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. Ali

    I am wondering till when this situation will continue. Whoever critisizes Isreal or just oppose, he is judged and punished. USA supposed to be the biggest democracy on earth and judging this old lady correspondant just because she expressed her opinion. Don't you see USA has lost enough due to its support to Isreal. More than one billion muslims are opposing USA all over the world and US citizens are paying much higher taxes all because of this support.

    June 8, 2010 at 1:57 pm |
  2. Rita Marie

    Helen should realize it was Harry Truman who helped the Jews get their own country post WW2.
    Does she know her history????

    June 8, 2010 at 1:56 pm |
  3. TG

    God Bless Helen Thomas

    June 8, 2010 at 1:56 pm |
  4. Arabes Son Mal Educados

    Interesting that many of you still have the foul odor about yourselves that you subscribe to the notion that Jews control everything. Everything? Are they that intelligent? Let's look at the facts: Muslim World: Kill, kill, kill, not only Jews, but everything and everyone in the western world. This includes YOU AMERICANS that support them. What has the Muslim world contributed to education, science, and civilization? Nothing to education. Nothing to science, and everything destructive to civilization. They are not a civilized group. The Muslims that are peaceful (and there are many), say NOTHING to protest the violence perpetuated by the rest of the Muslim world. Why? Because they know they become targets of Islamofascist murderers. Imagine killing your own people! How effed up is that? And this is what they contribute to planet Earth in 2010. Nice, real nice.

    So now if many of you morons think Jews "control" everything, perhaps you're giving them credit for being an educated bunch who know how to contribute to society instead of trying to tear it down.

    Later, Dude.

    June 8, 2010 at 1:56 pm |
    • Ali

      if you read history, you can see that Osama Bin Laden was US ally, Sadam Hussien Was US Ally, Saudi King, Egyptian government,....etc All of them are supported by the US. Come on, if US didn't create Bin laden, how could they control the whole world and invade Afghanistan, not to get rid of him, because if they wanted they could have caught him from the begining. If US didn't push Saddam to invade Kuwait, in what excuse they could have enterred the Gulf and control the Oil Production. If US didn't create story of Iraqi weapons that were never found, in what excuse they could have invaded Iraq. If US didn't create problems between Gulf countries with Iran, North with South Korea, Taiwan with China, ..... how would they sell their weapons of mass distruction they are manufacturing. If you go and search within most of worlds problems, you will find US interference.

      June 8, 2010 at 2:10 pm |
    • Inthe12

      Thank you, Arabes, for you very intelligent comment. I completely agree with you that if Jews are so powerful, it is no accident. I am not Jewish but have worked and socialized extensively with Jews and there is no other culture for whom I have more respect. Israel has earned its status as a country. Unfortunately if the majority of the world’s population have the same mentality as the people to whom you refer in your post, then we are witnessing the death of western civilization, and I fear for our children.

      June 8, 2010 at 4:00 pm |
  5. Carol

    Let Helen Thomas go live in Syria and let everyone there know she is Lebanese. See what a reaction she would get.
    Time to pack it in Helen.
    You were always a mouthy sarcastic correspondent and showed now respect to the presidents -even though some of them truly weren't worthy of it but for face sake, you could have acted like a lady.

    June 8, 2010 at 1:55 pm |
  6. Woody McBreairty

    So Helen Thomas should lose her job after 50 years of honorable service because a Rabbi was shocked & hurt? This is lunacy. Seems everytime anyone makes a statement cirticizing Israel, they are called an anti Seimite. Last I heard, we still have free speech in Amereica. Israel has a lot to be criticized for, that's why they try to stifle free speech. Many people agree with HT, many people do not. Both sides have their points to make and are free to make them – that is the American way. For them to shamelessly force HT out of her job at nearly 90, after she has served us so well by standing up to Presidents, speaking truth to power and keeping Americans informed of the devious government shenanigans. I honor Helen Thomas for her service. The people who want to stifle hers and others freedom of speech – not so much...

    June 8, 2010 at 1:55 pm |
  7. Steven

    This is BS, quote “There are bigger issues here,” he said, “of anti-Semitism tied into anti-Israel (sentiment).” Israel really harps on the "anti-Semitism" to draw on sentiment and condemning those with differing views. Anyone who steps on Israel's foot is now a racist, bigot with horrible anti-Semitic tendencies.

    June 8, 2010 at 1:53 pm |
    • Nancy Hoffman

      Thats what I mean too. There's a fundamental problem here in the statement that Nesenoff makes calling her anti-Semitic. I have friends that don't like what Israel is doing but they are not anti-Semitic. This is part of the problem.

      June 8, 2010 at 7:58 pm |
  8. Collier

    ...aforementioned comment for badger, by the way...

    June 8, 2010 at 1:53 pm |
  9. Mark M

    WoW can you imagine what would happen if she said this about muslims? she would not only be fired but her life threatend

    June 8, 2010 at 1:53 pm |
    • Inthe12

      D'ya think?? I can just hear the imams calling for a fatwah (sp?) on her.

      June 8, 2010 at 4:04 pm |
  10. CoderJones

    All this uproar over an occupation that america assisted in creating. (remember president truman) Yet not one comment about how america committed genocide on the native american peoples. you're all hypocrites in denial of your own history. IF america can free the slaves – THEN america should teach its prodigy israel how to free the palestinians. Anything less is not humane, it is politically motivated religion – and lets face it religion has murdered more people than any other thing in the history of the cosmos.

    June 8, 2010 at 1:53 pm |
  11. God

    Genesis 35:10-12
    God said to him, "Your name is Jacob, but you will no longer be called Jacob; your name will be Israel." So he named him Israel. And God said to him, "I am God Almighty; be fruitful and increase in number. A nation and a community of nations will come from you, and kings will come from your body. The land I gave to Abraham and Isaac I also give to you, and I will give this land to your descendants after you."

    June 8, 2010 at 1:53 pm |
  12. Chuck Redding

    An earlier comment:
    See many Israeli women and children walking into public spaces and blowing themselves up?

    Of course not. When you have an army and navy, jets, tanks, nuclear weapons, a crack military, and are the number #1 recipient of US foreign aid, why would you need car bombings and mortar shells? Although the Israelis may or may not target Palestinian civilians, they have killed about 5X as many over the last half century. Little reported in in the US press is that the numbers are not even comparable.

    June 8, 2010 at 1:52 pm |
    • Allie

      And why, Chuck, do you think Israel needs to maintain all this military power if not to protect herself from the innocent, peace-loving neighbours. Imagine for a moment she loses her military might... Also, all of you commentators, try to read the other press. You know, the one that covers all the palestinian children who got their health taken care of or even saved by Israeli medical personnel. About Israel's contribution to science, culture. They are trying SO HARD to be a normal country, but somehow they are always in the wrong, even whe they are 100% right. You, people, see what you want to see and turn the blind eye to the reality of the Muslim threat. Israel is their number one scapegoat today, you and your children will be tomorrow.

      June 8, 2010 at 2:31 pm |
    • Allie

      And why, Chuck, do you think Israel needs to maintain all this military power if not to protect herself from the innocent, peace-loving neighbours. Imagine for a moment she loses her military might... Also, all of you commentators, try to read the other press. You know, the one that covers all the palestinian children who got their health taken care of or even saved by Israeli medical personnel. About Israel's contribution to science, culture. They are trying SO HARD to be a normal country, but somehow they are always in the wrong, even whe they are 100% right. You, people, see what you want to see and turn the blind eye to the truth.

      June 8, 2010 at 2:32 pm |
  13. Nancy Ann

    Telling the Jews to go back to Germany and Poland is like giving them a death ticket. Remember people...HELLLOOOO... just 65 years ago Germans were gassing Jews in Germany and Poland.
    Clearly a one eyed half wit could see that this Lebanese woman is a racist.
    Let her go crawl under the rock she came from. It's time for new blood anyway, what is she 120 year old?

    June 8, 2010 at 1:52 pm |
  14. David - Winnipeg, Canada

    Ok, this is a very unfortunate thing to happen at the end of a very honored and storied carreer but...

    Using her logic, the Native Americans and Mexicans are OCCUPIED, aren't they? Should all the Americans go back to Europe?

    The most disconcerting thing here for me is these are not new views and opinions. This person has had them for many many years. They did not all of a sudden pop up out of nowhere for this interview. It shows you the level of Anti-Semitism and Bigotry that is out there, under a very thin veneer of civility.

    How many other people in the public eye have similar views on this and other racial topics? We have no way of knowing till they slip and let it out. Mel Gibson seemed like a nice guy and then the Passion came out and his Anti-semitic views came out huge! He too said he is sorry but the views and bigotted hatred remains.

    Israel is and ever will be. It is not going away. Deal with it and move on. The Arabs have a chance for peace and keep squandering it by their deeds and actions.

    When the Soviets tried to run the US Blockade or Cuba, did the world go into an uproar? No... because it was the EVIL EMPIRE and Nuclear Warheads. Israel has the same right to protect itself from weapons being sent into the Gaza Strip as the US had to prevent Warheads from being placed in Cuba. If the Soviets had not turned back, there WOULD HAVE BEEN WAR! There would have been confrontation and there would have been deaths. The so called activists(sic) on the ship that attacked the Isaeli Soldiers got what they deserved, as would anyone that thinks they can attack people with guns and not get shot at!

    The rise in Anti-Semitism in the world shows that the world view, although on the outside saying they want peace, only wants to continue that which caused the Jewish people to wander aimlessly across the known world looking for a place to rest their hats. As soon as the developed a community, they were expelled and had to start over elsewhere, where the cycle continued.

    Israel means that will never happen again. It's whereit all started when the Jews were expelled from Israel to start with. The Jews were there for Centuries before they were thrown out so the argument about the Palastinians being there first means NOTHING!

    As a matterof fact there was no Palastinian Question till after the Arab world attacked Israel in 1967 and lost all the land that they had claimed for thier own countries! Jordan held EEast Jerusalem, not the Palastinians, Syria the Golan Heights, Egypt the Sinai and so on. DId they EVER try and give it to their so called Palastinian Brethern for a land of their own? NO! They made them refugees in the land they are now saying was theirs to start with.

    I am sorry that Helen Thomas ended her carreer with a black mark, but the feelings and hatred that caused it were there all along so all that has happened is, she showed her true colors and paid the price for her bigotry and hatred.

    June 8, 2010 at 1:51 pm |
    • Dr Hope

      Well said David...there is some rational in Canada!
      Why the world is so caught up in this tiny bit of land is mind boggling...may be prophetic!

      June 8, 2010 at 2:01 pm |
  15. Human

    I don't know what religion has to do with the citizenship of a country. We can not change the past, now the fact is that Jews, muslims, christians all live in Israel/Palestine. I am an ahmadi muslim, and i think now jews living in that part of the world have as much right to live as any muslim or christian has. If you have any differences, try to reconcile by talking to each other and this won't happen until common people build trust with each other. Live in peace, give respect and take respect. Apart from few religious differences, jews, muslims, and christians have a lot in common, specially the color of their blood.

    June 8, 2010 at 1:51 pm |
  16. Tim

    Here is another clip from the good Rabbi. Is this racist?


    June 8, 2010 at 1:50 pm |
  17. Erky

    The woman is old. Old people say stuff, give her a break for God's sake.
    Furthermore, it's hypocricy when you're allowed to say the Mexicans should return to Mexico, but there is this unwritten rule about God's chosen people. This rule is enforced by both nut job Christians from the right, and the academic "thugs" from the left.

    June 8, 2010 at 1:49 pm |
  18. iphone

    hey guys, I am announcing a new difinition of" freedom of speech" , please do not include "israel" or "jews" in any of it!!!!!!!!!

    June 8, 2010 at 1:48 pm |
  19. 4U

    She was actually right, but chose the wrong place to express her opinion.
    So much for freedom of speech.

    June 8, 2010 at 1:48 pm |
  20. thomas

    palestine was never a country!!!it was all made up,please study history!!!

    June 8, 2010 at 1:47 pm |
    • Tim

      Neither was Israel.

      June 8, 2010 at 1:51 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.