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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. Sanjose Mike

    Sara, I agree with you. She has a right to say whatever she wants to. But she has a special privilege you and I don't have. Her writings and opinion go all over the World. She work(ed) for a major news organization and was destributed by them. Hardly anyone will read yours or my post here, but millions will read hers. Sara, she has a responsibility along with the privilege of readership. You and I don't have that, because nobody but a few peole will read us. sanjosemike

    June 8, 2010 at 5:09 pm |
    • J Harris

      What you say is true,however her comments were not distributed by her company and I wonder if she even knew what she was saying would be broadcast over the entire world since it was just a small camera.

      June 8, 2010 at 5:16 pm |
  2. KIMBERLY BEVERLY

    THE US SHOULD STOP SPENDING OUR HARD EARNED TAX DOLLARS ON AID FOR ISRAELI MILITARY. EACH PERSON PAYS $500 FOR THIS EVERY YEAR! WHY???? If the wealthy Jews want to send money to Israel go ahead but I see no reason why the tax payer has to! “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 5:08 pm |
    • KIMBERLY BEVERLY

      Continuation of the article: 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 5:09 pm |
  3. Ann

    .. and anybody who dislikes Mr. Obama is racist.. why don't you finish your thought

    June 8, 2010 at 5:07 pm |
  4. Elliott Carlin

    So nice to see a lib go down in flames w/the ant-semitic canard.

    June 8, 2010 at 5:07 pm |
  5. Rick224

    Jewish Awareness Week. I'm aware that Jews torture and kill Arab Men, Woman and Children from Gaza not to mention the use of WMD's against the majority of defenseless people. Thank you for reminding me and making me more aware of Jewish Nazi Tactics. Hitler would be proud of you.

    Kudos to Helen Thomas. Give Palestine back to the Palestinians.

    June 8, 2010 at 5:06 pm |
    • rumbleoni

      I don't think Rick has ever been out of the country

      June 8, 2010 at 5:16 pm |
  6. chuckster

    I don't know if every one will like this or not but, the United Nations voted on this issue way back in the 40s etc. I am just guessing to recognize Isreal and their right to exist in that area. The Palestinians at that time were all over the place and were not recognized at all as a country. The world made it what it is today through the United Nations. This is where it needs to be fixed. As far as Jounalists giving their opinions on matters sensitive to this country I personally think they should just report the NEWS. They are getting as opinionated as "Follywood" and everyone knows that we can't live without the movie stars excellent political advice, Right????????? I think it was just her time to go away and irritate someone else, maybe its now time to irritate her husband Father Time!!!!!!!

    June 8, 2010 at 5:06 pm |
  7. Arden

    The Native American analogy is an interesting one because it cuts both ways. Who do you see the Israeli's as? The Native Americans or the Settlers? If Natives, well, obviously they have a right to live in Israel. I don't think anyone is saying that Native American should go back to Asia... If Native American did somehow rise up and take back America (allowing Euro-Americans the right to retain property voting right and religious freedom as Israelis do for Arab citizens of Israel) you might be annoyed that the symbols of the state were suddenly Native American, but you could not say it was unjust. On the other hand, if you are saying that Israelis are analogous to the European settlers of America, then surely you can't blame them for staying while you yourself are living on the "occupied territory" of the Iroquois, Cherokee, Navajo and whatnot.

    June 8, 2010 at 5:04 pm |
    • J Harris

      I like your comment! You are helping people think and understand. I think the bottom line is we should look forward and be fair based on the people alive now.

      June 8, 2010 at 5:10 pm |
  8. Cindy

    Palestinians want peace. Israel won't stop building.

    June 8, 2010 at 5:04 pm |
  9. Kathie

    I hope the Rabbi is proud of himself for ruining a 90 yr old woman's 67 year career as a journalist. This Rabbi knew what
    her position was if he didn't he was an idiot. She never made a secret of what her position is regarding this matter. He
    had a bomb strapped to his mic and Ms Thomas walked right into it. Result loss of a long , honest great career. Talk
    about homegrown terrorism.

    June 8, 2010 at 5:03 pm |
    • chuckster

      You know what Kathie, you need to get a grip. Its always someone else's fault like the Rabbi, it doesn't matter what question the Rabbi asked. It was Helen's response to that question that caused the stir, correct?????? So why bear down on the Rabbi??? Helen is just old and crotchedy and knows better how to politically answer that question but, she chose not too. So I ask you again, whose fault is it for the answer that Helen gave????? I'll give you a hint, not the Holy Man's.

      June 8, 2010 at 5:14 pm |
  10. cardog

    To;SanJose Mike...This world is made up of a lot of different people, with a lot of different ideas about who they are and who others are. When a very simple thing is constant, it has to be called what it is. Jews and Isreal as a country in the minds of people who explain away things such as you are trying to do, will see through the veil. Anti-simetism is a mental poison and in todays world can be diguised in the way you are trying to do.
    If you are an American, and if you're not a teen-ager, you may recall our own past of so called decent people expressing and actively participating in racism throughout the United States. I'm sure these people thought they were good God Fearing christains, but they could not conceive that a black man or woman was anywhere near equal to them. My friend, this still exist today, so don't try to come at us with your anaylsis.

    June 8, 2010 at 5:02 pm |
  11. Gabriel

    I don't get what she did wrong. I wouldn't be offended if a Native American said that all non-natives should get out. I'm sick of hearing people called anti-Semitic if they disagree with Israeli policy. It IS occupied, and immigration from other countries was encourage by first the British and then the Israeli government after WWII. I fear the Jewish people, in their trauma, have become that which they hated the most...

    June 8, 2010 at 5:01 pm |
  12. EA Hoff

    If you ask the Palestinians to put down their weapons, there can be peace.
    If you ask the Israelis to put down their weapons, they will be dead.

    I would think an 'occupation' would/could/should end if BOTH sides actually could agree to co-exist. One side isn't all that interested and never has been.

    June 8, 2010 at 5:01 pm |
  13. don b

    Naana : Past President Richard Nixon is the sole creator of the country of Isreal. The unfortunate part is that he was President of the United States and all Americans are being blamed for his mistake. To compound the problem, the US, because of the Jeweish influence has been supporting them, as a country, since their inception. Isreal has been a constant financial drain on the US since 1948. Because of Nixon's blunder, the entire Arab world is against the US and we are the brunt of terrorists attacking us for it.

    June 8, 2010 at 5:00 pm |
  14. Robin

    Can someone explain to me how this is anti-Semitic? She didn't say what she said because she hates Jews, she said it because she believes what some Jews have done is wrong. Is it anti-German to say what the Third Reich did was wrong?

    June 8, 2010 at 4:59 pm |
  15. abu ibrahim

    reply to SC, OMG i just watched the video, what a HYPOCRITE , this person is no man of GOD is a liar hiding behind a rue of religous authority. its unfortunate the ttle RABBI has been dragged to such depths as to being carried by such trash. TRUE JEWS , actually support Helens comments its just the ignorant who live by sound bytes and headlines that have no depth understand the truth that allow such injustice to continue. I agree he owns Hispanics an appology and Helen for ruining her career with this propoganda tools.

    June 8, 2010 at 4:59 pm |
  16. aden

    give them home! they have and it was taken from them,and we American,helped with our tax-money.god help us,
    we've got blood on our hands as well.

    June 8, 2010 at 4:58 pm |
  17. Doug Hodges

    Can't we all just get along.....maybe we should pick a day in the near future ...and make a conscious effort to wake up on that day... and forget about what our fathers and their fathers before them did to each other...and realize that if we don't learn to let go of the hatred and prejiduces we are taught....then we will never really be able to love and view each other as equals...as GOD intends for us to!

    June 8, 2010 at 4:57 pm |
    • J Harris

      ditto

      June 8, 2010 at 5:01 pm |
  18. mike

    I will miss Helen, she was great.

    June 8, 2010 at 4:55 pm |
  19. Daniel

    She said nothing that wasn't true. They are occupying their land, and behaving like a bunch of pirates and terrorists. The world is getting frustrated with Israel getting away with anything. Saying this doesn't make me antisemitic. I condone violence and religious persecution, but the Holocaust card can't be played forever.

    June 8, 2010 at 4:55 pm |
  20. cardog

    Emma if you are not anti-semitic, then you're an idiot...sorry!

    June 8, 2010 at 4:54 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.