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. M. Carter

    And with one flagrant anti-semitic statement, a long distinguished career
    is wiped out and this is now how she will be forever remembered. Nauseating
    and her apology was b.s. Next she'll be telling us all that some of her best friends
    are Jews.

    People need to understand that those that rule Gaza and the West Bank cannot
    be trusted on any level. The Israelis know this all too well. The Arabs do NOT want peace.
    It was handed to them at the Oslo Accords. But they get and milk more sympathy
    from the world by keeping their own people down to serve their political agendas....not to mention that they
    brain-wash their children with prejudice and hatred in their schools and in their cartoons and other
    television programming.

    The unfortunate thing is that they have a better P.R. machine than Israel so they have world public opinion on their side.

    Let's face it. If you're not Jewish, the vast majority of the world ARE anti-semites and Osama gave the world a renewed
    vigor to hate them. The big problem on the horizon now is the complete hi-jacking of the Islamic faith by the hard line fundamentalists and it's spreading like a cancer across the earth while the majority of the worlds Muslims sit back and do nothing claiming they're a peaceful race. Yeah right.

    June 8, 2010 at 2:08 pm |
  2. Win Adams

    Ms. Thomas has the same bug that infects most media personalities and politicians. They start thinking they are god. Their views are all important. It doesn't matter who or what it might hurt. That land belongs to Israel as much as it belongs to the Palistinians. Israel has a right for it's people to live peacefully and safely. If the Palistinians won't cooperate, then woe be to them. It isn't the Israeli's that are trying to kill Americans. It isn't the Israeli's that destroyed the twin towers. Israeli doesn't back terrorists. Those of you that think so highly of the Palistinians, see how long they will let you live if you are not muslim.

    June 8, 2010 at 2:07 pm |
  3. american

    I see postings that are offended by the phrase "the Jews". What is the proper terminology? I fear getting fired for saying the wrong phrase. That's what the great USA has come to.

    June 8, 2010 at 2:06 pm |
  4. john traas

    the nation of Israel ceased to exsist in 70 a.d. when Rome destoyed them.The British pulled out in 1948 and the Zionist took over Palestine.Many people of the Jewish faith moved to the new Israel.PALESTINIAN WERE PUT IN CAMPS,WHERE MANY LIVED UNTILL THEY DIED OF OLD AGE.THESE CONDITIONS STILL GO ON TODAY.hELEN t.SPOKE OUT BECAUSE OF THE PAST.She has an opinion which the rabbi didn't like.Now she is being treated like HITLER USED TO TREAT JEWS.Is this a new form of censorship ???

    June 8, 2010 at 2:06 pm |

      Read history books you moron. Just because the Jews were defeated doesn't mean our presence and claim to all of the land of Israel is null and void.

      June 8, 2010 at 2:09 pm |
  5. Fraendy

    I wonder if Helen Thomas thought John F Kennedy was a war criminal for ordering the blockade of cuba during the cuban missle crisis. Every country has a right to defend itself.

    June 8, 2010 at 2:06 pm |
  6. Faisal

    To all those who are hurt by the comments of Helen Thomas. TRUTH HURTS AND ABSOULUTE TRUTH HURTS ABSOLUTELY.

    June 8, 2010 at 2:05 pm |
  7. jim

    Kuddos to Helen!!!! Isreal is like a little brother that is constantly picking fights then looking to his older brother to resolve. It is high time the US began putting some distance between us and Isreal. It seems that everythime someone in life speaks agains Muslims or Jews it provokes some sort of retaliation by either or cries of antisymetism. Pleasee

    June 8, 2010 at 2:04 pm |
  8. born2hunt7

    Israel has given peace many chances but Palestinians prefer the status quo. No excuses here.Their desire to eliminate the State of Israel off the face of the earth has put them in the situation they are now. Force will meet force period. If you believe that Israel should leave ,then you should also give all the american territories back to the Native Americans..what ?? ohh wrong answer ? really ?..don't point at someone elses fault before pointing the finger to yours first.

    June 8, 2010 at 2:04 pm |
    • Faisal

      the native Americans are free people in the US, which you cannot say for the palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank or even those in Israel.

      June 8, 2010 at 2:09 pm |
    • paris2venice

      Native Americans are free people living in the squalor of their reservations set aside for them by force in the most inhospitable lands imaginable? Oh, sure. They are free to leave the reservation just as the Palestinians are free to live in Jordan. Ooops. No. I take that back. The Jordanian army thwarted the Palestinians attempt to take-over Jordan in 1970. Even Egypt, another Muslim neighbor to Gaza, participates in the blockade. While I do *NOT* advocate that the Palestinians leave Gaza, it seems ironic that no Muslim country has ever offered even a small strip of desert (like Gaza) for their Muslim brethren. That said, I do support independence for the Palestinians in Gaza.

      June 8, 2010 at 2:32 pm |
  9. steve weisbond

    all of you people dont get it. she made a stupid remark as someone who is well-regarded in the journalism circles. i am glad that she got called on it and retired. if she didnt, her credibility would have been diminished. itfeels scary reading all these posts, and finding how anti-semetic alot of you people really feel. god help us.

    June 8, 2010 at 2:04 pm |
  10. cocopuff

    She has outlived and outworked her intelligence. How can you be an objective reporter when you clearly have such a slanted and bias view? And anyone who doesn't understand how comments like these, coming from a person with such media influence, can be so disruptive and damaging, hasn't had the misfortune of being persecuted and having its people attacked for thousands of years.

    June 8, 2010 at 2:04 pm |
  11. D. Santiago

    Very powerfull group/israelis/jews. Can't say anything about them you will be fired. Truth of the matter is that alot wars have been fought because of israel/jews. We have to stop fighting. Palestine throw rocks and israel throws missles. We need to stop fighting religion wars. Let's resepect all religions and move on to fighting hunger and man made disasters.

    June 8, 2010 at 2:03 pm |
  12. paul

    TO HAWKEYE ... Please do not try and promote propaganda about missles/bombs raining down everywhere in Israel. It is not fact. Granted, missles do land in Israel along the borders every day but for the VAST MAJORITY of the state of Israel, peace, calm and tranquility reign supreme. I am from Ireland and although for decades there was turmoil within Northern Ireland and the borders, the VAST MAJORITY of the country enjoyed amazing peace and quiet and normal daily life.

    Just because one sides with the opposing force does not make them ANTI-anything or a bigot. It makes them free to think, free to speak and free to live!!!

    June 8, 2010 at 2:03 pm |
    • John K

      "Granted, missles do land in Israel along the borders every day but for the VAST MAJORITY of the state of Israel, peace, calm and tranquility reign supreme."

      You're right, that doesn't sound so bad. What can I do to help break this blockade and ensure that those ineffective missiles keep raining down?

      June 8, 2010 at 2:34 pm |
  13. Time to stop supporting Isreal

    Kuddos to Helen!!!! Isreal is like a little brother that is constantly picking fights then looking to his older brother to resolve. It is high time the US began putting some distance between us and Isreal. It seems that everythime someone in life speaks agains Muslims or Jews it provokes some sort of retaliation by either. I am personally tired of hearing about it.

    June 8, 2010 at 2:02 pm |
  14. Bulldog

    It is one thing if Mohammed Arab and Menachem Jew open up their mouths and say stupid things. Helen Thomas is a professional who should know better. She is clearly out of line and deserves all the criticisms she gets. As a separate issue, ij Jews and Arabs would stop acting like victims and spoke to each other as human beings without all the antisemitic and exceptionalisms, then maybe peace could really be accomplished.

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

    Ezekiel 37:21-28

    21: then say to them, Thus says the Lord God: I will take the people of Israel from the nations among which they have gone, and will gather them from every quarter, and bring them to their own land. 22: I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king over them all. Never again shall they be two nations, and never again shall they be divided into two kingdoms. 23: They shall never again defile themselves with their idols and their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions. I will save them from all the apostasies into which they have fallen, and will cleanse them. Then they shall be my people, and I will be their God.

    June 8, 2010 at 2:00 pm |
  16. RobA

    We could say the same thing about the US - that the European settlers should get the hell out of the land they occupied and go "home." Are we willing to apply that to ALL former settler colonies? Canada, the US, all of Latin America... Are you all ready to go "home"? Would Helen Thomas argue that the Jews with family origins in Morroco, Libya, Iran also "go home"? I don't like Israeli policy on Gaza, but her statement was inflammatory and not in any way conducive to useful action or discussion.

    June 8, 2010 at 2:00 pm |
  17. paul

    I think it is sad that after reaching the heights of her career without any controversy like this that Helen Thomas is not being given the chance to defend or even voice her own opinions. Whether I agree with them or not, we are in the United States of America. Her statement was her own. She has the freedom of speech that we all, ALL, enjoy!!!Her record has been shown to be one of honesty and upfront reporting throughout her career. Direct and concise. I believe to change course on what is going on in Palestine with the convey ships Helen Thomas was thrown to the dogs and the media lapped it up.

    As for giving this reporter an apology or his son, PLEASE Ms Thomas, do not give into the pressure. This man asked a question that he knew would have one answer or another and he got one he did not like. Deal with it.

    June 8, 2010 at 1:59 pm |
  18. Marie Perkins

    I didn't know we weren't allowed to criticize Israel. What's with that?

    June 8, 2010 at 1:58 pm |
    • John K

      As long as you don't imply that all Israeli citizens should march back to the ovens, I think you'll be OK. Criticize to your heart's content.

      June 8, 2010 at 2:37 pm |
  19. Benjamin Al-Cohan

    Just as a point of interest, BOTH the Jewish and the Arab peoples are Semitic. To be anti-semitic
    one would, by definition, be opposed to both groups.

    June 8, 2010 at 1:57 pm |
  20. Hawkeye

    I am really surprised by all the Jew hating Nazis on this site. No wonder America is where she is. Bankrupt and without morals. Why dont you go and live in Isreal for a week while you have rockets raining down on you. To those that hate America I say leave, go back to those bacward slums that you came from. You buch anti-semites. There is a big diffirence between freedom of speach and hate speach. Send Helen back to Lebanon see how she would like it there. Good riddence of bad rubbish. Good to see this far lefty being kicked out

    June 8, 2010 at 1:57 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.