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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. Moses

    I guess freedom of speech does not exist anymore in the less free country of ours.
    It is ok for people to criticize and Muslims and Christians but don’t dare say anything against a Jew. It seems as though most Americans have forgotten who was responsible for the killing of Jesus, why, because he spoke out against them, so this has been around for 2000 + years. Wake up America, wherever the Jews have been the curse of God follows.(look back into history don’t take my word for it)

    June 8, 2010 at 11:54 am |
    • Joseph

      Bravo Moses! No you don't need therapy. Americans need to unshackle themselves of the zionist perversity that, without fail, will eventually destroy them. I see a rising up, though, a positive one indeed. Bravo Helen!

      June 8, 2010 at 3:23 pm |
    • Howard Markowitz

      I guess freedom of speech does not exist anymore in the less free country of ours.
      It is ok for people to criticize and Muslims and Christians but don’t dare say anything against a Jew. It seems as though most Americans have forgotten who was responsible for the killing of Jesus, why, because he spoke out against them, so this has been around for 2000 + years. Wake up America, wherever the Jews have been the curse of God follows.(look back into history don’t take my word for it)

      1.) Ms. Thomas was not denied freedom of speech. She said what she wanted without gov't retribution. We all have to accept the consequences of what we say and hers was getting fired by her boss.
      2.) People get criticized for what they say or do, not for who they pray to.
      3.) The Romans were responsible for kiliing Jesus. Everything Jesus said and did, he did as a Jew.
      4.) The Curse of God? What are you, a Warlock or someone who has crawled out of a cave?

      June 8, 2010 at 3:59 pm |
  2. Leucadia101

    so now it's politically incorrect to question the state of Israel? Come on people, we all know what's going on over there. Bravo Helen. Stick to your guns. Israel is a just a private club and they won't let anyone in. Screw em!

    June 8, 2010 at 11:54 am |
  3. aldino

    Poor lady. she is being persecuted not only for speaking her mind but for also speaking the truth.

    Lets not forget that all the Jews in Palestine (now Israel) have migrated from eruope to Palestine.
    This is a fact, it will not change whether Helen resigns or not.
    The fact is that Palestinians have their land stolen/occupied by the eruopean Jew immigrants.
    It is the palestinians who are paying the price of the holocuast although they were not the preptrators. it is like we wanted to be just to the jews by persecuting the palestinians.

    June 8, 2010 at 11:54 am |
    • Jack M

      Aldino, pity you don't know your history! Jews have lived continuously in Israel for over 2500 years. In 1967 Gaza was in Egypt, and the West Bank was Jordanian. There was NEVER a country called Palestine which was ruled & inhabited only by today's "Palestinians".

      June 8, 2010 at 2:07 pm |
    • Martin

      There have always been Jews living in Israel. When the Romans explelled many of the Jew for revolting agains t Roman rule many Jews remained in Israel. During the Ottoman occupation of Israel and the subequent British occupation of Israel many Jews returned to Israel and purchased land (that is, acquired it legally) to the point that when the British handed Israel back to the UN there were enough Jews legally living in Israel that the Jewish area were incorperated into the current State of Israel and the remainder was given to the Palestinans. There was no conquering of Palestinian territory until 1967 when Israel won the Six Day War. After the war Israel tried to give the Palestinian territories to one of its Arab neighbors but none of the Arab countries wanted the responsibility so by default the task of administering the Palestinian teritories fell to Israel. Today Israel would gladly allow the Palestinians to form their own state if they could be sure that the Palestinians weren't going to launch attacks on Israel, as Hammas did from Gaza when Israel withdrew from the territory.
      How would you deal with somebody whose aim in life was to destroy you? How do you offer somebody an olive branch when you know, from past experience, that they are likely to beat you to death with it?

      June 8, 2010 at 3:45 pm |
    • Howard Markowitz

      Beautifully done, Martin! Better than I have said it

      June 8, 2010 at 3:52 pm |
  4. johnny

    We've seen this before. That having an opinion or criticizing something or someone must mean that you're full of rage and hate! Hate the war? You're anti-soldier! Disagree with the President? You're anti-american! Disagree with Israel's tactics? You're anti-semitic! These canned responses sound like they would come from a fourth grader! I was ignorant to the Palestinian plight until one day I watched a movie called "Paradise Now". That opened my eyes to the fact that there are two sides to every story. To call someone a Nazi or anti-semitic because they don't agree with the Israeli government is a complete disservice to all rational thinkers.

    June 8, 2010 at 11:54 am |
    • Siara Delyn

      Disagree with Israel: you're anti American (even though we're supposed to be a secular country)

      June 8, 2010 at 11:55 am |
    • seer

      the greatest bigotry in america today is anti-freethinking. in oppressive states, intellectuals and artists are the enemy. the repubs blatantly campaign against us to ignorant sheep masses. think how powerful a nation of individuals we would be – but power of the corrupt and ignorant who abuse it must be held up by holding the masses down – under propaganda, false causes, and a sickening abandonment of education.

      June 8, 2010 at 1:36 pm |
  5. Mike

    The land is nobodys. That's what is so senseless and pathetic. It was there before us and will be there after us. We are just fighting wars to exist there temporarily until some one else comes and takes it and then someone takes it from them. How arrogant we are as a species that this all belongs to us! Look at what we are doing to the gulf! It belongs to us! Yea right.

    June 8, 2010 at 11:53 am |
  6. Gary

    In my opinion it was the genocidal implication and her sneering laugh that did her in. Telling Jews to go back to Poland and Germany is like telling them to go back where your family was murdered and suffer the same fate. watch the video and you'll see that she only added her comments about "and to America and everywhere else" as an afterthought

    June 8, 2010 at 11:53 am |
    • aldino

      The the jews can apply for assylam visas to other countries and become citizens, or flee as refugees to other countries for portection; but they don't have the right to occupy palestine (a territory that does not belong to them) and committ a holocaust against its native inhabitants for what Nazi germany did to them.

      June 8, 2010 at 12:08 pm |
    • Tina

      What?? I'll take the bait for the pointless aside here, but who in the world thinks that Jewish people traveling to modern-day Germany or Poland would "suffer the same fate" as people during the Holocaust. Have you been to either nation lately?

      June 8, 2010 at 12:26 pm |
    • E. Saab

      Thanks. Absolutely correct.

      June 8, 2010 at 1:06 pm |
    • efroach

      Tina, he said "like". "It's like telling the Jews..."

      The point here is what Helen Thomas is saying. She is basically biased and anti-semitic and unfit to be a journalist if she doesn't have the integrity it takes to write articles in a humane way.

      June 9, 2010 at 12:03 am |
  7. hampster

    Send the Rabbi back to Israel where he belongs. The Rabbi would have got a hell of a lot more salty talk in the answer if he asked me the question!

    June 8, 2010 at 11:53 am |
  8. ev

    Nesenoff mock concerns have all the trappings of a smear campaign. This is all distraction from the GAZA incident, which Helen Thomas was commenting on.

    June 8, 2010 at 11:53 am |
  9. Ken

    linda wright, "freedom of speech" refers to protection from the government throwing you in jail for what you say. Nobody is suggesting that Thomas be put on trial and jailed. On the other hand, what people say has consequences. Imagine that Thomas said that the Palestinians should "get the hell out" and be sent to Jordan. Would it be ok for her employer to fire her?

    June 8, 2010 at 11:53 am |
  10. mitchyj

    What courage. If she said Blacks should go back to Africa would that be courage. Boy, are you misguided.

    June 8, 2010 at 11:51 am |
  11. Mike

    The remarks were made outside the press room, on the driveway, not published in her newpaper.
    Do you really believe the rabbi wanted to "learn" something. Get real. He set this up from the beginning, trying to distract the public from Israel's attack on the aid convoy.
    Helen has the right to her opinion. It is not an uneducated or senile or anti-semitic opinion, but a very poignant insight and something that needed to be said. Israel has to stop building "settlements" on "occupied" lands.
    The US needs to change its one-sided support for Israel.
    The US should take the lead on rebuilding Gaza and break Israel's blockade just like we did in Berlin.
    Think about it. Would the US want all of our imports/exports cleared by the Taliban? Gaza has a right to be free.

    June 8, 2010 at 11:51 am |
    • Siara Delyn

      Since when is loving Israel a requirement to hold down a press job?

      June 8, 2010 at 11:54 am |
    • seer

      since when is even journalism? it is all but dead, but people want to pretend she had to retire because of journalistic standards. what a laugh. this is political pure and simple, she said the "wrong" thing within a pro-israel culture surrounding her employment.

      June 8, 2010 at 1:25 pm |
  12. Siara Delyn

    It's time to get the racist Bronze Age mythology out of our international politics. God didn't give Israel to anyone. God doesn't hand out prize pieces of real estate to "favorite" peoples. Whatever God made us made all of us and loves us all.

    How disgusting to work the idea that God has "favorites" into our foreign policies.

    June 8, 2010 at 11:51 am |
  13. God

    re: Ishmael & the Arab nation

    Genesis 16:12 "He will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be against everyone and everyone's hand against him, and he will live in hostility toward all his brothers."

    June 8, 2010 at 11:51 am |
  14. aden

    some people in Israel wonder why they can't live in peace,well you took some ones land,and you wonder why,Idiotic!!!.

    June 8, 2010 at 11:51 am |
    • Howard Markowitz

      Wrong!
      The land of Israel was conquered by the Romans and then by the Ottoman Empire. As the Ottoman Empire waned in power, Turk citizens bought the land and slowly sold it off to European Jews who were looking to escape persecution. After WWII, Britain held soverneighty over the land and from pressure from the UN agreed to make it the country of Israel. So in all ways 'lawfully', the land belongs to the people who purchased it and were granted soverneignty as a nation. And oh BTW, through sweat and determination, the Israelis have turned a desert into an oasis and properous land.

      June 8, 2010 at 3:45 pm |
  15. Jeff S

    Americans out of Hawaii! It's occupied land, it belongs to the Polynesians! They should all go home to America and everywhere else!

    June 8, 2010 at 11:51 am |
    • Howard Markowitz

      Thanks for that! After reading so much nonsense and mis-information, I needed a good laugh.

      June 8, 2010 at 3:43 pm |
  16. TonyM

    Collier – it wasn't her support of Palestine that makes her anti-semetic. It was her calling for Jews to "go home" to Poland and Germany. If you told an African-American to "go home" to Nigeria or something, you'd be a racist. Same diff.

    June 8, 2010 at 11:51 am |
  17. american

    This is so hypocritical. You can say anything about any other group but not against Israel. Israelies have become arrogant and ruthless. All you have to do is go to West Bank and Gaza. As for Israel being the only democracy in the region ( Hamas, Turkey, Lebanon) is a big lie. You want democracy, let the people who lived in the territory before Israel became a country vote. Will never happen. Israel is only a democracy for the Jews and a handful of Israeli Palestinians. In reality, Israel is the biggest threat to the United States even more than Al Qaeda, because we know what they (Al Qaida) want. Israel is a wolf in sheeps clothing. You want peace in the region, solve the Palestenion problem.

    June 8, 2010 at 11:50 am |
    • mitchyj

      You sound like someone who's never been surrounded by one billion people out to eliminate you. Let me guess, you're a WASP.

      June 8, 2010 at 11:53 am |
    • Siara Delyn

      @mitchyj- do you think being abused gives you a carte blanche to turn around and abuse others? My guess is that you were born long after WWII and your "suffering" is vicarious anyway. PS- It's possible to be Jewish and not support what Israel is doing to the Palestinians

      June 8, 2010 at 12:07 pm |
    • lorne

      you say that no one can criticize israel. well you just did and it's on CNN. so what is your point?

      June 8, 2010 at 12:56 pm |
    • Howard Markowitz

      "Israel is only a democracy for the Jews and a handful of Israeli Palestinians." Wrong! there are over a million arabs that are citizens in Israel and they have Representatives in the Parliament.

      And Israel is a more dangerous enemy to America than Al-Quaeda? The most idiotic thing I have read in a long time.

      June 8, 2010 at 3:40 pm |
    • Steve X

      Free speech only if you bash Arabs and Muslims- speak ill of the policies of the Israeli (Foreign) Govt in America and you will get destroyed.

      We can bash our own govt, but utter one word of Israel and you are a racist pig. Never mind that you could be a humanitarian with a conscience or an American sick and tired of our tax dollars ($15billion/year) or American blood (how many US soldiers must die for a foreign country???)

      Search Gaza and natural gas and you will see why Israel started this naval blockade. Rigs sucking out the natural gas in Gaza waters and selling it to British Gas.

      June 9, 2010 at 2:33 am |
  18. ez

    it's a piece of land. no different than any other piece of land on the planet. people need to realize that they are no different than any other people on the planet. it's really that simple.

    June 8, 2010 at 11:50 am |
  19. Holly Golightly

    Bravo BaltoPaul and Jeff B.!!!

    June 8, 2010 at 11:50 am |
  20. Mouseptato

    Truth is bitter...Truth hurts. One who has never tasted what is bitter does not know what is sweet, and by saying what she said, Helen Thomas has tasted the sweetness of the truth. For all those who call her statements unpopular, offensive etc, remember....Truth is bitter and it surely hurts.

    June 8, 2010 at 11:50 am |
    • Godson Longmire

      she is so rigth, I see not a thing wrong with her statement. the jews occupied palestine there is no Isreal. the jews need to leave, them people land and find some other place maybe HELL be best for them . the world biggist joke we are GOD People. Tell me anything. Onelove, GODSON:

      June 16, 2010 at 9:48 am |
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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.