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. Russ

    Given how journalism today has digressed much into sensationalized, opinionated media – I'm surprised why Helen Thomas is villified for her comments. Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with her views, she's doing no worse than half the evening cable news anchors do on a nightly basis – expressing their opinions on a subject.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:53 pm |
  2. Christian

    The Jews were given their land because the white Europeans could not live along side them even after they tried to kill us all. If the Germans felt so badly about what they done then why didn't they give them a piece of Germany??? Giving other peoples land away is very easy ( even if we have a rightful claim to it! ). The only way to advance in honesty and peace in Israel is to take back our Israel from the European Jews and get some real Jewish blood in government.
    Anybody who feels "Jewish but from Europe" can go back there and stay until the next holocaust.
    Its time to free Israel from the impure children of Moses. Our blood has become thin from all the mixing with the white race. There problems have become our problems. Look at our brothers from Ethiopia even today they stand by us. We have become mental, forgetting about our heart and the truth of the fields and joys that where given to us.
    We are not Muslims, we are also different from the Palestinians, but we are MUCH more distant from the white man. We have to learn to embrace our Palestinian neighbours and listen less to the European and North American man. They meddle in everything with a poison in their heart, namely their mind. They have never been pure of heart always scheming on how to abuse people from distant lands while having their families "back home" in peace and in great living comfort.
    The people that are running Israel now are in-league with these people. Israel will prevail only if it goes with the will of god, and that's not the will of the North Americans of Europeans.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:53 pm |
  3. God

    Genesis 12:1-3

    1 The LORD had said to Abram, "Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you.

    2 "I will make you into a great nation
    and I will bless you;
    I will make your name great,
    and you will be a blessing.

    3 I will bless those who bless you,
    and whoever curses you I will curse;
    and all peoples on earth
    will be blessed through you."

    June 8, 2010 at 12:52 pm |
    • LAURA J

      What is the penalty for speaking for or impersonating God?

      June 8, 2010 at 1:08 pm |
    • darp

      thats the sound the bible makes when you thump it

      June 8, 2010 at 1:27 pm |
  4. Mike

    I just want to point out that all the decades of fighting over that desert is ridiculous and is at the heart of much of the pain and misery suffered by everyone else in the entire world. I wish we could allocate land approximately the size of Israel/Palestine in the US and offer it to one or the other; whomever takes us up on the offer first. Getting those two groups the heck away from each other may help them chill out!

    June 8, 2010 at 12:52 pm |
  5. Debby

    SHAME ON A CHRISTIAN LEBANESE to have supported terrorist thus far. Yes Helen is a christian Lebanese who should go back to her country, which does not exist anymore since Fatach and Yasser Araffat in the 60's massacred all the christians and the world stood still. What a horrible woman with no sense of humanity even to her own kind. Go home Helen and don't ever open your mouth, silly woman.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:51 pm |
  6. Ficheye

    To people who post lies about TRANS JORDAN: You need to read the rest of the history before telling half truths. The Jews were allowed to immigrate into Palestine for a short period BEFORE the holocaust. They were also involved in ILLEGAL immigration onto the area for a long time, even though the british WHITE PAPERS, which barred them from the area, were in effect. So the jews, running from the holocaust, continued to come into Palestine. I can understand someone running from certain death, but in the final analysis they were the one who started a lot of the original problem by going somewhere that they weren't wanted... then, eventually, treating the arabs like dogs. READ THE WHOLE HISTORY before calling people anti semites. It's long and convoluted. The British killed arabs. The Russians killed jews. The jews immigrated illegally. Should they have a state there after all of that? Maybe. But they got busy agitating the arabs as well. THEY ARE AT FAULT and deserve half the blame for the situation at the very least.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:51 pm |
    • Texan

      So the Jews that were escaping certain death in the gas chambers came to their ancestorial homeland weren't wanted? Who gave Britain the right to tell anybody where they belong? Ask the Argentinians in the Faulklins, or the people in the Bahama's if they belong in the UK? Maybe Britian shouldn't have carved up the middle east and separated cultural tribes after WWII and created new countries because of their oil theft. The Jews have proven rights to their land as written in the bible and koran. Jesus Christ was NOT lilly white like you, and he was Jewish; as was his mother too. The Jewish religion is 5,770 years old, Christianity 2010, and mulim 1,500. History is on the Jew's side.

      June 8, 2010 at 1:29 pm |
    • Ficheye

      TEXAN: So, the burning question, genius, is.... why weren't the Jews living there before all of that? Before the war, I mean? There was a small population there, but they had their butts kicked in many, many conflicts before that time and had migrated to other countries. You are a christian apologist for the jews, that much is clear. When the end comes you are supposed to save some jews and kill the rest. Weird. What you say about the British is true, but your other extrapolations are based on your 'beliefs', which are a basic suspension of reality. There is no heaven, there is no god, Jesus was misquoted and he also believed in reincarnation, which Origen thought wise to not include in the scriptures. Nice.

      June 8, 2010 at 1:41 pm |
    • E. Saab

      Agitating the Arabs? Are you for real? In 1948 the Jews dealing with Britain ACCEPTED a two-state solution. The Palestinians fled AFTER the new state of Israel was attacked by her Arab neighbors. Read your history dude!

      June 8, 2010 at 2:59 pm |
  7. 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. We the tax payers in the United States are paying for these!
    It looks like you can have free speech in the United States. But when it is about Israel it has to be approved by Conservatives who support Israel Blindly!

    June 8, 2010 at 12:51 pm |
  8. summarex

    Thomas was wrong to apologize and wrong to resign. By doing so she allowed this Jewish bully to do to her what he his cohorts have been doing to the rest of Americans for years – shaming and threatening them into silence. Enough of this daily shakedown.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:51 pm |
  9. LAURA J

    Classless on both sides; she for saying what she did so tactlessley and the good Rabbi for publishing it from the mouth of an 89 year old woman at the end of her time. Shame on both, but more on him. It served nothing more than to end ingloriously a very storied career of Ms. Thomas and engender much ill will for Judaism and Israel. Fabulous accomplishment Rabbi, fabulous.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:50 pm |
  10. Forgiveness Is REAL

    Pro-freedom, you are to be respected with the right to rebuke "Dru" for expressing another opinion; however, your reference to "With you logic, ...would someone who would say anything against David Berkowitz...serial killer be considered anti-semitic, simply because he is a Jew?" is inaccurate. On his own personal web site, the convicted killer aka "Son of Sam" provides testimony that forgiveness is real (at least to him) as he is now a Christian. Helen Thomas said in her response that she regreted what she said, which to most people means she is seeking forgiveness. So she blew it. Who hasn't? Should it cost her a career? Ask her! Do her personal beliefs outweigh her public statement where she called for peace, mutual respect for both Israeli and Palestinian citizens and their families and their heritage? Ask her! What logic does hatred apply? None. What logic does someone apply who has been forgiven? They apply their own personal testimony. I expect Mrs. Thomas to not go quietly into the twilight of life. Who knows? She might become special envoy to help George Mitchell mediate for peace in the Middle East. Forgive and forget. Love your enemies, not just your friends.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:50 pm |
  11. Collier

    Jbmar and Roger, sometimes simplistic thinking and unilateral intellectualizing affords us the dangerous luxury of blindness in dealing with concepts that involve issues of dire injustice. When we accept such, it sometimes calls for a complete restructuring of previous idealogical constructs.

    Frankly, if someone were to come into a house that had been mine and my family's from time immemorial, told me I could no longer walk in my own gardens, could no longer provide for my children financially in my own town, and had to eat the scraps from the bottom of my refrigerator, I might consider something more substantial than missile-fire and "terrorism" to eject them. This is not a question of Pro-Israel or Pro-Palestian ideological absolutes. This is about the survival of a people–Palestinians–for whom survival should never have been an issue. Desperation and heartbreak are at issue here. When you take a people's reason to live, and inch by horrible inch, you take their hope, their joy, their feeling of safety, they resort to whatever they must to survive. That is why the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is unwinnable. There must be justice, or there will be nothing left to fight for–no land, no people, no posterity. The blood will eventually run out, both Israeli and Palestinian. Period.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:50 pm |
  12. jb

    i have read many comments on here that suggest the following: "why is it that when someone criticizes Israel it is considered anti-semitic?"

    i would like to address that question with this response..."why is it when most people criticize Israel they refer to the people behind Israel's policies as the Jews"

    There are Israelis and there are Jews, and they are not always the same. Israeli Arabs exist, as do American Jews. When people refer to the Jews being behind Israeli policy that seems to suggest that they are referring to all Jews in the world, even the ones that do not live in Israel.

    Perhaps if they would like people to stop thinking that those who criticize Israel are anti-semitic maybe they should stop referring to the Jews in their critiques and maybe use the words "Israeli politicians". You would never hear someone criticizing American policy saying "the Christians are responsible for..."

    As for Helen Thomas' comments. If she wants to say Israel is occupying "Palestine" then that is her opinion, BUT when she suggests that all the Jews leave Israel and go back home (even though Israel is the home of the Jewish people way before 1948) to Poland and Germany (places where millions of Jews were gathered and murdered) then her ignorance and anti-semitic is portrayed. She didn't say the Israelis should leave Israel, she said the Jews should leave and go back to places where they were brutally murdered. Anyone with a rational mind would see a problem with these statements. The problem was't her view on the so called "occupation" it was what she said afterwards.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:49 pm |
    • Norma M

      I'm not suggesting anyone move back to Germany or Poland, but I don't think these countries as they exist today would be considered places that would murder anyone coming from Israel and HT wasn't suggesting that either.

      However Israel today is taking over and continuing to build new settlements on Palestinian land. So when the state of Israel was created many Palestinians lost their homes and they are continuing to be evicted and lose their homes today. This is in addition to the isolation they have created for the people living in Gaza.

      This is not against all the people of Israel, but the controlling government. Just as many of us here in the US would rather not be associated with George Bush/Dick Cheney and the things they did, I'm sure many people in Israel feel the same about what their government is doing.

      June 8, 2010 at 4:52 pm |
  13. HCL

    Seriously.... This is the type of stuff I expect from an uneducated fool... Stop trolling

    June 8, 2010 at 12:49 pm |
  14. John

    If you want peace in the middle east tell the americans to get out of palistine (and that includes their money) and force all the people of palistine to live in peace or not - it is their choice.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:49 pm |
  15. Debby

    HELEN AS A LEBANESE WHY DON'T YOU GO BACK TO LEBANON!!!! Or are you afraid that as a christian the muslims will kill you???????

    June 8, 2010 at 12:48 pm |
    • Lorie

      Why don't you go back to Europe? ..the America's don't belong the the white people........

      June 8, 2010 at 2:17 pm |
  16. robbm

    let's cut this woman some slack. first, she's getting on in years. her faculties may not be what they once were. second, she gave her opinion to a fellow journalist. since it didn't coincide with his own beliefs, he calls for her head and job and an apology. that is yellow journalism. i for one am sick of 60 years of the jews and arabs inability to act like grown ups. i'm also fed up with political correctness run rampant. you can't express an opinion that offends some people's sensibilities without backlash personally and professionally.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:48 pm |
  17. Jane

    you are correct! Let's talk about taking responsibility. And how the manner in which stories are written up can influence – often wrongly – people's thinking.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:48 pm |
  18. Joe

    She gave her personal opinion regarding the issue of Palestine. Whether one agrees to her or not, it is her personal opinion. She does not need to lose her job due to it. It has become very difficult in this country to voice any opinion that is critical of Israel. Such opinions are automatically termed anti-semitic. But if you go and engage in diatribes against Palestines then it will be all quiet on the western front. I think it is time that American people stood up and said that people need to have the right to voice their opinions.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:48 pm |
    • LID

      Actually, I think what is happening is quite the opposite. For the first time in a long time it has become ok to openly defend the Jews or their state. Historically, when this happens the "majority" can't deal with that, because traditionally jews are always expected to bow their head and beg for their bread and if they refuse they are persecuted. Well, not this time! The Jews have a county and it's a first world country with technology and educated people and the world will finally have to think twice before they can bully the Jewish people.

      June 8, 2010 at 12:59 pm |
  19. YaYa sisterhood

    What a hideous looking woman. The stuff that nightmares are made of. The lipstick doesn't help either. In the end, her visage apparently reflects her inner "beauty".

    June 8, 2010 at 12:48 pm |
    • LAURA J

      what stunning intellectual commentary and exactly what she had to fight against her entire profesional life. If you are femaile, shame on you.

      June 8, 2010 at 12:54 pm |
  20. Khaled Anntar

    So is anyone expressing his views about the State of Israel considered an Anti-Semitic and a Jew Hater? P . S!!! The American Jews supporters of the Terrorist State of Israel will need to stop this nonsense. They need to focus and approve if Israel is a truly a peace loving and friendly country and not chase and hunt for anyone who voice a view that's exposes the State of Israel and its supporters. That's considered intimidation. That's what the pro-Israeli lobby and supporters of Israel have been doing in the US, to initimidate and demonise anyone who dare criticize the rogue State of Israel. The truth remains as clear as the sun, the more Israeli lobby and supporters try to defend Israel for its heinous crimes, the more Israel is hated for what it is doing, not for who are the Israeli are and what religion they belong to. It is the wicked and corrupt ideologies that bring the downfall of nations and not their religious backgrounds.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:48 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.