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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. Walter D'Souza

    The old bat is soooooooo.. symptomatic of some of the older white Americans still alive today!. Don't know whethet its old age, senility or a juxtaposition of other factors but one thing came out LOUD N CLEAR. And that is, she was all along harboring hatred for the brilliance, hard-work and success of Jewish people in America and all over the world. It is definitely a shame that her true feelings came out even as she prepares to exit from this world!!. Hope others will learn from her GIGANTIC revelation.

    June 8, 2010 at 7:31 pm |
    • oceans

      It ain't just a "white" thing!

      June 8, 2010 at 8:12 pm |
  2. joe

    Isn't possession nine-tenths of the law?

    June 8, 2010 at 7:28 pm |
  3. EJG

    The Jews in Israel cry and expect the world to give them a free pass and a red carpet no matter what they do. They have taken over land and treat the Palestinians as badly as they were treated by the Nazi army. They are occupiers there and they daily threaten Palestinians, wrecking their homes, murdering them, blowing up even places they have sworn to stay away from, try to block the Palestinians from getting necessities for survival and arms as they may try to take back their land.

    I am sorry but they are no better then Hitlers army when it comes to the way they treat the Palestinians and Helen Thomas was asked her opinion, not to report on any specific topic. She was honest.

    I am sick and tired of the US always backing these criminals, why are we not demanding they disarm? They are a bunch of warmongering loose cannons. What will we do if and when they preemptively strike Iran? They will expect us to become involved and come to their aid.

    I used to buy into the feeling so sorry for them until I started to pay attention to the kinds of things they do to their neighbors. Can't feel sorry for them when they are more then willing to do the same thing to someone else. If it weren't for governments working together to prevent something to the extent as when Hitler was around surely they would be as bad.

    For this arrogant ignorant hateful self centered reporter to do what he did is repulsive. Hope everyone he tries to question in the future will know what kind of a person he is and refuse to answer any questions thereby doing to his career what he did to a woman at the end of her life. He is such a mean spirited disgusting individual I hope the rest of his life is lived in extreme misery.

    June 8, 2010 at 7:28 pm |
    • Arden

      This is just plain silly. Defending your children ageist rocket attacks on their schools and suicide bombers blowing themselvesnup at the mall is supposed to be the "same thing" or "as bad" as herding people into boxcars and shipping them to factories of death? Ummmmmm....No. Epic fail of an argument.

      June 8, 2010 at 7:39 pm |
  4. Pepou

    I always admired Ms. Thomas. So, her comments were made in a private setting. That does not justify firing her. What she says is in fact rather true.

    June 8, 2010 at 7:27 pm |
  5. Dave

    After serving 25 years of military service, I have protected the right of everyone who has posted above me to free speech. This is the United States of America where the KKK and NAZIs can parade down Main street without even a comment. Why are we now concerned about one person's personnel comments. Right or wrong she still has the right. It does not matter how it makes you feel. She still has that right. Is the Rabbi wrong for what he did? No, he has the right. This is what makes America great. I am so afraid for us.

    June 8, 2010 at 7:26 pm |
  6. Angry American

    Why is it when we as US Citizens express a similar sentiment about ILLEGAL immigrants we are called names?

    June 8, 2010 at 7:23 pm |
  7. Joe Mathens

    Who cares? So a few groups are offended... Boo hoo! Get over it. I don't know what is worst, grandma being opinionated (as most old fogies are) or the retards that actually take it personal.........Yeesh!!!!

    June 8, 2010 at 7:15 pm |
  8. frank abrams

    I don't see how this is defined as "hate speech" (which is what is not protected by the first amendment) She said She thinks Jews should get out of Palestine (I disagree I don't think they should for a lot of reasons) and she said "they should go home"[to Europe] (Its ignorant in that it ignores half of Israel which has their roots in middle Eastern countries including Palestine but half of Israel do have roots from this century in Europe so its not really hate its just an opinion based on some ignorance and bias – maybe even to do with the fact that shes 100% Lebanese) - Either way I don't think she should have resigned at all – and this is not hate speech. I'd rather debate her on it publicly than this.

    June 8, 2010 at 7:15 pm |
  9. mike johnson

    I used to be a die hard israel supporter. Events during the past year and a half and especially this year .... hav made me question my own logics ... and I am happy to report that I have dome a complete 180 on israel. How the hell are these guys to think they can do watever they like. Folks, write your congress men. And I think public opinion is changing in the US ... isreal and the jews ae out of control ... and if that makes ant-semitic to stand up for the truth ... well then I will be happily anti-semitic

    June 8, 2010 at 7:14 pm |
  10. Armin

    She spoke the truth that the land was occupied. It was wrong for her to say that they should "get the hell out".

    June 8, 2010 at 7:13 pm |
  11. w.Dabbagh

    She was telling nothing but the truth about isreal and thier occupation to palestine for 60 year.

    June 8, 2010 at 7:13 pm |
  12. Victoria Sadoff

    I feel very sad that one of my biggest idols was destroyed by SPEAKING THE TRUTH! I am a Jew and felt no anti Semitism in Thoma's comment! Just because the holocaust happened does not give the government of Israel the right to create atrocities to the Palestine s.
    I do not believe all Israeli citizens approve of what their government is doing! Because of their past and religious persecutions they should know better! Their actions prove " If you hate something long enough ,YOU BECOME IT! "
    By Thomas saying what she said.. I perceived it as her pointing this out! All people must learn to live w/ others. Te planet is too small to carry on like we do! I feel people who are trapped by the ideology of our dogmas have used Thomas as a scapegoat for their own fear based religions!
    If we continue to support such behavior seen by the Israeli government,we our doomed to annihilation eventually!

    June 8, 2010 at 7:12 pm |
    • Brian

      Victoria, you make sense to me. The government of irsrael gives jews a bad name

      June 8, 2010 at 8:12 pm |
  13. Floodking

    Tell the people of Israel to stop trying to control the middle east–They will reap what they sow-mark these words.

    June 8, 2010 at 7:08 pm |
  14. ElloIsJewThere

    The problem is all these whining Jews are dwelling on the past AND using it as a crutch to "legally" commit genocide. Were sick of it. Let's take this viral on removing support (ANY and ALL) for Isreal. youtube and internet them with a "wake up" message to stop the genocide, get out of the west bank and more importantly – stop playing the perpetual persecution card! Its EXPIRED, DECLINED –

    June 8, 2010 at 7:06 pm |
    • Arden

      I don't think you have the authority to decline it but that you attempt to do so says a great deal about your character and just proves the point I've made again and again...

      June 8, 2010 at 9:23 pm |
  15. Outlier

    Miserable old hag, crawl back into your coffin and die already!

    June 8, 2010 at 7:05 pm |
  16. Jane Williams

    Why is it anti-semetic to speak the truth. Just go back in time. Look at the Palestine/Isreal map around the end of World War 2 and look at the division now. The Jews have encroached (illegally and brutally) on the Palestinian land and society without justification. What makes matters worse is that the Jews of the time felt it their "manifested destinity" to choose from 3 locations the future site of their new promised land: Uganda , Eritrea, and Palestine. Well, we now know who got screwed. The fact still remains that they were persecuted in mainly European lands. So why should the Palestinians, Ugandans or Eritreans (if one of the two latter had lucked out) pay for some other peoples' crimes? Let those that persecuted the Jews provide reparations for them in their own land; not in someone else's!

    June 8, 2010 at 7:04 pm |
    • Shawn G Kelly

      "The Jews have encroached (illegally and brutally) on the Palestinian land and society without justification" 1967 war? 1973 war? Invaded and fought back, won land as a buffer. Rockets raining down from Gaza, Lebanon, I think that is justified. But it's been a war zone for 2000+ years. Why can't they just live as friends and neighbors? Because they are both fighting over HOLY land. Both sides are guilty of being narrowminded and violent. I chose to side with the Israelis, because unlike the Muslims, they arent hell bent on destorying America. Wake up people, almost every major terrorist attack any where in the world in the last two decades has been muslims. The only notable exception is Okalhoma city. The rest of the world is defending them selves against Jihad. And the cowards almost always target innocents.

      June 8, 2010 at 7:19 pm |
    • PointCounterpoint

      Shawn– take some time to do some research. There were many terrorist acts committed against the British by the Jews in what was then Palestine in the years leading up to the establishment of Israel. Truly, no one's hands are clean in that respect.

      June 8, 2010 at 7:59 pm |
  17. Average American

    Why are you talking about the Rabbi, when helen thomas, democRATS, oBAMA and cnn are anti-Israel and Racist?

    June 8, 2010 at 7:03 pm |
  18. Vandi

    The whole incident shows how the Israeli blackmail system works. The message is clear “if you are in America or Israel and speak against Israel, we will get you “ that’s the message that the American / Israeli media are trying to convey to viewers. Basically, either you agree with Israeli / American’s crimes against humanity or you will be accused of being a terrorist or “sympathizer” .

    June 8, 2010 at 7:02 pm |
  19. John

    She is right. Everyone has to face the truth how Israel was created. It was not the Jewish land and it belonged to the Palestinians. I hate how Israeli's make themselves look like the tragic victim while they are the ones who took someone else's land and live without any bad feelings. Shame on the Jews and the Israeli's. For the record, I am neither Jewish, nor Palestinian and I have no bias to either parties. Helen Thomas has all rights to say what she believes. Eliminating her just because that's what you don't want to hear is against the freedom of speech.

    June 8, 2010 at 7:02 pm |
    • oceans

      Read a history book once in a while. The land didn't belong to the Palestinians, it belonged to the British. I don't think they want it back.

      June 8, 2010 at 8:08 pm |
  20. Rabbi Lalo

    Helen Thomas was correct in that as long as Israel remains in the middle east, there will be conflict for countless generations to come. No one disputes that. However her suggested solution that Jews "go back home" is totally unrealistic and impossible from a political and social standpoint. As with the conquest and occupation of America by Europeans, etc. etc. the native populations were pushed out or aside (irrevocably in many cases) and with the passage of time we simply move on. Helen Thomas' idea might have worked in 1948, but too much time has passed and several generations of Jews can legitimately call Israel home. There is no going back.

    June 8, 2010 at 7:01 pm |
    • Silhouette

      Rabbi, Europe and world in genral is in a much better economical and social shape to accept the jews back actually. There is no need to moot the option.
      That is the most logical place for them to be in anyway if there is to be any peace in the world. Unless you're concerned that they will become target of white racism or religious hatred? Isn't the 'western world' already secular enough to be out of the dark ages of hate and contempt for others? Or is it that what you blame the muslims for is actually not a problem with them but actually west's?

      June 8, 2010 at 7:53 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.