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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. catie

    Ms Thomas gave an honest response. However if she is to sit in the front row, she needs to be careful. She is not a journalist anymore, she is a columnist, and not eveyrone knows that. I really get annoyed with people who abuse their freedoms, particularly of speech. I can toot in church but I dont.

    June 8, 2010 at 4:16 pm |
    • Gary

      let it out Catie

      June 8, 2010 at 4:23 pm |
  2. zdubchi

    Naana so what makes the Jews special? You admit that over the centuries the Jews inhabited Palestine off and on. They would have it then the Babylonians would take it – they would reclaim it then the Romans would take it. Ok but nobody gave it back to them they took it in 48 by fighting a war. They fought off the Egyptian's attempt to take it away during the 6 day war. Nobody gave it back to them they took it back and now they are trying to defend it.

    If you don't like Israel and you don't like the US support of it then just say so. Don't cry about their lobby. That's the way things are done in a democracy people join together to lobby a point of view. Jews aren't special they're just defending their point of view which unfortunately often times is the blind support of the state of Israel even when it's actions aren't in keeping with their stated values.

    June 8, 2010 at 4:15 pm |
  3. CATOm

    I find it hilarious that all of a sudden every left-wing elitest is now an expert on palestine and israel. Find a new topic to discuss in the coffee shops...something you are more familiar with like gay marriage or iphones or what new hipster shoes are in style this season.

    June 8, 2010 at 4:15 pm |
  4. Jnan R. Saha

    Helen Thomas also said United States. Why are you harping about Germany and Poland only but not any other country, like India, Russia, Ukraine, Italy, United Kingdom. I thought present Germany is friend of Israelis. She spoke right. Israelis should not kill Palestinians and take their lands. Jewish people from Brooklyn should have no right go to Palestine and live there as Kings and treat Palestinians as slaves. We the US tax payers are paying for all the atrocities happening there. And also any one criticizing Israel will be called anti-Semite, no matter how badly these people from Brooklyn behave there. Israelis are not Palestinians. These preople came from all over and occupied that land.

    June 8, 2010 at 4:15 pm |
    • zdubchi

      What do you care if Jews think you're an anti-semite? You obviously don't support Israel. That's your right. Do you really care what that makes you? If you don't like the US support of Israel stop writing on this blog and write or call your congressman.

      June 8, 2010 at 4:20 pm |
  5. ScaredLincolnOffThePenny

    Whoa! I'll take my Auschwitz burger rare baby RARE! With a side of RPG!

    June 8, 2010 at 4:14 pm |
  6. KellyinSEattle

    Captain Gort, you're kind of a fool.

    June 8, 2010 at 4:14 pm |
  7. absteve

    It is amazing!!
    Insulting muslim prophet is a freedom of speech.
    Expressing your opinion regarding a long conflict is an insult that requires an apology as well as resignation.

    June 8, 2010 at 4:13 pm |
  8. ss

    Mrs. Helen spoke her mind. The sneaky Rabi, took someone's life long career aways from her by posting it on line trying to make a name for himself and now he wants a special appology? why? Because someone spoke her mind? from my expereince, Jews always think they should be treated differently than the rest of the world and this is another example. Stop playing victim and start taking responsibility for your actions. I hope the rabii can sleep at night, knowing what he has done.

    June 8, 2010 at 4:12 pm |
    • J Harris

      I think you are wrong to say, “Jews always think they should be treated differently than the rest of the world” That is a prejudice comment. Don’t you agree that some people from every religion could say the same thing and do? So what you say by singling out Jews is prejudiced and does not help the situation. Perhaps the Rabbi really does feel offended. I mean don’t you feel offended when someone says something that goes to your religion or even your favorite sports team, even if it is a justified comment.

      June 8, 2010 at 4:25 pm |
  9. Mark

    Why is it "taboo" to suggest that the the people in Israel may not be "saintly"? I believe that over the years they have committed several actions that if mirrored by any other country would be considered an act of war. I think it is high time for them to get off their high horses and begin trying to fit into the area of the world where they exist. They should make every effort to co-exist peacefully with the palistinines.

    June 8, 2010 at 4:11 pm |
    • oceans

      "They"????? This is why anti-Israel remarks are seen as anti-semitic. Israelis and Jews are not monolithic. Do you agree with every action taken by your government at all times???

      The biggest part of the problem is sloppy thinking.

      June 8, 2010 at 7:23 pm |
  10. Jean

    I don't agree with what she said BUT what the heck ever happened to freedom of speech in this country?! I may not like what someone says, but I will defend to the end his or her right to say it.

    June 8, 2010 at 4:11 pm |
  11. catie

    His question did not bring an end to Ms Thomas' career, her response did.

    June 8, 2010 at 4:10 pm |
  12. Tim

    Helen Thomas should not resign. She is being persecuted for her use of freedom of speech... JEW HATE IN PURE FORM ! I am now Anti-Jew

    June 8, 2010 at 4:09 pm |
  13. Lauren

    With Helen Thomas' logic, she should get the hell out of America and go thee to Beirut. Read your Bible lady, the land was given to the Jews long before you were ever born. This is a family feud between the descendants of one brother vs. another. History played out the way it did, ultimately to accomplish the promise in the Bible that Israel would once again be a nation. They are not perfect, they don't always make the right decisions. But they are God's chosen people and history will once again play out as prophesied long ago. Watch and wait. Unfortunately, there are both good and evil in the world, but ultimately, God is in control.

    June 8, 2010 at 4:09 pm |
    • ScaredLincolnOffThePenny

      "read your Bible lady" LOL er O ya I forgot that Christianinsanity WAS the only religion on earth.....So ya it was promised to the Jews by someone in YOUR book – so WE ALL have to abide by that eh?

      June 8, 2010 at 4:28 pm |
    • Luqueitus Washington

      Since God gave the land to Israel why is there so much confusion and fighting over the land? Did God take it away from them and give it to another? His word says He does this also. America needs to keep its nose out of other countries' business and stop playing favoritism based on their warped interpretation of scripture. If Israel is wrong - and most times God's people are - then we should not side with wrong. If the Palestians are wrong - and most times they can be - then we should not side with them either. We should remain neutral and let them fight it out. It's their problem, not ours.

      June 8, 2010 at 7:04 pm |
  14. Cindy

    Helen, don't retire. Don't let the bullies win.

    June 8, 2010 at 4:08 pm |
  15. AJ

    Why does being pro-palestrinian automatically mean that you're being "anti-semetic"?... Just because you believe that what is now Israel is the original land of the Palestinians, does not mean that you're anti-semetic!!!

    June 8, 2010 at 4:08 pm |
  16. Darren

    “I didn’t remember that she had pro-Palestinian thoughts, anti-Semitic feelings,” he said.

    Only a very bigoted person would assume that one must be anti-semitic to be pro-Palestinian. This rabbi seems like a very closed minded person himself.

    June 8, 2010 at 4:07 pm |
  17. Dee

    I have read all your thoughts. For those of you with negative opinions of Ms Thomas, here are my remarks. My, such holier-than-thou responses and analyses! Have any of you seen the entire clip – not just the edited version that has everyone enraged? Do any of you reallly understand the history of the area where Israel now sits? Do any of you know what happened when the state of Israel was formed? And its history? And finally, wouldn't it be interesting for someone to "bait" Ms. Thomas – thinking it twould result in the furor we are now experiencing – for the purpose of diverting attention from what is happening to those ships that are trying to bring aid to the Palestinians? Think, people! As for Ms. Thomas, she is a great lady and gave so much to women and women journalists in the USA. Shame on some of you for your unkind and hurtful remarks. If you think she was wrong, say it. Period. And get a life already. These boards are sickening.

    June 8, 2010 at 4:07 pm |
  18. Scott

    The problem goes back to the idea that a place "belongs" to some group or another. That regions could be blown to its component molecules and there would still be millions of nut jobs over there fighting over the dust....oh they are already doing that. I say Israel stand on its own. I am tired of every President and Congress having to treat Israel as the 51st state.

    June 8, 2010 at 4:06 pm |
  19. thoughtful

    until jewish people can learn to live with palestinians and SHARE, there will always be war

    June 8, 2010 at 4:06 pm |
  20. CHBIII

    Ms. Thomas was asked for her opinion and she gave it, it was not in a role of a neutral news reporter. She should be honored for her long service.

    June 8, 2010 at 4:05 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.