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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. SC

    What ever happened to freedom of speech? She never condemned Israel or its people. All she did was state her opinion and not only that but a widely held opinion expressed by many people. Only reason this is even a story is because of the Jewish controlled media outlets who quickly oust anyone not pro Israel. Just because we live in America, doesnt mean we have to side with the American governments view on Israel and their relationship. Her comments werent anit semetic at all just her honest opinion on a subject that has alot of differing but heart felt opinions. If she said the Palestinians should give up and go back "home"...nobody would care and she would still have her job. Another frustrating case of how biased our media outlets are.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:14 pm |
  2. Maggie

    Rabbi Nessenoff has to educate himself a bit more......IT IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR HELEN THOMAS TO BE ANTI SEMETIC.......Because she herself is a SEMITE!!! She comes from the same region as the jews........He should have said she is ANTI ZIONIST MOVEMENT......

    June 8, 2010 at 12:14 pm |
  3. Sara

    I think it's garbage that she retired. She's right on her first point, Israel NEEDS to get out of the west bank and gaza if peace is what they want. The second part about the Jews going back to where they came from is obviously a distasteful comment. But honestly, how come we can't have an honest debate about the issues with someone standing up and saying "well, the holocaust happened and you're being anti-semitic". No I'm not anti-semitic if I criticize Israel, sorry. Just like I'm not unpatriotic if I criticize America.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:14 pm |
    • meshearin

      Amen! I feel exactly the same, but you said it better!

      June 8, 2010 at 1:14 pm |
  4. Dennis

    Good point. Lay the blame on the person asking the question, when it it the answer that started this whole thing. I think the elderly need to think before they speak. It seems that most old people say whatever they want & then use age as an excuse.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:13 pm |
  5. dan

    I guess only Jews have the right to free speech in America! Being critical of Isreal is not racist! Can no one voice an opinion in favor of the Palestinians plight???

    June 8, 2010 at 12:13 pm |
    • Ben

      I believe in freedom of speech as well. I also believe in fairness – where everything, including land shoudl be divided equally. Let's take the whole of middle each, the countries which now make up: Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia and divide then in half between Jews and Arabs. The leftmost half would be Jewish (somewhere form the mediterranian to the border between Iran and Iraq as well as 1/2 of Saudi Arabia. And the other 1/2 will go to the Arabs.

      THis is only fair, isn't it?

      June 8, 2010 at 1:41 pm |
  6. chrisbiller

    It's intersting to read the anti semetic comments, and the pro Isreali comments, and then Helen Thomas.Shelfbrought this on. She became the story, and that is the first no no in journalism. But regarding Colllirs comments about the "civil" rights in Palistine. Palistianian, and civil rights in the same breath is a little strange( Munich). The people whom they blow up have no rights.Correct?Then there is JuleS who is so couragious writing on the computer.I don't always agree with the Isrealis because they have caused a lot of the problems in the middle east. I admire their courage to fight, and their determination to protect their homeland. Entebbe, how can you not admire their courage. The massacer in Munich, committed by Palitinian,Remember that JuleS?So there is blame to go around. The Jews in this country are an embarrasment to their faith, and the State of Isreal, and they will have to live with that.So those of you who are suppoting Helen Thomas, good for you, but I know this will sound crul,and it's ment to be, Im glad the hag is gone.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:13 pm |
  7. CATOm

    Lets all be honest. Her "career" was over fourty years ago and she was a novelty at best. Not a serious journalist by any stretch of imagination. She is like the 3-legged dog that everyone feels sorry for. Funny thing is she looks like she has some eastern european or even jewish background with that hugh nose. Typical self-hating liberal.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:13 pm |
  8. Jnan R. Saha

    Helen Thomas said it right. 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 in Palestinian lands.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:11 pm |
  9. James Worthy

    Guess she hated Jews all along; very sad way to end her career.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:10 pm |
  10. cj

    helen thomas said the one thing that people in the western world, or at least the usa, are not allowed to say today which is that Israel has lost (if it ever had) its moral high ground. Israel is a bully and the usa supports it without question. What americans do not understand is that it is possible to believe that Israel's government is wrong in its treatment of the palistinians and also, to not be an anti-semite. It is not anti jewish to say that Israel is doing terrible things to innocent people.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:10 pm |
  11. Samuel

    Oh come on.....she just wanted to retire and write some silly book.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:10 pm |
  12. carl

    My father, a Jew, told me that during the first world war, the Germans felt betrayed by the Jews and the Treaty of Versailles. He also told me that the jews declared an economic war on Germany and that the night of Kristallnacht was due to a young kid who killed some German in Paris.

    He also told me we were blamed for all of this and that even though we deserved none of it, that the books never talked badly about Jewish people because they were afraid that another Holocaust might happen. He said if the Jews had not tried to control the economy of Germany, like they are doing in the US, the millions that died would still be alive.

    History is going to judge what has happened,. i hope the Jews of today have learned theirs.

    Is Israel worth a world war? Not for me. Shalom.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:10 pm |
    • Pro-freedom

      Very good points.

      June 8, 2010 at 12:22 pm |
    • Howard Markowitz

      Yeah, me and my Jew friends meet every Monday night at my house to discuss economic takeover.

      June 8, 2010 at 4:22 pm |
  13. kim

    Once again the truth is shunned.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:09 pm |
  14. nando

    What happened to freedom of speech in this country. I did not hear anything hateful in her answer. She stated her opinion on the matter and the last time I checked that isn't a crime in this country. You don't have to agree with her answer but she has the right to speak her mind. That's what makes this country great and when people have to worry about losing their job for saying something that others don't agree with, it makes this country worse. All I know is that if someone came to my home and then tried to kick me out of it I would fight for it too! Everyone should really think about that.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:09 pm |
  15. Jeff

    She was asked her opinion and gave it. Remember free speech? People disagreed with her so she lost her job after decades of hard work. That's intolerance too.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:09 pm |
  16. Tim

    This jack a** rabbi thinks that he is owed an apology from Yoda. If I were her I would tell him to suck it. Why should she apologize for her opinion. If you don't like someone's opinion then ignore it. Screw him and the 2 boys with him. If you are not ready for answers, don't ask the questions.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:09 pm |
    • hampster

      I agree with you 100%. Send the Rabbi back to Israel.

      June 8, 2010 at 12:16 pm |
    • meshearin

      LOVE IT! Wish Ms. Thomas could see some of the support for her out here. It must be hard to be in the center of such a broo-ha-ha!

      June 8, 2010 at 1:10 pm |
  17. LEE

    "It seems that opinions that are in any way supportive of Palestinian civil rights are also considered anti-Semitic. " I TOTALLY AGREE WITH IGOR!!!!!!! L

    June 8, 2010 at 12:08 pm |
  18. Sniffit

    Yawn. Knit-picky semantic games from a whiner. Big suprise here. CNN is as pro-Israel in-the-pockets-of-AIPAC as the rest of the country, politicians and media.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:07 pm |
  19. Wayne Schmand

    The question did end her career. Another instance of America's intollerance for different viewpoints. What did her in was she did not give the expected or correct answer. Don't ask people questions if the answers offend you.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:07 pm |
  20. cj185358

    Many make the argument that this is like telling all blacks to go back to Africa, but you can look at the other side of the coin also. If a Muslim or any other religion claimed New England, the West Coast, or any other area in the U.S. their holy land, would we give it to them? Would we as Americans fight to keep our land, even though it is their holy land? I believe that Americans would never stand for it, and tell them to pack their bags, and fight them until they left. I am pro- Israel, but I believe that if they had wanted land after WWII, maybe they should have taken it from Germany, and not take land that had been settled for centuries by an ethnic group. Just think about it from both sides of the coin. Technically, Israel is not their home. They moved there from Poland, Germany, the United States. Their homes....

    June 8, 2010 at 12:06 pm |
    • Rachel

      To all the people who keep saying that Israel was not the home of Jews: there were Jews living there long before there were Christians or Muslims - and they continued to live there until the present day. Yes, many were scattered; but many remained. Furthermore, many Jews who lived in neighboring areas moved to and settled what is now Israel; and Arabs followed. So, most of the "refugees" had only lived there for a few years when (as happened in many cases) they chose to leave their homes.

      June 8, 2010 at 1:41 pm |
    • Pro

      Palestine belongs to Palestinians,regardless of their religion. Any who quotes Exodus from the Bible is quoting Torah which was included in the Old testament. Imagine God promising His chosen people, Jews, a promised land so much so that He y came down from heaven or wherever, only to personally deliver the two engraved stone tablets of Ten Commandments to Moses. it is recorded by the Jews in their scripture Torah. The God must be Jew too as He observed Sabbath in creation story recorded in Genesis. It is Judaic Mythology. Hinduism is based on Mythologies too. Think before responding.

      June 8, 2010 at 1:55 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.