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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. Chris

    The reason that 3/4 of the worlds people hate us is that since Harry Trumans day our government has always backed Israel
    no matter what they did. As far as our government is concered Israel can do no wrong and in my opinon that is BS,

    June 8, 2010 at 3:34 pm |
  2. Trey

    It's incredible to me that this woman would be chased into the hills for her statements about Israel, yet there is no outrage whatsoever over Jake Knott's calling the President a "raghead", then using the slur to also refer to the Sikh religion, then calling an East Indian woman a "f***ing raghead".

    Real nice double standard going on. Her statements about where the Jews should go were not exactly appropriate, but they weren't exactly wrong either. Many of the Jews in Israel were chased out of their homes in Poland, Germany, and other European countries during WW2. The Palestinians were living in the areas given to the Israelis following WW2, so the Israelis are infact living in what would be considered the Palestinians' land (which is being occupied in some regions).

    It's a loose reference to history and not exactly appropriate given that the Jews have no homes to go back to in those other countries, but it would be borderline anti-Semitic at worst.

    That she would have her 50 year career ended within days of making this statement yet Knotts career is going on as normal is absolutely ridiculous. Knott's statements were far more hate-influenced, far more racist.

    June 8, 2010 at 3:33 pm |
    • Raffi

      Please learn your history. This was not a forced settlement of Jews. In fact, the Jews chose to move to their ancestral homeland in various massive migrations beginning in the 1880s, though there were Jews living in the the land even after the destruction of the second temple (albeit at varying levels). In fact, the Turkish Empire had no problems with Jews moving into that territory. Contrary to your belief, the state of Israel was not a reward for Genocide. There already was a large portion of Jews living in British mandated-Palestine at that time. Though one could make the argument that if the British had a more relaxed immigration policy towards immigration in 1939, tens of thousands of Jews could have been saved by moving to that land. It is not "palestinain" land by right because the palestinians (arabs living in what is know as israel and the palestinian territories today) never had the entire territory of british mandated palestine by right. They tried to take it during the 1948 war, and subsequent wars, but lost.

      June 8, 2010 at 3:40 pm |
  3. Levi

    What was Helen Thomas doing at a Jewish event at the White House when she made those remarks afterward?

    June 8, 2010 at 3:33 pm |
  4. donJuan

    And I'm supposed to be upset by this. A journalist with an opinion. How 'bout the Supreme Court Justices with religious convictions? That's kinda scary to me.

    June 8, 2010 at 3:31 pm |
  5. Cindy

    What's the difference between a Rabbi and a Cleric?
    Netanyahu and Ahmahdinejad? Absolutely nothing.

    Stop the madness.

    June 8, 2010 at 3:31 pm |
  6. John

    For all the people defending her right now what would you say if her response had been that the Palestinians should just leave Gaza and go to Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt or some of the other Arab countries? Right now the UAE, Saudi Arabia and others who have billions in the bank could provide for the people in Gaza but they and Hamas are more interested in trying to kill Israelis than they are in the welfare of the people in Gaza.

    June 8, 2010 at 3:30 pm |
    • Scott

      It's not the same thing. The Palestinians didn't take the land in question by force with the help of the British in 1948. It was taken from them.

      June 8, 2010 at 3:41 pm |
    • J Harris

      Actually between 1931 and 1948 Jewish settlers coerced the British in to leaving the area with very similar tactics to what the Palestinians are applying today.
      For example in the 1930s Members of the hardliner "Irgun group", opposed to British rule over what was then known as Palestine, disguised their explosives in milk jugs and destroyed a wing housing of The King David Hotel with British offices, killing 91 people.
      The "Irgun group” was a militant Zionist group that operated in the British mandate of Palestine between 1931 and 1948. It was an offshoot of the earlier and larger Jewish paramilitary organization Haganah.
      So the game is the same with the sides changing.
      Let me be clear here, some of my dearest and best friends are of the Jewish religion. There are and have been and are terrorists of every religion. Many Jewish people are embarrassed by the treatments of the Palestinians. Currently a large percentage of the Israeli population wants to pull out the Palestinian settlements.
      It really seems like there should be a way for people in the region to get along without resorting to violence.

      June 8, 2010 at 4:03 pm |
  7. B-Dog

    GOOD GOD... CAN WE PLEASE STOP SHOWING THIS WOMAN'S PICTURE?

    June 8, 2010 at 3:30 pm |
  8. Goodsense

    It's a shame that this rabbi did. He should keep to himself. We live in a country that gives its citizen , the freedom of speech, so what she said is not an absurd or a lie. SHE SAID THE TRUTH. The problem is that it hurts a lot of people that are simpathized with the jews....other than that I want to say to Mrs Thomas to be in peace and hope that rabbi and his son realized that they forced a veteran journalist reire without receive its merits...My heart is broken for her and this rabbi should be the one to resign in his sinagogue...Shame on you !

    June 8, 2010 at 3:30 pm |
  9. oz

    Mr. Nesenoff wants an apology from Mrs. Thomas? Why? Were her comments made directly to him and his son? I'd like to know who will apologize to the families of those killed (aboard the ship) by the Jews?

    June 8, 2010 at 3:29 pm |
    • B-Dog

      Hey Oz..... Wanna know why I wasn't shot by Israeli troops last week??? Huh? Do ya? BECAUSE I DIDN'T CHOOSE TO DISOBEY A COUNTRY AND BRING IN PROHIBITED ITEMS.

      June 8, 2010 at 3:32 pm |
    • John

      read the article. Yes, the comments were made directly to them by Helen Thomas.

      June 8, 2010 at 3:33 pm |
  10. J Harris

    Germany is to blame here. They caused the people of Jewish religion to fear for their lives. Why should the Palestinian’s pay the price for German war crimes?
    I think the comment by Helen Thomas was influenced by her frustration over the treatment of the people of Palestinian by the Israeli military, and the continued settlement and occupation of the Palestinian land by the Israeli government. I’m guessing her reply was skewed by her anger over the situation and if she had taken the anger out of her reply, she would have come up with something less offensive and more productive. I am not giving her a pass here, she should have known better. Perhaps it was due to her age?
    Perhaps a better solution is to give a part of Germany to the people of Jewish religion?
    Try to put yourself in the shoes of a Palestinian. How would you like it if someone else was living on the property where your house used to be and you still owned the land? Or as is in some cases, the Israelis are living in your house and they did not pay you (the Palestinian)? This is what the Palestinian’s are faced with. The Israeli population wants to settle new territory and the Israelis have the military power to take what they want from the Palestinian’s.
    Perhaps the world could get together and over power the Germans again and give the people of Jewish religion a safe haven with their own state in Germany?
    Or an even better might be to suggest they both (Israelis and Palestinian) find a way to live together like we do in the US?
    Does anyone else have any thoughts on a solution?

    June 8, 2010 at 3:29 pm |
    • Raffi

      This was not a forced settlement of Jews. In fact, the Jews chose to move to their ancestral homeland in various massive migrations beginning in the 1880s, though there were Jews living in the the land even after the destruction of the second temple (albeit at varying levels). In fact, the Turkish Empire had no problems with Jews moving into that territory. Contrary to your belief, the state of Israel was not a reward for Genocide. There already was a large portion of Jews living in British mandated-Palestine at that time. Though one could make the argument that if the British had a more relaxed immigration policy towards immigration in 1939, tens of thousands of Jews could have been saved by moving to that land. It is not "palestinain" land by right because the palestinians (arabs living in what is know as israel and the palestinian territories today) never had the entire territory of british mandated palestine by right. They tried to take it during the 1948 war, and subsequent wars, but lost. Stop with the "German territory" argument. It makes no real sense.

      June 8, 2010 at 3:32 pm |
    • J Harris

      Ok good point Raffi, you know your history. What do you suggest in the cases were Palestinians have been displaced?

      June 8, 2010 at 3:35 pm |
    • oceans

      J Harris, why aren't the Palestinians angry with the British then? It was the British that gave the land to the Jews.

      June 8, 2010 at 7:14 pm |
  11. donJuan

    Please Mr. Nesenoff. She owes you an apology? She owes your son an apology? Why? Because she didn't say what you wanted to hear? Because she dissed Isreal and the Jews. Get over it.

    June 8, 2010 at 3:26 pm |
    • John

      just ask yourself if you'd say the same thing if an Palestinian had asked her of her thoughts and she told them to get out of Gaza and go to Jordan, Saudi Arabia etc. Didn't think so.

      June 8, 2010 at 3:35 pm |
  12. Scott

    She owes her interviewers an apology because she dared to suggest that maybe Israel, a country that took the land it currently has by force, should release it's holdings?

    Someone is going to have to explain to me why it's so hyper-offensive to even hint that Israel has done anything wrong. Sorry Nesenoffs, but she really doesn't owe you an apology. You asked her a question about her thoughts on Israel, and from what I have seen, she really didn't say anything that bad.

    June 8, 2010 at 3:25 pm |
  13. nate

    The jew wants an apology personally. What jew does want one these days?

    June 8, 2010 at 3:25 pm |
  14. Bobbo

    That woman looks like a witch, literally.
    Finally, a free seat for a fresh, new, younger person

    June 8, 2010 at 3:25 pm |
  15. smalltownmom

    Mr Nesenoff, really you think that if some one does not agree with you, you need an apology from them? Have you apologized to others when you stated an opinion that differed from your????? Get some tougher skin and get a life.

    June 8, 2010 at 3:22 pm |
    • smalltownmom

      that should be differed from their's???

      June 8, 2010 at 3:24 pm |
  16. Catherine

    .... Part 2...except for Palestine.

    June 8, 2010 at 3:22 pm |
  17. Prossy

    All I can say about all of these comments is that people need to learn the 2 most important rules of life: Number one is NEVER get involved in a land war in Asia. And only slightly less important is never go up against a Sicilian when DEATH is on the line!

    June 8, 2010 at 3:20 pm |
  18. Bob

    An apology? For what? Because the Rabbi didn't like what he heard? Give me a break.

    June 8, 2010 at 3:20 pm |
  19. thinker

    She owes an apology to no one. I just do not understand why are the Jewish people and state so protected?????Because of the holocaust??? Well, look at hem doing the same thing to the Palestinians and no one is doing anything about it. The Jews should either return all the land to the Palestinians or... return the land to the Palestinians. Israelis must come to terms with he fact that there will be Palestine and Israel side by side, like it or not. That is the only solution and Hamas must be part of the negotiations, unfortunately.

    June 8, 2010 at 3:20 pm |
    • oceans

      Well, thinker, if the land were to be "returned" to anyone it would have been the British. The British are the ones who had it since the end of WW 1.

      Also, if you wonder why there is such sensitivity to anti-semitism, just read this board. Fool after fool pontificating about Israel and then immediately diving right in about the "Jews." Criticize the Israeli government all you want. After all, not many people feel like our US government has really represented our interests since 2000. Just separate your criticism of Israel as a country from your remarks about the "Jews" as a people.

      June 8, 2010 at 7:12 pm |
  20. Catherine

    Was Helen actually saying that Jewish people should feel free to live anywhere they like because that is the right thing to say?

    June 8, 2010 at 3:19 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.