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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. Kuzma

    I was reading many posts here and still cannot understand many of authors. Before 1948 jews and arabs lived in Palestine and could not get along. Many european jews were coming before, during and after the WW|| becouse of the holocaust. Because the jews and arabs could not get along the UN decided to split the Palestine into two states: one for jews, one for arabs. The jews accepted this decision, the arabs – did not and started the first war. The West Bank till 1967 was occupied by Jordan (and nobody asked before and now why Jordan did not create an independent arab palestinian state there). The whole recent story of Israel – arab relationship is full with wars (initiated by arabs) and terrorist activities (also mostly arabs). These are the facts as I know them. Millions flew into the region. While the jews built a state, the arabs built a poor terrorist society. If all the money coming from Saudis, Iran and other arab coutries were used for building a peaceful arab palestinian state – they could probably be at par or even ahead of Israel. From 1948 t0 1967 (almost 20 years) the arab palestinians were under Jordan still living in refugee camps while the jews built their state, but I doo not see anybody to blame neither Jordan nor the palestinian arabs, nor any other arab nation. Come on guys! If you cannot (or rather do not want) make your own people live in prosperity – fine, but why to blame jews? And if this is the choice the arabs are making, why there are so many amaricans and europeans to support them?

    June 8, 2010 at 10:48 pm |
    • Alex

      Its because the world wants to see the Jews dead .. its a fact. Unfortunately for them hitler failed.
      You can tell how everyone here is mixing up the state of israel and the Jews as a people. Give the world an excuse and you see there true side come out just like the old bag of bones.

      June 8, 2010 at 10:55 pm |
    • cynbarry

      If you would like an understanding of the historical events that led to the current debacle in the middle east, please go to this website: http://www.cactus48.com – your comment indicated you couldn't understand some of the author's comments. This website, created by Jews, may clarify some of the comments made on this thread.

      June 8, 2010 at 11:19 pm |
  2. WW

    maybe Mel Gibson was right: "the jews are the cause of all the wars."

    June 8, 2010 at 10:43 pm |
    • Alex

      You are a Racist! Come out of the closet don't hide behind WW .. is this Obama?

      June 8, 2010 at 11:01 pm |
  3. jim

    When I was younger I felt sympathetic and compasion for Jews and Isreal. But as I get older I have come to realize they simply bring it upon themselves.

    June 8, 2010 at 10:42 pm |
  4. wolfie

    One down, 3,878,927,451 to go.

    June 8, 2010 at 10:40 pm |
  5. No Sympathy

    When I was younger I use to feel sympathic to the jews and state of Isreal but the older I get the more I realize they simply bring it upon themselves

    June 8, 2010 at 10:38 pm |
    • Arden

      Oddly that exactly how I feel about the Palestinians.

      June 9, 2010 at 12:08 am |
  6. shmirk

    this situation created by rabbi david jerkinoff is absurd. the israelis should get out of palestine, whether they are jews or not. his assertion that pro palestinian is anti semetic is equally absurd. the reciprocal being that pro semetic is pro oppression. also absurd.
    responding to the question 'where should the israelis go?' honestly answered and without malice, accurately, anywhere. anywhere they want if they so chose.
    nesenoff is the ass here. he should please come ask me for an apology.
    -some of my best friends are israeli.

    June 8, 2010 at 10:35 pm |
  7. Alex

    Man you are a Genius! exactly how I feel.. But I hate all who forget 911

    June 8, 2010 at 10:32 pm |
  8. Big Brother

    Isreal is like a little brother that is always picking fights he can not win and when confronted immediatly seeks safety through his older big brother. Isreal is forever picking fights then waits fro big brother USA to back them up. It is high time the US backs away from Isreal allowing them to fight thier own fights.

    June 8, 2010 at 10:28 pm |
    • Arden

      Israels greatest victories came before it had any US support. Specifically the 1967 war. The US started funding Israel because they were winners, not the other way around. Look it up.

      June 9, 2010 at 12:10 am |
  9. Jnan R. Saha

    Rabbi should not be shocked. They want to have the cake and eat it. Helen Thomas said it right only did not phrase it the right way. What right the Jews in Brooklyn have to take over Palestinian Lands? They have both ways live in Luxury in Brooklyn and live like Kings and Queens in Palestinian lands. We the tax payers in the United States are paying for these! It looks like you can have free speech in the United States only theoretically as long as one does not criticize Israeli atrocities!

    June 8, 2010 at 10:24 pm |
  10. Ryan

    She is an angry old partisan reporter. These comments don't surprise me. Next stop.... angry member of the HOA board of some unfortunate south Florida neighborhood.

    June 8, 2010 at 10:24 pm |
  11. M Pritchett

    Ms.Thomas deserves to speak her mind and share her opinion. She was not reporting – she had no requirement to be unbaised. Since when has it been universally agreed upon that Israelis deserve to have the land? I find it extremely offensive that if you are pro-Palestinian you are therefor anti-Semitic. The comment made by the rabbi stating that was extremely ignorant. He asked Ms. Thomas for her opinion and got just that – I did not read any hate in her words. The rabbi owes Ms. Thomas an apology!

    June 8, 2010 at 10:20 pm |
  12. capewirter

    Helen is an 89 year old woman. Have some respect for her and all that she has done! The Rabbi baited her and she told him how she felt and then he told the world. Nice Guy! And when she said she wished that Israeli would get out of Palestine she was speaking for 99% of the world. Yes, they need to get out of Palestine and observe the borders...not build settlements, not attacks ships in international waters, not kill their leaders, not invade sections of Palestine and not force Palestinians to live in places other than on their own land and in theiir homeland. Yes. they need to get out of Palestine and stay out. And they need to respect international waters. Last week was not the first time they invaded and destroyed., They attacked and killed many on the USS LIBERTY, an intelligence ship, in 1967, without any punishment...very hushed over. A terrible deed which showed us all-what they were all about.t Israel is no better or worse than any other country and should be treated as such...she is often the spoiled brat of the MidEast and many of us are fed up with the coddling and favoritism she gets...its nonsence.and .nonsence is not spelled anti-semitism...Cut out the vicitim rant and grow up. its just time to grow up and take a place in the world responsibly. .

    June 8, 2010 at 10:10 pm |
    • Alex

      You are not 99% of the world population.

      June 8, 2010 at 10:18 pm |
  13. Alex

    What is this world coming to!
    Osama Bin Laden should of took out half of NYC. I think he is a coward to hide.. where are all the terrorists and the suicide bombers, just to remind you , you'll quickly forget.
    All you american have no clue what it is to live in fear, fighting a people who have no rules. Killing children using woman and there own people as shields.
    Occupied huh , why don't you GIVE THE LAND BACK TO THE INDIANS. Wanna play fear, let every nation return the land they captured.
    I believe that Israel would accept a peace process if those MF'rs would stop the missiles, suicide bombers and the propaganda by that midget monkey Iranian Tzar.

    June 8, 2010 at 10:07 pm |
  14. HF

    The Camera was in the open and she was at the White House, for a break, she was at work on behalf of Hearst Corp for news reporting, clearing getting fired and or whatever she calls it, Catherine Hearst called for to removed, "persona non gratis" she explained it was disrespectful the the Hearst Family name, racist are not welcome when hated and evil are .... doesn't reflect the Hearst Family views.

    I think this was the most important statement made by anyone, it was not highly reported by the press, of course Google it and you will be able to read it from her words and not mine.

    That said, straw that broke the camels back, say bye bye Thomas, this was about dignity in the name of a great American family. And this was the end of Thomas words and mine for this article.

    June 8, 2010 at 10:06 pm |
  15. harrys8

    It is amazing how people skirt the issues. Many people have asked if the North American Land should be returned to the Native Indians – No Commnet So far. We all know that this earth is hundreds of thousand years old. So anyone who claims that GOD gave the land to Jews five six thousand years ago is lying through his teeth. Did God create Jews at that time. The fact is that the land belongs to the powerful – as history has show again and again. The unfortunate part is that we have not learned from history and prepuate the misery in one one part of the world or the other. It is unbeleiveble that in this day and age of instant communiaction we cannot resolve issues peacefully. I forgot- how can we when we are blinded by religion. It has been commented that how sad it is that the PEOPLE who claim (and truthfully so) that they have been persucuted for centuries, now have become the persecutors themselve.

    If UN could create ISRAEL in one year, why not Create a Palestanian Country by the same process. The borders can be worked out later if need be. We all know who is going to VETO such a solution – Good Old U.S.A. Neither the Us or Isarael wants a solution for this problem, as the current status quo suits them fine.

    The number of Isarelis kill.ed by HAMAS rockets and suicide bombers over the last TEN years would be in hundreds and the palestanins killed by Isarelis will be in hundreds of thousands. For a country to use such force against well almost unarmed poulation is nothinh short than criminal no matter waht the provocation.

    June 8, 2010 at 10:06 pm |
    • Arden

      The UN DID create a Palestinian state by the same process at the same time. Israel accepted it. The ARABS rejected it (probably because at that time they believed they could "push the Jews into the sea"). Israel has not "killed hundreds of thousands." That's silly. You are right that Israel has done more damage to the Palestinians than their rockets and suicide bombers have done in Israel. However, there would be NO destruction of Palestinian property or loss of Palestinian life if they would simply renounce violence and pledge to get along. Sure Israel fights back, and hard. One legitimate lesson that Israel learned from the Holocaust is "If someone tell you he wants to kill you, believe him and, if possible, kill him first." That seems completely appropriate, as a lesson for Jews, to me.

      June 9, 2010 at 12:18 am |
  16. M Hindin

    Palestinian, Christian, Jew, Jewish and Israel are all proper nouns or proper adjectives and should be capitalized in a respectful conversation. A respectful conversation looks for understanding and potential solutions not more prejudice and hate speech. Human issues are never simple and one dimensional.

    June 8, 2010 at 10:04 pm |
  17. Akber Ali

    those who think that she will be hated are absolutely wrong – there are billion of Muslims who will love her for the courageous truth she told to us. She was a journalist for decades and this kind of statement speaks of her experience. Those who say the 2600 years ago, this land belonged to Jews, I will say ok, but then USA belongs to Mexican, and Nepal, Pakistan, etc. belongs to India.

    June 8, 2010 at 9:59 pm |
    • Emma

      Excellent thought! May she have a delightful career on Al Jazera wearing a burqa. And while she's crawling off the national stage, perhaps she can take some of the other haters on this forum with her. They deserve all the freedom and joy of living in an Arab state.

      June 9, 2010 at 8:00 am |
  18. Ag

    Your right! Occupation must end! Therefore all people living in what is now called North America that can not trace their ancestors past 1492 must leave immediately!!! And while were at it the Franks and all other occupiers must vacate France and give it back to the Gauls! Better yet all modern humans must leave occupied Europe and give it back to the Neanderthals or better yet the Cro-magnon people!

    June 8, 2010 at 9:48 pm |
  19. Madeleine

    It's very sad and dangerous that so many commentators here expressing contempt and other negative feelings toward Israel appear to know so little about Middle East history. Don't you know that Palestine was never a "country?" That Israel didn't create "ghettos" for Palestinian Arabs in the West Bank and Gaza but that those terrible conditions were created for them by other Arab countries around1948? That's when the Palestinian Arabs refused the UN's two-state solution and the whole Arab world declared war on Israel. The Arab countries exploited the Palestinians when they controlled the West Bank and Gaza and did nothing for them. You need to go behind today's news and read some detailed history of the problem before you blame everything on the Jews. They accepted the small piece of land that was offered to them while the Palestinian Arabs did not, and so they remain stateless and miserable.

    June 8, 2010 at 9:42 pm |
    • Steinman

      Let's talk before 1948, of course that's how far you can go because before that, Israel did not exist, jews were scattered here and there in Europe. Besides, those who donated Palestine to the jews in 1948 did not own that land. If they were that nice to the jews, i just wonder why they didn't invite them to their own country, there's a lot of empty land in the USA and England.
      How would you like a stranger donating your house for your enemy, would you settle for that????? Wouldn't you tell him donate something of your own!!! Be real

      June 8, 2010 at 9:54 pm |
  20. Rick

    This did no strike me as a racist statement, at no time did she slander the Jews. She stated the pointed that as long as the Palestinians are being occupied, there will not be peace in that region. It's such a shame that such a brilliant journalist has to retire for giving her honest opinion in answer to a ridiculous question.

    June 8, 2010 at 9:34 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.