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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. gfc

    Anti-Israel statements are not equivalent to anti-semitism. People should stop equating the two.

    June 9, 2010 at 10:12 am |
    • oceans

      The Israeli government and the Jews are also not the same thing. People should stop equating the two.

      June 9, 2010 at 12:34 pm |
  2. Udi

    Free speech?!?!? OK then.
    Mrs. Thomas should board the next plane out of here to wherever she is from (Greece, Lebanon, Syria). In fact all Greek, Lebanese, Syrians, etc. should just get out of America – it's occupied land, it belongs to the Indians. She shouldn't be here, she should go to back to those countries where Christians were persecuted and murdered. She and her Christian friends would feel right at home there, wouldn't they?
    How is that for free speech – good enough?

    June 9, 2010 at 10:10 am |
    • Eva

      Why should she leave? She is happy here, she is not bombing anybody and is not killing peace activists.

      June 9, 2010 at 10:23 am |
    • Udi

      Eva, obviously you are not connected to reality or you are on some sort of heavy medications.

      June 10, 2010 at 2:10 pm |
  3. moondoggie

    Helen Thomas was asked a question. She answered it. That is free speech. As we teach our children, you must accept the consequences of your actions. Words are powerful and cannot be taken back, so watch what you say. It's that simple. To the lovely comments posted here about the evil Zionists, the Jews that control the press and the rest of the world, and how no Jewish people are kind, I can only say; shame on you for being so close minded. The Middle ages are over, or so I thought!

    June 9, 2010 at 9:47 am |
  4. Eva

    What is so terrible for somebody to go back to Germany or Poland? These are FREE countries today. Nobody is persecuting anybody anymore. America used to be racist and had slaves. Today it is a different country. Germany today is a different country. If the jews are so unhappy in Israel, they should contemplate going back to their homelands, leaving the Palestinians alone.
    Would you punish Helen if she told Italians in New York to go back to Italy if they can't live without the Maffia? Would that be racist?
    Israel is like a touchy bully that can dish it out but can't take it.

    June 9, 2010 at 9:34 am |
  5. Robert

    Let's reverse what Ms. Thomas said: the Palestinians should go back to Palestine.

    June 9, 2010 at 9:15 am |
    • moondoggie

      ok.Well where is that. Before there was a Palestine, there was Israel and Judea. And what about the Palestineans from Jordan? Where do they go?

      June 9, 2010 at 10:51 am |
    • Robert M Soran - Schwartz

      And Abraham came from the land of Ur 🙂
      And not only all Semites, but the whole human species originally lived in Africa :-)9
      And the indigenous Americans came from North Eastern Asia, after they made it from Africa over Arabia to Asia :-)))
      And the "Europeans" went to to America, after they made it from Africa over Arabia and Gibraltat over to the Old Continent :-))))
      In other words, after the many migrations we, the "AFRICANS" are ALL meeting again on other continents and consider ourselves as not only different, but better, more intelligent and ALWAYS in right :-(((((
      Let's stop using "prehistory".

      What about the Palestinians in Jordania, you ask? Well, that state used to belong to the so-called archaic Palestine, like parts of Syria and Lebanon.
      Not unsimilar to the archaic Germania, today separated in Germany, Austria, parts of Swizerland, Poland, Latvia, etc. In some of the Central and East European countries they are the majority, in others a minority with full equal rights.
      It's not only posiible, it is imperative in a civilized world. And it works: just look at Romania (Romanians, Hungarians, Slaves, Germans and Roma), Bolivia, Peru, Venezuela (native Americans and Eurasians), South Africa, Russia, USA (of course after barbaric Christian massacres of the Indigenous in Middle Age).
      And: none of these countries had expelled the Indigenous, they opressed them, but this historical period has ended everywhere, except in the minds of my Jewish Nazionist sisters and brothers in Israel.
      Time for us, Jews, and the world to say: STOP!

      June 11, 2010 at 6:49 pm |
  6. Suz

    I'm Jewish, and don't necessarily disagree with Ms. Thomas – I'm no Zionist, never was, I believe home is wherever you hang your hat, not some strip of crappy desert. I do find it regrettable, though, that her word choices have now escalated tensions against Jews. If you go to this rabbi's website and read the hate mail, it's chilling.

    June 9, 2010 at 8:51 am |
    • Udi

      "Hang your hat"?? what about all the Jews that 'hanged their hats' in Poland and Germany? It seams to me you don't know what you writing about and are clueless as to the historical facts surrounding the Jews and how Israel came to existence. The fact that you call Israel a "strip of crappy desert" – means you are anti Israeli and a self hating Jew.
      If you are truly Jewish – you should be ashamed of yourself. You are a disgrace to Judaism.

      June 15, 2010 at 10:11 am |
  7. John

    Freedom of Speech? Tell that to Trent Lott. I'm sure that all of the Thomas defenders were equally outraged when Mr. Lott was forced to resign.

    June 9, 2010 at 8:42 am |
  8. JanK

    McCarthy-ism in a new form?

    June 9, 2010 at 8:37 am |
    • Udi

      JanK – no McCarthy-ism here, you twit!!!! Telling people to back to where their families were murdered and massacred is vile antisemitism. If you don't understand that this is totally wrong to say such things, you are either stupid or antisemitic – either way you stink.

      June 9, 2010 at 10:16 am |
      • Eva

        Germany is a FREE country today. Nobody persecutes anybody. Stop using this as an excuse to cry racism.

        June 9, 2010 at 10:22 am |
    • Udi

      Eva – you mean Germany is Jew-free, right? Judenrien is the correct term. All the Jews just want to flock back to Germany and Poland, right? They have such 'fond' memories of these countries. Especially freedom comes to the top of the list when you mention Germany and Poland to Jews.
      Are you totally nuts?

      June 10, 2010 at 2:05 pm |
    • Eva

      Don't scare me Udi. Is this the propaganda you guys are listening to in Israel? No wonder you are paranoid and want to kill the whole world.
      Listen. The rest of the world is civilized. Germany is civilized and nobody is trying to do anything to you, unless you are bombing them or starve their children.
      Kick your government in the butt for aggrevating you instead of letting you live in peace.

      June 10, 2010 at 3:48 pm |
    • Eva

      Well, Jews think they are the CHOSEN people. Problem is, they have chosen themselves.
      Obviously, chosen people are allowed to commit genocide, not chosen ones don't. Simple as that.

      June 10, 2010 at 10:54 pm |
    • Robert M Soran - Schwartz

      @ Udi
      I'm a German Jew living in Germany. Together with more than 100,000 others, of which many thousands also have an Israeli passport ... Why did so many Jews and Israelis choose a life in Germany? Not because they are masochists, but because they feel good here. Most of them are still Zionists, this means they support the right of Jews to setttle on the lands of Palestine in the borders of 1967 in a multi-ethnic, multi-religious state with a Jewish majority and a secular, truly democratic society. This is Zionism.
      But Israel is on the verge of perverting Herzl's and Ben Gurion's Zionist vision into Nazionism, an ideology and society that become more and more ethno-racist, segregationist, expansionist, militantly ultra-orthodox, fundamentalist Judaistic and autoritarian. Many of us, Jews in Israel and Diaspora, betray our humanist tradition, culture and civilization and may be rightfully considered as the last colonialists in today's world.
      This is wrong.

      June 11, 2010 at 6:21 pm |
    • Udi

      Robert – the fact that you live in Germany is your problem, not mine. I don't want to live in those countries were Jews were ruthlessly butchered. If you feel comfortable in living among murderous nations – that again, is your problem and choice. Although I respect your choice, I cannot understand it or ever relate to it.
      Eva – Jews have been a constant victim throughout history, even well before WW2. Germany is a country that almost managed to wipe out all the Jews altogether. Today German companies (with full consent from the German government) are arming countries like Iran with nuclear capabilities. So nothing has changed in the German mindset, some say it has gotten worse and people are more antisemitic than they ever were.
      Israel is a peace loving country in spite of it's past and the past of Jews from Germany and Poland living in Israel. Unfortunately, Arabs and Muslims want to wipe it off the map, similar to what Germany and others had in mind for Jews in Europe. The Turks on board the flotilla had no intention but to attack Israeli soldiers with clubs and knives and steal their weapons and shoot the soldiers. These were no peace activists – these were antisemitic thugs shouting "go back to Auschwitz!" over the radio to Israeli naval officers. You should be ashamed trying to defend thugs who want nothing but war in the guise of peace.

      June 14, 2010 at 3:26 pm |
  9. Lissa in Montreal

    The song isn't mocking anything – it's their way of getting their perspective across. I think it's brilliant.

    June 9, 2010 at 8:35 am |
  10. KA

    Ever read anything about Zionism? Evil, evil people and philosophies. Zionism = Isreal, which is not nearly the same as Jewish. Helen was speaking against Zionists, not Jewish people. Do some research people.

    June 9, 2010 at 8:29 am |
    • moondoggie

      Yes, do your research. You will then learn how wrong ads biased KA is. Be sure to read all sides of the research, not just what feeds your hatred.

      June 9, 2010 at 9:50 am |
  11. LasPos

    Wooo, big brave Rabbi. Destroying an old woman’s life. You idiot, these are the ramblings of an old woman. Look, the war is over, we are all sorry what happened. Now get over it, get the stick out and get on with life. Maybe you should cover stories like Israeli troops killing workers trying to give aid to suffering Palestinians. By the way, she is correct; your people did invade their lands. Lastly, there would be much less anti Semitism if you did not rub it in everyone’s face all the time.

    June 9, 2010 at 8:14 am |
  12. Ritchie

    As I agree with most of you Ms Thomas probably could have used better words to give her opinion the bottom line is that it is her right to have an opinion. We all should never forget this either. I DEFINATELY do no believe Ms Thomas should resign she has nothing to be ashamed of except maybe a poor choice of words and we all have been guilty of this at some point in our lives.

    June 9, 2010 at 8:04 am |
  13. Arian

    This shows that there is no true freedom of speech in this country specially when it comes to Jews. The reality is that America and Americans are hostage and slaved to Israel and Jews. Face it, accept it, and get on with your life.

    June 9, 2010 at 8:02 am |
  14. JanK

    What if Thomas thought that her telling a Rabbi something that she felt was in confidence held the same trust as telling a Catholic Priest something in confidence? What if it was a confession of sorts and she really wanted to get this burden off her soul? Perhaps she was looking from him for a way to feel differently about the situation?

    He is first a Rabbi, is he not? His ministry then is to the souls who come before him. What if he did not realize what was happening and in his zeal posted a troubled confession on Youtube?

    What are the implications if that was the case?

    Think about it.

    June 9, 2010 at 7:57 am |
    • Sandi

      This was a TALK SHOW; Helen Thomas did NOT come for spiritual or any other type of counseling.

      She is a professional reporter with decades of experience who knows or should remember, that her words are being recorded and should be chosen with reasonable care if she doesn't want to deal with the fallout.

      I know of no one, Catholic, Protestant, Jew, who goes for religious counseling to a clergy member not of their faith (unless in the military, where chaplains are specifically trained to be sensitive to the needs of those not of their faith who may not have a chaplain of their own religion on base). Helen Thomas is a civilian on a talk show. This was a recorded PROGRAM.

      June 9, 2010 at 8:15 am |
    • Koger34

      Helen was correct in her statement. Our government must stop blindly supporting the wrong doings of Israel. Israels actions are the biggest threat to our national security. Our government worries about Iran and their nuke program but, no mention of Israels nukes in the same neighborhood. History tells us Iran has never invaded another country.
      I fear Israel will start another war and the US will foolishly follow them. Washington and the Media should support America first. Those with such strong support for Israel should go to Israel.

      June 9, 2010 at 8:33 am |
    • Lissa in Montreal

      As a reporter, Helen Thomas should know that anything said – anywhere, especially on camera – is for publication *somewhere*...if she didn't want her words to be reported, she should have said "no comment", and she'd still be in the White House Press Room. The Rabbi was asking her a question for a blog or a report, and she had every right to either ask him to put it off the record or not to answer. This wasn't counseling and he wasn't in Rabbi mode when he asked it.

      June 9, 2010 at 8:37 am |
    • J Harris

      She was not on a "talk show" she was in the driveway outside the north entrance to the White House.

      June 9, 2010 at 8:52 am |
  15. Cvale

    Interesting that this very morning a video featuring the Rabbi who " broke" the story, has surfaced wherein he does a fake weather report skit mocking Mexican Americans with a very poor imitation of a Mexican accent. Beyond the pale but nothing new for Israeli apoligists. Pot calling the kettle black all the time.

    June 9, 2010 at 7:55 am |
  16. Michael Schulze

    The idea behind of being anti-semitic as a bad thing is laughable. The Jewish religion, especially, is one of slaughter and segregation, as they are, after all, the chosen people of God. I feel like I'm taking crazy pills being a minority of people who understand that according to most religious text nearly everyone should be put to death. For somebody who even hints at this in politics to be forced to resign is deplorable. I've lost my faith in politics, but was never dim witted enough to have it in a personal deity.

    June 9, 2010 at 7:51 am |
  17. PL

    If you don't like the answer, don't ask the question.........

    June 9, 2010 at 7:48 am |
  18. BraveFart

    It's sad that her answer was so appalling to some that it ended her career. We have become such an oversensitive society, that even when asked to give her honest opinion of a political minefield (no pun intended ) like that Cluster-flack in the middle east, she had to retire because, as bemused said, the Rabbi didn't get the biased answer HE wanted. She did not use any slurs, she did not use any profane language. Was it the best answer? No, certainly not. But to end, and therefore define a womens career, a woman who made her name by asking and saying the the words other reporters were afraid of, I don't think it should be a career ended. She made her apology, and like anyone else, she deserves a second chance. Israel and Palestine has become a chicken or egg situation, and it the answer depends on who you ask. The Rabbi wanted the answer to be Chicken, but he got egg and didn't like it.

    I say they get together and have a beer in the rose Garden, then we can all forget about it and get back to more serious things – like the economy, jobs and getting out f Iraq.

    BF

    June 9, 2010 at 7:48 am |
    • Lissa in Montreal

      She did not apologize – she said she regretted her remarks. Not strong enough. She told the Jews to get back to places where they were murdered by the million (and where they are still unwanted). THAT'S why the outrage. She did this to herself. As for what the Rabbi wanted? Who knows what he wanted? He saw a well-known reporter and thought he would learn something from her perspective. He got a lot more than he bargained for but do NOT blame the victim here! What if Helen Thomas had been asked, during Black History Month, for her thoughts, and she told the blacks to go back to Africa...what then? SAME CONCEPT!

      June 9, 2010 at 8:41 am |
  19. Krystyna

    What gets me is the blatant hypocrisy that Helen Thomas exhibited when she failed to acknowledge that the North American continent is also "occupied"! Using her logic, shouldn't all European-Americans return to Europe where they came from? After all, this continent belonged to American Indians long before Europeans came here. Yet she fails to see that, because like most Americans she is too busy looking for splinters in the eyes of others, while a large log remains in her own eye! The truth of the matter is this: many countries which exist nowadays are the end result of one group of people migrating & displacing another group of people. Things are what they are & we all need to learn to live with & accept each other. People like Helen Thomas wouldn't know true tolerance if it walked up & shook her hand.

    June 9, 2010 at 7:39 am |
  20. Marc from Florida

    We have to look beyond a single remark when sitting in judgement. Unguarded moments can be telling and embarrassing but it is important to look at the larger context of a long and reputable career. I am a Jew and was upset by her comments. I accept her apology and think we should all move on. It is also important to ask why such a comment would be made. Political correctness should not discourage remarks or opinions. Healthy debate should follow.

    June 9, 2010 at 7:36 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.