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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. Grand Nagus

    Helen Thomas was right! The problem is is that everyone kisses Israel's A**!! Israel was established by the U.N. and literally drove the Palestinians from THEIR homeland! The Israeli government treats the Palestinians the way the Nazi's treated them sans the Concentration Camps (I am sure if they could find a way to get away with doing that they would). It seems that throughout history the Jewish people have found a way to pi** off their neighbors to the point where they retaliate against the Jewish people. The problem here is that "Book of Mythology aka The Holy Babble" which tells them that THEY are the Chosen People which in their mind gives them Carte Blanche to treat others who are NOT "Chosen People of God" as less that they are.

    June 11, 2010 at 10:02 am |
  2. Rediculous

    unbelievable that there is a pejorative for simply disagreeing with Israeli "policy". Frankly, I think she is right. Forgot all of the religious symbolism from both sides, forget the wrongs of the past 100 years and you are left with people who absolutely refuse to be good neighbors.

    Shame on you Nesenoff, you use your religion to not only make a buck but in doing so have interfered with anothers livelihood. By the way this lady TO WHOM YOU ASKED A QUESTION UNSOLICITED, did she give you permission to release video of her?

    I think this all comes down to one thing, money $$$$$. If Israel isn't constantly feuding with somebody then they don't get a healthy chuck of my paycheck every year for weapons. We need to stop the gravy train for these bozos. They freaking live there they should be the number 1 driver for solving the issue of peace, and they don't give a F***. Obama was right to leave Netenyahue alone in the oval office, I would have done the same thing.

    Career over? PLEASE. Just move right along to a better employer, one without its head up its ***. People give far far to much deference to their employers.

    June 11, 2010 at 9:56 am |
  3. Wow

    I’m perplexed by the notion that supporting Palestinian rights equates to anti-Semitism. It blows me away that Israel can complain and complain about how badly they’re mistreated; yet turn around and stick millions of Palestinians in open air prisons.
    I’m so sick and tired of Jews whining and moaning about being persecuted and playing the victim card all the time. Guess what… only a few select groups of people in this world have never been persecuted at some point in history. GET OVER IT. For decades the Jews have had the most powerful lobby in the US, along with control of the US media. We fund your missile defense system. We attack other countries on your behalf. What else do you want?

    June 11, 2010 at 9:40 am |
    • Gary

      Wow, I want all muslims to get the hell out of Isreal. I want muslims to continue blowing themselves up but to make sure they dont injure and Jews,Christians,Hindus or agnostics like myself while doing so.

      June 11, 2010 at 9:49 am |
  4. Gary

    P.L.O. should release that retarted Isreali soldier and show some compassion.

    June 11, 2010 at 9:16 am |
  5. RodBfromNC

    This is crap-- "pro-Palestinian thoughts=anti-Semitic feelings": Since when does political debate get ruled as anti religious? I guess if you are as powerful as Israel, you can do that.

    June 11, 2010 at 8:42 am |
  6. Dave

    One can sympathize with the Palestinians without being an anti-Semite.

    June 11, 2010 at 3:55 am |
    • Gary

      Dave, one cant sympathize with the Palestinians without having a mental disorder or being pro terrorist...

      June 11, 2010 at 10:09 am |
  7. bazza

    The power of Judaism is tied directly to the existence of a non-state of Israel within the borders of many nations. By setting up a "state" of Israel in the boundaries of a historically Muslim land is paramount to expanding the borders of Greece to enclose all of the former lands of Alexander the Great, including parts of India. How do you think the natives would respond to that?
    Giving in to guilt over the horrific genocide of the European Jews in the second world war was a mistake. Giving a national identity to an issue only can exasperate it.
    Call me anti-semite only if you can think for yourself, without the bias of judeo-christian-islamic ideals.

    June 11, 2010 at 12:36 am |
  8. kittylynn33

    Helen Thomas has blurred the line between legitimate criticism of the Israeli government and anti-antisemitism. The Israel lobby claims that those who criticize Israel are antisemitic (even if they are Jewish), but there is a big difference for most people. Unfortunately, Helen Thomas is the poster-child for what the Israel lobby is talking about. She has not only insulted a lot of people, but more importantly she has given credence to what the right-wing Israel lobby says.

    June 10, 2010 at 11:09 pm |
  9. Gary

    Bob this post is for you ......I hope we continue supporting Isreal and funding its. Army. If supporting Isreal makes muslims in Afganistan,eastern Europe,palestine,Egypt ,Lebanon,Pakastan,Iraq,Malasia,phillipeans,and anywhere else blow each other up it is totally worth it.

    June 10, 2010 at 9:58 pm |
    • Bob

      As I said in a previous post, both sides claim God us in their side. If they're right, they can win without any outside help. Seeking military and financial aid indicates a lack of faith.

      June 11, 2010 at 12:49 pm |
  10. mikeinrichmond

    Well, if it was a question of who was there first, the Jews were in Israel some 1000 years before the Arabs/Pally's. So the Arabs should "go home" right?

    June 10, 2010 at 8:08 pm |
    • Bob

      According to their own account in the Bible, the Jews (Israelites) took the land from the Canaanites, indicating that another Semitic people lived there first.

      Still, as someone who's part native American, I find this whole "who was there first" discussion kind of silly. Should all Americans who don't have American Indian ancestors return to their lands of origin? This is part of the problem – for Israelis born since the early 50's, Israel is their home just as America is home to many non-natives. What's the answer? The most piratical answer is to let them work it out, even if it means war. And for that war, America should only provide weapons to buyers on a cash basis without regard to religion or ideology – no taxpayer-funded aid.

      June 11, 2010 at 1:00 pm |
  11. Reichmann

    Its amazing how Nesenoff thought he could get away with a smear campaign against Thomas. Folks, her comments "where the Jews came from was 125% correct". For those who support CNNs Pro Jew lobby, none of these Communications Majors have a clue. No one asks who was the first person Nesenoff called to start the derailment. CNN picked up the story, didnt ask any questions and we all watched someone be ambushed by the Jews. Nesenoff's interview was the perfect pice of fiction.

    June 10, 2010 at 7:52 pm |
    • mikeinrichmond

      Always has to be a conspiracy huh? He asked a simple question, she gave her opinion, folks didn't like what she said, she quit her job before being fired. In the real world, things like this happen everyday. Guess what, there are no aliens at Roswell, and we really did land on the Moon too...Sorry to burst your bubble.

      June 10, 2010 at 8:14 pm |
  12. Joel Miller

    You can certainly be pro-Palestinian and not anti-semitic. The problem here is Thomas wants to boot Jews out of Israel and send them where? To countries where they no longer belong. Will Germans and Poles willingly return property taken during WWII? What is more, many of them never did belong in those countries. Many Jews around half the Jewish population of Israel trace their roots to Arab countries. And what about the Jews who's families have been living in Israel long before the establishment of Israel in 1948. There has been a Jewish presence there since biblical times. Should all people whose ancestors were immigrants to the US go back to where they came from? And how exactly would you do that if say, your grandmother was Irish and your grandfather Italian? Peace in the Israel-Palestine region won't come about by trying to exterminate one community or another. Thomas is ignorant and deserves to retire.

    June 10, 2010 at 7:18 pm |
    • Kuzma

      Very right comment. Thank you.

      June 10, 2010 at 9:45 pm |
  13. Fred G. Sanford

    The USA is here because we performed the great Genocide of the Indians. This country was founded on Slaughter of Humans....My ancestors were just as cruel as the Nazi's...they didn't use gas chambers, just the Winchesters. Look around you people, it is KILL KILL KILL every place on the Earth is the same. Everybody wants to Rule the World....and killing is the way to the top....and Helen Thoms is an ugly old Bat!

    June 10, 2010 at 6:34 pm |
    • Bob

      "...and Helen [Thomas] is an ugly old Bat!"

      So what does that have to do with anything?

      June 11, 2010 at 1:04 pm |
  14. Cynthia Brogdon

    I find the headline on this report obscene. It was not the Rabbi's question which ended Ms. Thomas career. It was her own commments which ended her career. Why is it that you are making the Rabbi the perpetrator, and Ms. Thomas the victim? Her comments reflect a inherent hatred towards the State of Isreal.

    June 10, 2010 at 6:25 pm |
  15. D Russell

    People defending Zionism see to forget that the israelites were not the original owners of the land now called Israel. The old testament is clear and provides great detail of how the Israelites ethnically cleansed it when they arrived there.

    I am still surprised that no one defending Israel's apartied policies and flouting of international laws has made any comment on the quotations I provided by Israel's founding fathers. Guess I won the debate then.

    PS. Not all jewish people support zionism. Zionism is about creating a Jewish state on all the land between the two great rivers represented on their flag. The problem is that they have no right to do so under international law, or from a moral or ethical perspective.

    June 10, 2010 at 5:49 pm |
    • RodBfromNC

      BINGO! Nail on the head!!!!

      June 11, 2010 at 8:51 am |
  16. Gary

    Wayne Williams was guilty of all the murders .

    June 10, 2010 at 5:28 pm |
    • Fred G. Sanford

      AMEN Bro. He did it just like OJ did it

      June 10, 2010 at 6:47 pm |
  17. Suz

    Not all Jews are Zionists.

    June 10, 2010 at 4:45 pm |
  18. HC

    I don't see this as a freedom of speech issue. Thomas has the right to say anything she likes, as does anyone else. She's not going to jail. This is in reality a case of being responsible for what you say and wlling to bare the ramifications of what you say. If I tell my boss to 'f' off or say something derogatory about my boss' family, I should be responsible for the consequences and not cry about it. Getting fired for what I said does not interfere with my right to say it and my freedom of spreech. For crying out loud, is there no personal responsibility fore ones actions any more?

    June 10, 2010 at 3:03 pm |
  19. Robert

    Rabbi Nesenoff was listed as the World's 2nd Worst Person tonight on MSNBC's Keith Olberman's show for being a hypocrite and posting a video of him impersonating a hispanic person and making racist remarks. They said since Helen Thomas had to give up her job he should have to give up his as a man of god for insulting other god's children.

    June 10, 2010 at 3:01 pm |
  20. Mike in Reston, VA

    I'm not a big fan of helen Thomas, but what crime did she commit that merits her being fired (face it, thats what really happened.. she was invited to retire)? Anti-semitism may be distasteful, but it is not illegal and she has just as much right to voice her opinion of Isreal as others are to voice their's of the Palestinians. It's not like she even claimed the comments were the opinion of Hearst Newspapers.

    June 10, 2010 at 1:35 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.