize this lady has been more than likely harboring these feelings all her life, and you are even more ridiculous to believe she doesn't present it in her journalism. Free speech she absolutely allowed to have, but I certainly don't want some nut job with nut job feelings speaking for my company, or to my children. Silly hipocrites, pick a stance.

    June 8, 2010 at 2:20 pm |
    • Steve

      But she has a RIGHT to her opinion...just as he had a RIGHT to respond that he hates some other religion, which could have equally offended her. I'll say it again, THIS IS AMERICA.

      Silly, LONG posts.

      June 8, 2010 at 2:38 pm |
    • Mary

      @REALISTIC – THANK YOU FOR YOUR POST!!!

      June 8, 2010 at 4:05 pm |
  15. John

    I don't understand what all the fuss is about. If you ask someone what they think about any issue, you must be
    prepared to not like the answer. They asked, she told them and now they want a personal apology. That is just
    plain foolishness. It looks like the Rabbi and son need to make amends to Helen for causing all this fuss.

    June 8, 2010 at 2:19 pm |
  16. Bill

    She doesn't owe anybody an apology. You asked her opinion, she gave it. The fact that you don't like it is completely irrelevant.

    I disagree with her, I think she is an ignorant old tool.

    But that is my belief, I won't apologize for thinking it. Might as well tell her to apologize for enjoying food, or believing in God.

    June 8, 2010 at 2:19 pm |
  17. John in Houston

    "Political Correctness" has gone too far when one is forced into retirement just for telling the TRUTH!

    June 8, 2010 at 2:18 pm |
    • Bill

      The truth? You're saying the truth is that the Jews must leave their home and go live in a country that tried to exterminate them. Tell you what, let me kill your entire family and then you can come live with me. Hows that?

      June 8, 2010 at 2:21 pm |
  18. nojusticenopeace

    offend 1billion people by mocking their prophet and religion................ "of course it is freedoem of speech"

    criticize Israeli occupation of Palestanians........."anti-semitic speech"

    hypocrisy at its best!

    June 8, 2010 at 2:18 pm |
  19. Bob

    The problem with the Jews is that they never take responsibility for anything. They are never wrong. They are always the persecuted, never the persecutors. History says otherwise. From the time of the Egyptians they have never faced the problem of why so many nations have neither liked them nor wanted them. Until they face up to their aggressive history (old Testament), admit and endeavor "to ascertain what is in them as a race which has initiated their ancient and dire fate," the issue and their fate will remain the same.

    June 8, 2010 at 2:17 pm |
  20. Oda155

    @Nanaa... and lets' not forget what the white man did to the Native Americans... hmmm.

    June 8, 2010 at 2:17 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.