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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. light

    I can defend her anger on Israeli occupation but not on her remarks of going to Poland and Germany, that was out of line, however I am not going to deny that. Israel is out of control these days.

    June 8, 2010 at 9:32 pm |
    • Eva

      Why is it such a terrible thing to say to jews to go back to Germany, Holland or Poland? These are FREE countries today. Nobody is persecuting the jews or any other minority group there.
      It is no different from telling Italians in New York to go back to Italy if they can't live without being part of the Maffia, or telling arabs to leave if they want to bomb buildings.
      Telling criminals that they are criminals have nothing to do with racism. And in my opinion, killing unarmed peace activists, just to make sure Palestinians have nothing to eat, is A CRIME.

      June 9, 2010 at 9:29 am |
  2. Jake

    Who cares about any of this? But I had to chuckle, Nessenoff baits this woman and costs her her livelihood and thins she also owes him and apology and "She owes my son an apology". Your 15 seconds of righteous indignation are over bozo.

    June 8, 2010 at 9:26 pm |
  3. Steinman

    People, for those of you who don't know history, go do some reading before israel changes all history books. The jews were recruited from Europe to occupy Palestine with the help of UK and USA driven by powerful Jews (as always). Doesn't it seem weird that this jewish state is in the middle of the Arab and Muslim world?

    Why is it OK for israel to do and say anything but it's not ok to say a thing against Israel?
    Why is it Ok for Israel to possess one of the strongest nuclear weapons in the world, but we're busy talking about the stones Palestinians use for there terrorism???? May I call israel the biggest terrorist in the world...But they always claim that they practice self-defense (against the very un-armed deprived people).

    Why are the Palestinians NEVER given the right to defend themselves?? Aren't they humans???

    Those few heroes who are attacked by you people, are the only ones saying the truth, God bless you Helen Thomas, God bless you Norman Finkelstein, God bless the innocent Palestinians.

    June 8, 2010 at 9:22 pm |
    • Arden

      No, it doesn't seem weird that this Jewish state is in the middle of the Arab and Muslim world because that is where the jewish homeland is. Duh!

      June 8, 2010 at 9:26 pm |
    • J Harris

      Good point, however throughout history the people with the most power do get to re-write history and occupy land they did not pay for. Certainly Germany, The British Empire, and the United States have done this. Actually Arab countries have done this as well. Perhaps this is just the way the world works.

      June 8, 2010 at 9:27 pm |
  4. Lucio

    That stupid country is not only stealing our money, our future and the life of our sons. Now is stealing our freedom of speach!

    June 8, 2010 at 9:17 pm |
  5. D Russell

    RE: Arden The Jewish National Fund BOUGHT the land that the UN recognized as Israel.

    Did you ever, even once, ask yourself if the people they bought it from had the moral, ethical right to sell it? – Just sayin.....

    June 8, 2010 at 9:11 pm |
    • Arden

      They bought it from it's legal owners who were Arab Muslims and Christians. Yes, those who were renters were expelled and that's harsh (when it happened.... Tel Aviv is built on a swamp drained by Jewish Pioneers – No one was even renting it). However, it's what happens to renters everywhere when the property they were renting is sold to someone who wants to live there. It is no more or less ethical than that.

      June 8, 2010 at 9:15 pm |
    • D Russell

      International law does not allow your concept of harsh treatment for "renters". Moreover, these people were on the land for generations and it is EVIL to take their homes away. So far tonight you have defended biblical genocides and modern day cruelty. Better stop Arden – you arer not really helping your side at all. Better yet, continue, you are making my points for me.

      June 8, 2010 at 9:34 pm |
    • Arden

      You are absolute wrong Mr. Russell. international absolutely does support expulsion of renters and did support the creation of the state of Israel. You are simply and objectively mistaken.

      June 8, 2010 at 10:07 pm |
    • marky

      The rabbi and his son asked a question and got an answere. They are not owed an apology -who the hell do they think they are? . She is not anti semitic she is anti war. Isarel like all countries have had their share of mistakes. America should have stayed the hell out of Iraq and Vietnam etc. Israel should stop builiding on the West Bank.
      The offended Rabi and his son are twits and doucebags. That does not make me a racist it is a fact.

      blah, blah, blan

      June 9, 2010 at 5:24 am |
    • D Russell

      Arden, Do you seriously believe that an occupying power (in this case England) hadthe right to sell the land to someone else? Did the people who were on the land get to vote? Did they agree to become 'renters' as you say? Where are your morals man? I am sure if this was any topic but Israel you would side with the people being thrown away. I find it strange that normally moral people become willfully blind and abandon their own principles when Israel is the topic. I am sure we would be on the same page if the topic was the evil ethnic cleansing by the Muslims in Africa.

      June 10, 2010 at 5:34 pm |
  6. D Russell

    RE: Arden "But Israel did not take land without paying for it either. The Jewish National Fund BOUGHT the land that the UN recognized as Israel."

    Did you ever, even once, ask yourself if the people they bought it from had the moral, ethical right to sell it? – Just sayin.....

    June 8, 2010 at 9:10 pm |
  7. kristen

    She did deserve to lose her job though. Journalists are held to a higher standard than that of actors/comedians

    June 8, 2010 at 9:09 pm |
  8. Drew

    Will Norman Finkelstein please comment!!!! You are one of few human beings who has his head screwed on correctly.

    June 8, 2010 at 9:07 pm |
    • Arden

      If by "head screwed on correctly" you mean "Totally insane" then, yes, I agree with you.

      June 8, 2010 at 9:20 pm |
    • Drew

      No, Finkelstein is dead on right!

      June 9, 2010 at 3:03 am |
  9. TMAC

    This is an unfortunate end to another distinguished career in Washington. The Rabbi should be ashamed of his role in this display of what can only be described as a lapse in "PC" by Ms. Thomas.

    Israel continues to trample the human rights of the Palestinians and those that disagree with with the government are label anti-semitic. Israel's actions speak for themselves with regard to the motives of the Netanyahu government. Actions will always speal louder than words and the actions of the Israeli government do not appear to be oriented towards a peaceful resolution of the Palestinian question. I believe that it is time that we rethink our relationship with Israel. If Obama is serious in extending an olive branch to the muslim world then it may be time to step up and force the Israeli hand and demand that they allow an independent investigation into the most recent attacks. Again we thrashing an opinion by an idividual and losing focus on the true issues that face this nation. The Founding Fathers were on to something when the called for a separation of church and state. This may be something that Israel might want to consider.................

    June 8, 2010 at 9:07 pm |
  10. D Russell

    I would like to say goodnight with the following quotation (and citation) from David Ben Gurion. I find it funny with so many defenders of Zionism on this site that no one ever seems to respond to these quotations from Israel's founders. Is it because they do not want to see the logical progression from these founder's principles and the behaviour of Israel today? It is much easier to attack an 80 year old woman for a quote out of context than deal with the truth of the immoral zionist ideology it seems.

    "There has been Anti-Semitism, the Nazis, Hitler, Auschwitz, but was that their fault? They see but one thing: we have come and we have stolen their country. Why would they accept that?"
    David Be Gurion– Quoted by Nahum Goldmann in Le Paraddoxe Juif (The Jewish Paradox), pp. 121-122.

    "I would have joined a terrorist organization."
    - Ehud Barak's response to Gideon Levy, a columnist for the Ha'aretz newspaper, when Barak was asked what he would have done if he had been born a Palestinian.

    June 8, 2010 at 9:04 pm |
    • Eva

      It shows that common sense is being suppressed today.

      June 9, 2010 at 9:22 am |
  11. mariausa

    I totally agree with Tim. To many people loose their jobs for saying something that they believe. Everyone say it's freedom of speech but not lately. We force to people to apologies for what they said. How is that freedom of speech? Freedom should be not saying sorry and not loosing your job just because someone is not agreeing with you.

    June 8, 2010 at 9:03 pm |
  12. Chuck

    We love Helen. Bring her back!

    June 8, 2010 at 9:01 pm |
  13. Politico

    Follow the money folks.

    Did you ever hear a US Congressman or Senator risk his political career by criticizing Israel? Its the money stupid. The rest is window dressing.

    Oh yes, all this sabre rattling over NUCLEAR PROLIFERATION with Iran? Was a single sabre rattled over Israel's bombs?

    June 8, 2010 at 9:00 pm |
  14. Chuck

    We love Helen. Bring her back.

    June 8, 2010 at 8:59 pm |
  15. Thomas

    Shes right, her remarks weren't racist they where true, Jews should be there occupying someone eles land, most of the world sees this but the american media have brainwashed most americans into beliving this jewish state crap, its a holocaust and they should be returned to Poland

    June 8, 2010 at 8:55 pm |
  16. Scott

    The Old Lady made an easy target to fuel outrage. She was setup and YouTubed, the tried and sentenced in the court of popular opinion.

    Shame for knuckling under to the Zionist Jew Agenda.

    June 8, 2010 at 8:52 pm |
  17. Eva

    Now that Israel has silenced the last person who had the courage to criticize them, just watch out. From now on, anything goes.

    June 8, 2010 at 8:52 pm |
  18. D Russell

    Craig RE: "didn't a kid get prosecuted for telling black people to leave Walmart... How is this different?"

    Where to start Craig. Walmart is a store open to all people. Now if someone from another store said "our store was one of the many stores located here in the past" and then decided to send all the Walmart employees away and make those left live in the bathrooms under guard. Now imagine someone sympathetic to the Walmart employees telling the invading store people to go back to their own store and being beaten for that....

    June 8, 2010 at 8:51 pm |
  19. Kevin

    Think about this for a second: Remember when Indonesia, et al were hit by the 2004 tsunami and hundreds of thousands of people died? Well, say Switzerland told the people of your state that they were going to give the survivors of that tsunami your state's land, public and private. And your house, which was built by your great-great-great grandfather, was being given to a nice Indonesian family. The cemeteries that your ancestors are buried in will now be under Indonesian control. And you could never really go back, and if you happened to, you would be harassed for being an "outsider."

    How would you react to being thrown onto the street from the life you worked so hard for? It was a horrible tragedy, sure, and we all felt very bad for the victims. But even so, wouldn't you be resentful? Violent, even? If your former neighbors were putting together a militia to take back your former homes, with force if necessary; wouldn't you want to join? Maybe even attack the country that told them they could stay there in the first place?

    This is all ignoring the fact that modern day Israel is very violent towards those whose land they are occupying; white phosphorous, development of nuclear weapons, and raiding peaceful opposition. So, back to my example, this would be your sons and daughters (as its 60 years later) being kicked while they're already down, just because they are taking up the cause that meant so much to their parents.

    It's easy to judge when it will never happen to me and you, but sometimes we can learn by putting ourselves in others' shoes. As humans are all cut from the same cloth.. The reaction of the Palestinians are rooted in human nature – some of the same feelings that we feel every day, but on a much lesser scale.

    June 8, 2010 at 8:47 pm |
    • Arden

      But the problem with your argument is that it supports the Israeli position, not Palestinian position. The Israeli Jews are the descendants of the "original inhabitants" who were unjustly expelled while the Palestinian are the descendants of the foreign occupiers who built their houses over Jewish graves. The natives came back to their land, won and you don't like it. So sad...

      June 8, 2010 at 9:11 pm |
    • Eva

      Are you saying the jews were there hundreds of years ago?
      Well, I think my ancestors owned the land where the White House is 4oo years ago.
      I am going to move in with Obama tomorrow and if he doesn't like it I will call him a white-hater racist.

      June 9, 2010 at 9:18 am |
    • Eva

      Arden, first off, can you PROVE the lineage of all your ancestry that would give you the right to get the land back that they have lost?
      Secondly. Have you seen pictures of those "cities" thousands of years ago? You can look at old maps. They consist of maybe a few kilometers of diameter land, surrounded by walls. This means, they were smaller than a modern village. Have you claimed THAT MUCH? Why did you have to take a thousand times bigger piece of land?
      This is like my ancestors had a grocery store a hundred years ago where Walmart is today, and I would claim the whole chain of stores. Just doesn't seem right.
      BTW, can you imagine if everybody would claim every land they ancestors ever occupied? Just watch the Mongols and Turks coming back to Europe and overthrow the government.

      June 9, 2010 at 9:55 am |
  20. Danny

    They are like baby's you say boo to them and they start crying "anti-Semitism". America and Britain are the worst , you have the "freedom" to say anything, but if you say one bad word about the Jew's or Israel your a "anti-Semite". To be honest, i think they have gotten a bit to big for there boots. They need to be put in there place and held to the same standards as everyone else. They seem to be able to do as they please because if anyone says anything there career's are over like Helen's.

    June 8, 2010 at 8:46 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.