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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. Texan

    Fear not Zionist Christians and Conservative Jews, there are more of us than the terrorist appeasing liberals in this country. There are more viewers to the Cartoon Network than watch CNN, MSNBC, and HLN combined. This site attracts the lunatic fringe (20%) of this country. They don't care or want to know about history unless it's the revisionist history they now indoctrinate to our children in public schools. We will never convince them of the truth because they are too far gone. When one of their own does something wrong, they are quick to defend them. When someone on the other side does or says something wrong, they have their daggers drawn and smell blood like a rabid dog. Put a Republican bumper sticker on your car or a yard sign in your front yard, expect eggs or key marks. This is the so-called "tolerant left," tolerant if you agree with their views. Anybody who sides with Code Pink, ACORN, SIEU, The New Black Panther Party, etc. are enemies to this country. I will wear any negative replies to this post as a badge of honor. This firefighter runs into burning buildings while you run out of them in your pink skirts crying.

    June 8, 2010 at 4:34 pm |
    • J Harris

      Well 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.

      June 8, 2010 at 4:36 pm |
  2. Nancy Hoffman

    Anything you say thats not in favor of Israel makes you anti-Semitic? That is so misconstrued and messed up.

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

    It's idiocy to call her remarks "anti-semitic." Palestinians are semites as are all arabic peoples from the middle east region. Helen Thomas, if it's true that she's Lebanese, is semitic herself. Her comments are a fair opinion of a foreign occupation, if you know the ANYTHING about the history of how the modern state of Israel was formed.

    June 8, 2010 at 4:31 pm |
    • J Harris

      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 4:34 pm |
  4. Kimberly Beverly

    THE US SHOULD STOP SPENDING OUR HARD EARNED TAX DOLLARS IN AIR FOR ISRAELI MILITARY. EACH PERSON PAYS $500 FOR THIS EVERY YEAR! “Since the October War in 1973,
    Washington has provided Israel with a level of support dwarfing the
    amounts provided to any other state. It has been the largest annual
    recipient of direct U.S. economic and military assistance since 1976
    ... and t...he largest total recipient since World War
    ll. Total direct U.S. aid to Israel amounts to well over $140
    billion in 2003 dollars. Israel receives about $3 billion in direct foreign
    assistance each year, which is roughly one-fifth of America's entire
    foreign aid budget. In per capita terms, the United States gives each
    Israeli a direct subsidy worth about $500 per year. This largesse is
    especially striking when one realizes that Israel is now a wealthy industrial
    state with a per capita income roughly equal to South Korea or
    Spain.”

    June 8, 2010 at 4:30 pm |
    • Kimberly Beverly

      Over the last 20 years, the U.S. has been slowly phasing out economic aid to Israel and gradually replacing it with increased military aid. Beginning in 2007, the U.S. has been increasing military aid by $150 million each year. By FY2013, we will be sending Israel $3.15 billion a year (or an average of $8.6 million a day) and will continue to ... ... See MoreSee Moreprovide military aid at that level through 2018. U.S. tax dollars are subsidizing one of the most powerful foreign militaries. According to the CRS report, “[current U.S. military aid] grants to Israel represent 18.5% of the overall Israeli defense budget.”

      Contrary to ordinary U.S. policy, Israel has been and continues to be allowed to use over 26% of this military aid to purchase equipment from Israeli manufacturers. According to CRS, “no other recipient of U.S. military assistance has been granted this benefit.” Thanks in part to this indirect U.S. subsidy, Israel’s arms industry has become one of the strongest in the world. “In 2007, it was the 8th largest arms supplier to the developing world.”

      June 8, 2010 at 4:31 pm |
    • J Harris

      Ok it's time to stop sending money!

      June 8, 2010 at 4:32 pm |
    • Arden

      OK but the total Israeli military budget is 53.8 billion for 2010. What that means is that this "massive" US aide pay for about thre weeks (or a little less) of the Israeli military budget. On the other hand, Israel does us the service of fixing our military designs and giving them back to us. Our troops use M-16i's the "i" is for "Israeli." The Arrow missile is the US design Patriot after having been fixed by the Israelis. Our F-16's are using the F-16i retrofits. Etc. etc. etc.

      June 8, 2010 at 4:56 pm |
    • J Harris

      Perhaps we should just pay for the retro-fits. That seems fair.

      June 8, 2010 at 5:07 pm |
    • SadVet

      US contribution would then equal about $43,000 per Israeli, if our funding was roughly as linear as Israel's population growth.
      What we need to see is that the US does not do this for sentimental reasons, but as the point of a spear of empire, much as the British Empire goaded Hong Kong with spear point in China which gave rise to the Opium wars.
      So what is the US getting for this unthinking support of Israel? The enmity of any arab adolescent without a future which gives any opponent we have an active recruit base. Is it worth it?

      June 8, 2010 at 5:57 pm |
    • Arden

      $43,000 per Israeli??? The entire Israeli military budget is only $2300 per Israeli. The actual expenditure is $138 per Israeli.

      June 8, 2010 at 6:11 pm |
  5. god

    stop picking on the arab christian lady.

    June 8, 2010 at 4:27 pm |
  6. Todd

    It's interesting (but not surprising) that so many americans find her remarks egregious. Why? They're neither 'anti-semitic' nor callous. They simply refelct the prevailing opionion among arabs that the 19th century political movement known as 'zionism' was a tragedy for Palestinians and their culture.

    June 8, 2010 at 4:25 pm |
  7. Big Al

    Shame that this poor, misguided old woman doesn't have 5the capacity to follow her own beliefs and return to whatver village in Lebanon she came from. But this silliness is surely the first signs of dementia.

    June 8, 2010 at 4:25 pm |
  8. Alex

    For you information, even before 1948 there were Jewish communities in Palestine , yes the majority of Jews immigrated after the war , but nobody is talking about the fact the Jewish community just grew in faster rate then the Palestinians. If you surprised by that ask yourself, ok how come Palestinians didn't immigrate to Palestine, its because they all were in Palestine and the Jews were just returning to their homeland. Ms Thomas said that their homeland is in Poland and Germany, if you agree with her ...Why dont you go to YOUR home where your family came from years ago and return the native USA land to native Indians...! you dont want to?????, fair enough, then dont ask Israelis that never even visited Poland or Germany to go back home to their country because their home is Israel !!

    June 8, 2010 at 4:24 pm |
    • J Harris

      Just to be clear aren't we talking about the settlements by Israeli people in Palestinian? not Israel?

      June 8, 2010 at 4:29 pm |
  9. Cindy

    Yes, Christ was a Jew... and I very much doubt he would let you go on and on, persecuting Ms. Thomas.

    June 8, 2010 at 4:24 pm |
  10. cardog

    To: Capt.Goat...I've heard your spil before. The Jews control everything in the U.S. so why should'nt they have our support, right?
    Well if for a moment you can push aside your bigotry for Jews and the country of Isreal, do you know that this country is the only, let me repeat,the only country with a sense of sanity in the middle-east. I would much rather have them as an ally then any Arab country you could name. I will trust the Isrealis to do the right thing rather then turn my back on any Arab country, to do the right thing for the United States.
    All of you Jew bashers are just that and nothing that should make sense to you, will. All you see is the blind hatred you have for Jews, and most of that hatred stems from your upbringing based on christain teachings. (They killed our Lord, right?)
    Read your history people, the Romans hung Jesus, Pilate, a Roman condemned Jesus.

    June 8, 2010 at 4:22 pm |
    • Rick Salomon

      @ cardog I don't know about others, but in my case I have nothing against Jewish people. I have many Jewish friends. Some of them are very powerful and rich. And so what? Historically some group or other held the most power in the world. This is more about the Israeli government. How it is a bully and how it is creating so much suffering in the area. The Israeli government is run like a mafia, not a democratic government. Th US should stop sending money that ends in military aid in the US. NO MORE. We send about $500 per person every year to Israel and most of the money goes towards the military.

      June 8, 2010 at 4:48 pm |
  11. 1861

    Looks like too many people are straining at a gnat.

    June 8, 2010 at 4:22 pm |
  12. ScaredLincolnOffThePenny

    LOL forget Helen ever existed? NO WAY and I like many, many millions of Americans are waiting for her new book – You think the 89 yr old didnt go out in syle? She planned this and all the perpetually persecuted are her bots workin' it for her! GG Helen!

    June 8, 2010 at 4:22 pm |
  13. Pete McQ

    Helen Thomas should have been kicked out of the press corps a long time ago. She was nothing but a cranky old lady and opinion columnist, not a reporter. No one should be allowed to have that detail for more than a decade, if even that long. I am not surprised that she is an anti-Semite (and that's what she is) but that hardly matters unless you give the ignorant old woman a seat at the White House. Good riddance.

    June 8, 2010 at 4:21 pm |
  14. Mark in California

    Jeez... and all Puns intended. This is definitely a Molehill made into a Mountain. I don't believe that she was being anti-semtic in any way, just telling the truth.. as she, and many others see it. Yes, the Israelis did come from Poland and Germany, before they took over Palestine and ran the Palestinians out. Saying that we should send them back is not anti-semitic, just poor judgement, as that could be construed as saying send them back to the Holicaust . Yes, the jews were exiled from Palestine centuries ago, but then again, they came from Egypt.. as the Good book says. So Mr. Nesenoff... get over yourself.

    June 8, 2010 at 4:21 pm |
  15. Kimberly Beverly

    Rabbi David Nesenof please get real! I have seen the video and nowhere I saw any antisemitism. Since when being against the mafia like government of Israel being antisemitic. Lately Israel has behaved like a bully and the world is getting fed up.
    I saw the US should stop wasting our hard earned tax dollars in Israeli military spending. Then see what happens.

    June 8, 2010 at 4:20 pm |
  16. seiscat

    I believe that the creation of Israel was a mistake and that the world would be much better off if it had not been done. This has absolutely nothing to do with anti-Semitism in any way, shape or form. The creation of Israel was a political expediency by the Western powers not an act of God. And it was done at the expense of the Palestinians without their input.

    June 8, 2010 at 4:19 pm |
  17. ScaredLincolnOffThePenny

    "exterminations being carried out in WW2" – bah – a few thousand die (probably most from natural causes) and we get to be perpetually buggered about it.

    June 8, 2010 at 4:19 pm |
  18. Susan Goldstein

    I agree, she is old, angry and very bitter. Frankly they should set rules tor retirement in WH Correspondents so people like this won't embarrass themselves and the US. The world must be laughing that the WH can't control the staff. Shame.
    She must have REALLY hated Bill Clinton when he had the head of Israel and Palestine together shaking hands at the WH.
    She is bitter, old, and jealous of the young up and coming WH correspondents. I hear she has even lost her ability to keep up with technology and relies on her assistant to do everything. That tells you it's time for the rocking chair and please people.
    STOP knocking the Jewish people because when you get sick and go to the hospital, your all wishing in the back of your mind you can get a Jewish doctor because they are so very intelligent and when you get in trouble, you want a Jewish attorney because they are so savvy. So please stop persecuting me and my fellow Jews. We hear the comments from people and they have no idea we are Jewish -.
    Christ was a Jew, what would you do to Him if he was walking this earth?

    Let's move on and forget Helen ever existed. Life is much to valuable to waste on someone of so little value.
    Oy Vey!!!

    June 8, 2010 at 4:19 pm |
    • seiscat

      Israel was created through an act of Western imperialism – we could have given them a piece of Germany, or Connecticut or Belgium, but it was much easier to give them land in a weak, out-of-the-way place, like Palestine, to assuage our guilt. It was very specifically at the expense of the Palestinians and without their agreement.

      Recognizing this fact isn't anti-Semitic.

      June 8, 2010 at 4:51 pm |
  19. Bailey

    When someone asked mahatma gandhi what the Jews should do in response to their exterminations being carried out in WW2, he said "they should all commit suicide", yet most of us think he was some kind of godly person!!!!

    June 8, 2010 at 4:16 pm |
  20. Legal GAL

    I guess this is just a sign that we can have freedom of speech – as long as what we say is accepted by the majority. This is the reason why people begin to hate other people – because they want a "protections" against opinions. It's an opinion, you can always change the channel. My opinion is that the US should stop backing countries that want to act like the countries they were lucky enough to escape from. No US Military behind you? I'll bet the lines of communication would open really fast. Either that or everyone would have to fight their own battle. Be my guest, but in the end it's our your choice how you want to be remembered.

    June 8, 2010 at 4:16 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.