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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. MAJEED

    Where is the freedom of speech? Isn’t it true that the so-called Freedom of speech ends where Jews Start? The state of Israel is NOT divine yet we are so scared and so controlled that a personal opinion washes away everything. I think no one can do anything to them. They control our Media, Finances and the Economy not the last OUR White House

    June 8, 2010 at 12:29 pm |
  2. Hollander

    Amazing how Israel gets all this attention from the world while China, Iran etc torture people daily, killing them etc. You people don't care. YOU ARE ALL HYPOCRITS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    June 8, 2010 at 12:29 pm |
  3. Matt

    I live in America and I can express my opinion freely. This is America all about. She answered a question as honest as she can in street not in White House (i.e. it was obvious she has been framed), than pretending like many other million people about the fact and reality of how Israel created and what are their actions towards Israel Arabs as well as Palestinians. This is not about Jewish people, but about Israel government and their continuous violation of humanity and many fundamentals. In a way I want to separate Jewish people from Israel actions, even majority of people living presently are Jewish religion.

    In case of Helen, it is very sad story, since she had right to express her opinion, she did not lost her job because her opinion, but Israel lobbies in US which forcing everything. I also I do not like to label people as their religious, but what they do. Many Jewish live in America, Canada, Europe and Middle East. They support their country, but not very supportive of Israel continuous violation of human rights.

    What strange is that we can comment about our president in any way, but any comments about Israel we loose our job or get complicated? Can somebody answer that?

    June 8, 2010 at 12:29 pm |
    • Howard Markowitz

      I can answer that. Her boss felt that her comments showed an extraordinary bias that would not let her do her job properly. A journalist needs to be objective as possible and not interject their own opinions, even when asked. She chose to answer the question by making a point and now has to face the consequences, fair or not. The Rabbi is a jerk, as he got an honest answer and now wants an apology because he didn't like it?

      June 8, 2010 at 4:52 pm |
  4. ellenln

    she spoke the truth .... israel is like the 5000 pound elephant in the room .... about time we quit tiptoeing around it

    June 8, 2010 at 12:29 pm |
  5. Mark

    She said nothing but the truth ... god bless her

    June 8, 2010 at 12:28 pm |
  6. Reason

    So let me get this straight. Because one person said that a group of people shouldn't be occupying another group of people and that they should leave. This one person is antisemitic? How does that work?

    June 8, 2010 at 12:28 pm |
  7. T Sternmann

    Israel needs to withdraw to the pre-1967 war borders. Until she does that, there will not be peace because she occupies a foreign country

    June 8, 2010 at 12:28 pm |
  8. robbm

    let's remember this woman is getting on in years. her faculties may be going. also, she's been reporting on this and other issues forever. maybe like everyone else in this world, she is sick and tired of the "middle east crap" that has been going on for years which puts the U.S. in the middle and puts us in peril from every militant muslim. also, the political correctness that pervades every aspect of the media is in of itself "yellow journalism". you can't be objective because you can't ever offend the sensibilities of any race, religion or political group. she owes no one an apology. she gave an opinion. the rabbi didn't like it and he calls for her head and her job. that's why the jews and arabs can't get along. there is no gray–only black and white.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:28 pm |
  9. ellenln

    she spoke the truth ... israel is like the 5000 lb. elephant in the room

    it's about time to quit tip toeing around it

    June 8, 2010 at 12:27 pm |
  10. nymomof3

    To be pro-Palestinian or dare I say Against ISRAEL's ILLEGAL OCCUPATION OF PALESTINIAN LAND & ISRAELI agression does not make one Anti-Semetic or Anti-Jewish!! If you stand up against Isreali's crimes you are anti-Jewish??? NO – you are a person of CONSCIENCE! You can put down Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims and okay – but DARE question Israel??? ISRAEL is doing to the Palestinians what Germans did to the Jews. YET the world thinks it's okay because they were once victims.

    People: ARABS are SEMITES ...learn some history....

    June 8, 2010 at 12:27 pm |
  11. KR

    A pathetice old women? I'm always amazed how people who have never accomplished anything have to demoralize those who have to feel empowered. You'll be old someday too and probably more pathetic.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:26 pm |
  12. May

    We have tolerated and encouraged the occupation of a nation by another nation. That is wrong of all of us. There are places in this world where people can live relatively free, without 'occupying' or 'dominating' another. It is time for Isreal to leave Palestine alone. Period.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:26 pm |
  13. Annette

    She has been thinking that all these years and finally got caught. I think she sould go back to her country and leave the US.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:25 pm |
    • Maggie

      She was born in Kentucky you MORON......only one state over from yours.....Dumbtucky!!

      June 8, 2010 at 3:13 pm |
  14. HCL

    I'm not a fan of Israel at the moment, the human rights violations are completely astounding, and to think that they go unheard. This is Orwell's Nationalism, to quote, "The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them." While I do think that they have a right to defend themselves, they are going beyond that and expanding into Palestinian land. While I don't agree with Helen Thomas, I do think that Israel has crossed the line, America is funding these activities and it needs to stop. At the same time we need to get a hold of what we're doing in the Middle East and re evaluate the morality and effectiveness of it all.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:25 pm |
  15. Sam

    Helen Thomas was not being antisemitic!! She was just making an argument that many prominent figures back in the formation of the Jewish state had. Its a valid argument, considering all the fighting going on over there. Do I think it was something that is going to happen ... No but nevertheless a point worth making. Especially in light of the recent actions Israel has taken! I love Jews and to stop the fighting I wouldn't mind them coming to north America if it saves lives. Helen Thomas has led a great career and deserves better! Journalism as a whole has become something ugly and the opposite of what it was intended to do. NOW Cnn, ABC, MSNBC can go back to reporting about Lindsey Lohan or Megan Fox to sell some more commercial time, I'll be tuning in somewhere else.....

    June 8, 2010 at 12:25 pm |
  16. Serge Crespy, Collingwood, ON

    DISCLAIMER – PLEASE NOTE: June 8th, 2010 at 12:03 p.m. comment signed as Serge is NOT by Serge Crespy, Collingwood, ON ...... This is NOT my comment; Thank-You .... I have learned a lesson; that is, not to identify myself, in future.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:25 pm |
  17. mdn

    You are not anti-Semetic simply because you are for the liberation of the Palestinian people. Unfortunately, the Zionists have effectively convinced Americans that any form of criticism directed at Jewish people or Israel is equivalent to anti-Semitism and must be swiftly punished. Let us also remember that the European Jews are Not Semitic.

    Helen Thomas has done this country a great service by asking those in power the important and relevant questions of the time. Her punishment for telling the truth only serves to warn others of the power of the Zionist lobby.

    Helen Thomas deserves credit and honor for being courageous enough to tell the truth despite the consequences. America applaudes her and her service.

    It is amazing how 15 million Jewish people can control, to their delight, the other 350 million or so Christians in the country. You've got to give them credit. They are smarter, stronger and more resourceful.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:25 pm |
    • Selfish Gene

      It is not difficult to outwit the witless. x-tians must think they are all going to convert to fundies. maybe build a new wing on the mega church.

      June 8, 2010 at 12:35 pm |
  18. dave

    the Palestinians are Semitic people -

    Only a minority of the Jews in Isreal can say their grandparents were born there. Most of the Jews in Isreal are there b/c the Palestinian land was stolen by Zionists in 1948. In 1948 some Jews in Isreal wanted to force the Palestinians out, some Jews wanted them to stay in a Jewish state, and some Jews wanted to push the Palestinians out - without getting caught at it. That is why you hear stories like "we told them to stay, but they ran away" or Arabs ordered them out to make it easier to invade. The Jews fired mortars into Palestinian civilians. Begin and the Irgun were terrorists who bombed civilians. In linguistics and ethnology, Semitic (from the Biblical "Shem", Hebrew: שם, translated as "name", Arabic: ساميّ) was first used to refer to a language family of largely Middle Eastern origin, now called the Semitic languages. This family includes the ancient and modern forms of Akkadian, Amharic, Arabic, Aramaic, Ge'ez, Hebrew, Maltese, Phoenician, Tigre and Tigrinya among others.

    As language studies are interwoven with cultural studies, the term also came to describe the extended cultures and ethnicities, as well as the history of these varied peoples as associated by close geographic and linguistic distribution.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:25 pm |
    • Howard Markowitz

      Wrong! Land was not stolen.
      The land of Israel was conquered by the Romans and then by the Ottoman Empire. There was never a nation of Palestine. It was a province in teh Roman Empire. As the Ottoman Empire waned in power, Turk citizens bought the land and slowly sold it off to European Jews who were looking to escape persecution. After WWII, Britain held soverneighty over the land and from pressure from the UN agreed to make it the country of Israel. So in all ways 'lawfully', the land belongs to the people who purchased it and were granted soverneignty as a nation. And oh BTW, through sweat and determination, the Israelis have turned a desert into an oasis and properous land.

      June 8, 2010 at 4:39 pm |
  19. Fernando

    Helen Thomas was just trying to protect the people from Israel.
    They are always telling the entire World how many terrorist are trying to kill them, how all the countries around them are trying to destroy them, how nobody in the region likes them... moving to Europe seems like an excellent advice. They can live a much relax life over there.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:23 pm |
  20. WJH

    Yet further proof that religion ruins everything. The sooner people drop religion, the better off this world will be.

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

      Agreed. As much as we think we have advanced, we barely have. Most people are as insecure about the world as they were 5,000 years ago. They need myth to give them comfort. We can only hope that someday that our actions are guided by science, reason and the desire to act like decent human beings.

      June 8, 2010 at 4:36 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.