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. Dean

    Not sure what to say, but think about it from a different point view, is'nt this what Israel have been saying all along for almost 80 years? whey Helen defended her people she become an outcast. this just goes to show you how corrupted the media is and how it is controlled by Jews. I have nothing agains Jews, but I agree with Helen, they need to go back and leave our Palestinian land to the lawfull owner of the land "Palestinians" and not Jews. if someone tells me to go back home I would not get affended, UNLESS I'm lawfully staying in my home land, and the Jews are not. Poland, Germany, US, whatever maybe is their home land and not Palestine.

    June 8, 2010 at 11:44 am |
    • Howard Markowitz

      The land of Israel was conquered by the Romans and then by the Ottoman 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 3:21 pm |
  2. jbmar1312

    collier, the Palestiians would garner more support if Hamas would stop firing rockets into stop calling for Israel's distruction.

    June 8, 2010 at 11:43 am |
    • badger5079

      The Zionists would garner support from the entire world if they obeyed the law and withdrew to the 1967 borders, leaving the Palestinians to live in their own sovereign state of Palestine.

      June 8, 2010 at 1:38 pm |
      • thomas

        no such place called palestine,it was the arabs who pushed the so-called palestinenines off their own land,so blame the arabs,to this day the arabs do not like them,jusst using them for thier own benefit

        June 8, 2010 at 1:50 pm |
      • Collier

        ...ahem...finally someone with strength of foresight, simplicity of word, and steel of spine...now then...on to the raw nature of truth...

        June 8, 2010 at 1:50 pm |
    • Jonah

      FYI Hamas didnt make homemade rockets till early 2000's :)....after Israelis did massacre after another kicked 2millions palestinians from their homes. read history...Israel simply occupies Palestinian lands is the last imperialist country there's, and pakesttinians are going through worse times than the South African blacks did or even black Americans, From blockades, to torture, killings on daily basis, destroying homes and building settlments from jews who come from all over the world to settle....again truth hurts.

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

    Good riddens. She was becoming an embarrassment for the Press Corp anyways.

    June 8, 2010 at 11:43 am |
  4. Daniel Solow

    This has nothing to do with free speech. If a professional sounds off in such an offensive way, their employer has every right to fire them. She's not getting locked up, and frankly, it was probably time to retire anyway.

    As for the antisemitism, the comment about "going home" to Germany and Poland is way too far. Go home to the countries that oversaw the slaughter of most of your people's population. No thanks. I don't agree with Israel's actions in Palestine (for that matter I don't agree with Palestine's actions either), but telling the Jews to "go home" is messed up. These people have defended their country against Arab aggressors twice now, they are not going anywhere; they've earned their right to stay.

    June 8, 2010 at 11:43 am |
    • E. Saab

      Thanks Dan,
      I couldn't agree more. Everyone...put down your weapons to talk & compromise. Otherwise, forever after more & more blood. MaxPax

      June 8, 2010 at 12:54 pm |
    • Sam

      Thanks, I actually did not understand the issue. Several comments like yours helped. I'm furious at Israel about the Palestinians and I have a hard time understanding the oppressed as the oppressors. However that does not excuse the get out of _____ . mentality that came across in Helen's remarks. I think she was trying to be shocking but had not thought out the message behind the words, It became hateful. It may be a reaction to some of the other 'news' with Gaza. Perhaps she was lashing out about that. It is well past her time as many have pointed out.

      June 8, 2010 at 2:30 pm |
    • Rick Salomon

      Jewish people like you should stop playing the victim card. The fact is that Israel has been behaving as a bully. The government is mafia like and is giving causing great suffering to people. It is not any antisemitic to be against the militaristic violent Israeli government.

      June 8, 2010 at 4:41 pm |
  5. herrsonic

    Lesson #1 ... If the truth hurts, keep it to yourself.

    June 8, 2010 at 11:43 am |
  6. Roger

    @Collier, Helen Thomas did not just say something "supportive of Palestinian civil rights", she said that the state of Israel should be disbanded and Jews should "go home". Do you understand the difference, or is everything in your eyes simply pro-Palestinian or pro-Israeli?

    June 8, 2010 at 11:43 am |
  7. meshearin

    It makes me mad that any time anyone even threatens to criticize any Jewish anything, they are squashed with mostly seems to be WAY over the top. Live and let live, but just because you may be Jewish, you don't get a special status to be untouchable. I'm sure she was ready to retire...and Mr. Gibbs- her comments were not offensive- she has a right to her own opinion.

    June 8, 2010 at 11:42 am |
  8. Dinali

    Just because someone is anti zionism, does not mean they are anti semitic.

    June 8, 2010 at 11:41 am |
    • mitchyj

      In some cases, true. In most cases, not true.

      June 8, 2010 at 11:50 am |
  9. Kishin Mir

    I always enjoy it when someone makes an antisemetic, anti gay, anti latino, etc. and then when they're called on it they say "They do not reflect my heart-felt beliefs". Of course they represent your heart held beliefs, they rolled off your tounge so easily, they were in your mind.

    June 8, 2010 at 11:41 am |
  10. KAO

    Telling the truth now offends people. Who would've thunk! Illegal occupation of Israel, Irag and Afghanistan must end! US must return to REPUBLIC! Individual rights must be protected here in US and abroad. Violating anyone's rights abroad means citizens of US will face much the same fate at the end! WAKE UP AMERICA! US is Controlled by Jewish Wall Street and Corporate America! IT MUST END!

    June 8, 2010 at 11:41 am |
  11. Peter

    This is what happens if you criticize Isral. They can not be criticized! PERIOD!

    PS: You are free to criticize muslims. It may even help to get a promotion! If you defend muslims you can again lose your job!

    June 8, 2010 at 11:40 am |

    You should never apologise for telling the true.

    June 8, 2010 at 11:39 am |
    • Alex

      That all Jews moved to Israel from Europe and that all Jews that came in from Europe are Eurpean, not from other countries origionally, or that all the Jews should move back to wherever their country of origin is and they should give up the country they have full legal rights to? Mmm no my friend, that is not the truth, that is called a lie

      June 8, 2010 at 9:58 pm |
  13. Sam

    People need to read up on Hadrian and Roman history. After destroying Jerusalem, "Palestine" was the name given by Emperor Hadrian as a tool of further conquest to obliterate any notion of Israel and the Jews, just like the Holocaust. Israel and the Jewish people were there long before the Romans. Israelis never relinquished their claim to Israel. The Jewish people in Israel, and the existence of Israel, are a fact of history, anything else is revisionist history. Just like Jesus and the church. Jesus lived and died as a Jew. Everything he is quoted as saying, he said as a Jew. What changed? AND WHY? I think the answer is at the root of the problems we are having. And part of that lies in the notion that the Jews are not allowed to win, or be strong.

    June 8, 2010 at 11:38 am |
    • seer

      yeah, that's it. how many believe jews don't win or are not strong? the idea of a claim to former land is ridiculous, but when you get all tripped up in religion, reality can be hard to see. even americans descended from slaves don't generally think that africa is their true home now.

      June 8, 2010 at 12:58 pm |


      June 8, 2010 at 2:05 pm |
  14. Moses

    He asked the question and got an answer he didn't like...now he wants an apology? What a dipshyt

    June 8, 2010 at 11:38 am |
  15. Siara Delyn

    I resent the media's trying to force the political opinions of their CEOs down my throat by censoring alternative opinions. I can make up my own mind, thank you. Loving Israel isn't a requirement for being a decent American.

    I am totally disgusted that Helen Thomas was forced to "retire" for answering a personal question about her personal political opinion. Whatever happened to freedom of press?

    June 8, 2010 at 11:37 am |
    • dxk


      June 8, 2010 at 12:34 pm |
  16. dxk

    Give the old lady a break!! Let her vent and get it over with.
    Nonetheless, it is her opinions anyway.

    June 8, 2010 at 11:37 am |
  17. Deanna Long

    So are the Hassidim and other Jews who disagree with the existence of Israel anti-Semitic? I believe the Israelis of today have no memory of the hell that their parents, and grandparents suffered living in occupied territories. Shame on them for causing such suffering and shame on the US for supporting it for so long.

    June 8, 2010 at 11:36 am |
    • Siara Delyn

      I agree. No one would deny that the Jewish community was hideously abused in the 20th century but this does not give them a carte blanche to abuse other people.
      Let's get the Bronze Age mythology out of our foreign policy. God didn't "give" Israel to anyone. God doesn't pass out prize bits of real estate to his favorite peoples. The same God made all of us and loves us equally.

      June 8, 2010 at 11:41 am |
  18. Mike Laplace

    Ok story. Just don't make out to seem that the Rabbi was out looking to trip up Helen. She opened her mouth and she has to deal with it.

    June 8, 2010 at 11:35 am |
  19. Sanjose Mike

    Some liberals who object to Israel's policies claim that "just saying anything against Israel is considered anti-semitic." Yet, many people criticize Israel and are not considered anti-Semitic. Liberal Jews often march with Palestinians against Israel, and even carry anti-Israel signs. (I know, I have seen them myself). I too have criticized Israel: The U.S. Liberty incident, the actual bugging of Harry Truman's auto, and even more than you can mention yourself. But there is a difference.

    Anti-Jewish people look at only what's wrong with Israel, not what's right. They also refuse to acknowledge that Jews lived in the ME for over 3200 years, at least 1,000 years prior to any tribes that called themselves Muslims. They blatantly refuse that Jews have a right to be THERE.

    So...there is a difference between "criticizing" Israel and refusing its right to exist. THAT's the difference. That's the reason Helen Thomas is simply anti-Jewish. She refuses Israels' right to exist.

    Sanjose Mike

    June 8, 2010 at 11:28 am |
    • Jihad

      Do u how many jews lived in Palestine in 1915? We do not hate jews we dislike zionests & what they represent. We always called for a secular Palestine for ALL.

      June 8, 2010 at 12:42 pm |
    • seer

      excellent proof of what is anti-Israel (and not anti-Jewish). brilliant.

      June 8, 2010 at 12:52 pm |
  20. Jack

    I think Dick Morris but it best. "If Hamas disarmed there would be peace, if Isreal disarmed they would be destroyed"

    June 8, 2010 at 11:18 am |
    • Selmin

      Well, that kind of thinking shows prejudice too, since it is based on the assumption that all Muslims are murderous villains, waiting for an opportunity to eradicate a large group of people due to their beliefs. Muslims are not mindless fanatics; throughout history, they have often co-existed with other religious groups peacefully (or at least, they haven't been specifically more hostile towards others than other religious groups). I don't approve Hamas' methods of resistance but at the same time, it is hard to empathize with a government that punishes 1.5 million people collectively due to the actions of one organization like Hamas (I am not blaming Israel as a nation; my comment is about the current government). Peace can never be achieved based on one party's efforts.

      June 8, 2010 at 12:24 pm |
    • stewie

      What you said would be true, but he didn't say "Muslims" or "Palestinians". He said "Hamas". Hamas has as a specific goal destroying Israel.

      June 8, 2010 at 1:56 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.