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. Stan in MA

    The first part of her answer was honest and showed complete knowledge and understanding of what is happening. It was VERY unfortunate that she did not stop talking. She went too far about going back to Germany and Poland. I have a very long history of being extremely supportive of Jews and Israel. I utterly despise antisemitism but anyone who cares to actually learn about what is happening to the Palestinians at the hand of Israel right now knows that this is a crime against humanity. Thomas is a grand and courageous reporter and I hope her public out-of-control, albeit justified, anger against Israel does not deflect Israel's need to take a good long hard look at its behavior (and I agree in advance that American need to do its own soul searching in the Middle East as well!).

    June 8, 2010 at 2:17 pm |
  2. Sean

    What Helen has said is clearly considered as freedom of speech and don't understand why they are making a big deal out of it. Why no one cares about what the Israeli Government is doing in the Middle East. Reporter with 50+ years of experience loosing her job because of making a comment under freedom of speech does not make sense at all. There will not be a long lasting peace in the Middle East unless we start looking at the core of problem and avoid being derailed by the religious ideas and fanaticism from all parties.

    June 8, 2010 at 2:16 pm |
  3. Joe, The Barber

    Freedom of speech goes both ways. She has freedom of speech. Other people also have the freedom to denounce her. Her employer had the freedom to fire her if she didn't resign. Quit whining about it.

    June 8, 2010 at 2:15 pm |
    • Kathie

      Since when is it grounds to fire a person because they exercise their right to freedom of speech? Do we all have to take the same position of employers to remain employed by them ? That's not freedom of speech that's learning and repeating
      their mantra and continuing to drink the kool aid from the office cooler.

      June 8, 2010 at 3:08 pm |
  4. Viperz4

    How the hell being Pro Palestinian equates to being anti-sematic??? Isreal is a country, we can disagree and be critical of their terrorist regime, however that does not make you anti-sematic! This Rabbi is such a hypocrate, yet Ms. Thomas is just another victim of powerful Zionist lobby controlling this country. People can make cartoons of a Prophet that one billion Muslims respect more than their lives and call it freedom of speech, yet you cannot say anything against the state of Israel without loosing your job and dignitty!! What a shame!!!

    June 8, 2010 at 2:15 pm |
  5. tnt

    I agree with Helen. The jews need to get out of palestine. I am not a muslim but the more I learn about how Israel became a country after WWII the more I understand why the palestians are upset. I think the palestinians have done a poor job educating Americans. Perhaps if muslims spent less money and time on terrorism, more American would be more sympathetic. I also believe the firing of Helen will do more harm to Israel. Are jews scared of the truth? Is that why they try to silence anybody that disagrees with them.

    June 8, 2010 at 2:15 pm |
  6. sandy

    Why does Nesuruff think he is owed a personal apology... She wasn't talking to him personally it was about the countries... People need to get over themselves.. Everyone has this thing that they are superior to all....

    June 8, 2010 at 2:14 pm |

    She has the right to say what she feels even if it's not mainstream. This is America!!!

    June 8, 2010 at 2:14 pm |
  8. Rob

    Helen Thomas has had a long career, and maybe it is time for her to step off the field. I just hate seeing a journalist go down like this. She was asked a question and she gave an honest reply, maybe not a polite, "pc" one, but its what she felt. I'm not touching the Israel-Palestine issue with a ten foot pole, but I don't think its right, especially in a news climate where pundits on both side of the table spout hate-mongering garbage every day and sell it as news

    June 8, 2010 at 2:14 pm |
  9. frederick a. lee

    Shameful and outrageous is the way Helen Thomas has been treated. The rabbi might have just gone to her editors with the tape -and....well....she is 89 years old allow her to retire with some self respect. No, the rabbi would rather inflame emotions and turn her into a pinata, a punching bag – an 89 YEAR OLD WOMAN. But there is more going on here that just Helen Thomas making nasty remarks about Israel. People like the rabbi who outed her and those who shouted "me too" have a concious or subconcious agenda to undermine Israel. For those who love God and America be aware of those who earn their daily bread by pouring gasoline on burning coals no matter what their "faith."

    June 8, 2010 at 2:13 pm |
  10. Frank

    She was framed, plain & simple.

    June 8, 2010 at 2:13 pm |
  11. Philip

    I am not favor either side, Isearl or Palstine. However, I am wondering why for centiries, on and on Jews get the bad reputations/discriminations? I think it must have reasons. Why so many people don't like them (or misunderstand them?)

    June 8, 2010 at 2:12 pm |
  12. Joe

    I'm getting tired of hearing about this. If he didn't want to hear the answer, he shouldn't have asked the question! She said nothing anti-Semitic, just anti-Israeli ... isn't there a difference? She was actually far more polite than I would have been.

    June 8, 2010 at 2:12 pm |
    • paris2venice

      May Mother Nature save us from your idea of politeness.

      June 8, 2010 at 2:16 pm |
  13. SMH


    "What Helen Thomas said was wrong, but I have never heard of anyone being attacked like she was because they said something about another country besides Israel. ... If I said something about Saudi Arabia I would not be considered anti-Islamic."

    How about if she replaced, "jew" with "black" and suggested that they should all return to their respective homelands?

    June 8, 2010 at 2:12 pm |
    • Carmen

      Jews are going back to the places that expelled them , for example Spain, Poland, Russia, etc.
      Anybody that states a fact that Israel considers an insult is doomed, look at Gibson ,or the actor that played Jesus, they are blacklisted. But one can be a pervert and if he is jewish gets kudos.
      Jews and Arabs are both semitic. We have to be carefull not to offend Israel.
      How many activists have been killed by Israel? Many..

      June 8, 2010 at 2:36 pm |
  14. Horace Ramtahal

    Don't ask the question if you're not going to be prepared for any answer. She owes you nothing. She owes your son/boys nothing! While you're feeling hurt by a remark, Palestenians are dying. What have you done to make this world a better place? What have you taught your boys about respecting human life?

    June 8, 2010 at 2:12 pm |
  15. Rabbi Juan Torrez

    Ms. Thomas,
    Please get on your broom and fly away.
    Rabbi JT

    June 8, 2010 at 2:12 pm |
  16. Joe, The Barber

    She has freedom of speech. Other people have the freedom to denounce her. Her employer has the freedom to fire her.
    Quit whining about it.

    June 8, 2010 at 2:11 pm |
  17. Raul

    the rabbi set her up it seems you can tell by his voice inflections and his tinkering anyone would react like this to any topic thats at the heart of them. if one person thinks there not one single racist in there workplace wake up ,. its like going to someone that doesnt agree with your views and firing them up to get a response , everyone hates a class or a type or a race or some thing there not familiar with this is part of human nature until there is some reasoning to remove that stigma, some people are just crazy , did it i dont see anything wrong with her commments its not like she said israel shouldnt exisist or that they should be wiped off the map. this obviously was planned sooner or later israel and palestine will destroy themselves and then the rest of the world can move on. i think god is getting tired of israel and palestine with there back and forth garbage. the kkk can assemble but they dont wear hoods to work they just wear a suit and tie. god this is tiring i need a drink. god sort this out i cant.

    June 8, 2010 at 2:10 pm |
    • paris2venice

      Every question that I've ever been asked has voice inflections. I guess they were all trying to frame me and set me up. How cruel everyone is to poor little me. (For the illiterate, that was all sarcasm).

      June 8, 2010 at 3:25 pm |
  18. james

    New York is essentially a Jewish state. Lets bring them here if they really want a peaceful life. The statuesque between Israel and Arabs are not good for USA, Israel or Palestinians

    June 8, 2010 at 2:08 pm |
    • paris2venice

      Okay, so along with that, let's move you too. I don't know where you should go but it must be somewhere half way around the world. Nobody will probably care about where your relatives, your friends, your home or your livelihood. Whether you end up on the top floor of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai or in a cave in Afghanistan, nobody will probably care since it's not your choice.

      June 8, 2010 at 3:18 pm |
  19. Scott

    I think we must look further into what she was saying when answering the question. I think perhaps people jump to conclusions when listening to sound bites and even sensationalize comments to benefit their own personal agenda. I believe what she was in fact speaking about was that the only way to end the fighting in any war, especially one this long and bloody, is for someone to take the high road and leave. The jews were not the first to occupy. It takes two sides to continue fighting in a blood bath with no end in sight. Right or wrong, understood or misunderstood, we do have freedom of speach in this country and I think she has a right to be completely heard in full without being persecuted by everyone. This broad sweeping media frenzy is what squelches the very freedoms our country stands for. I believe the context in which Ms. Thomas was speaking is that before Hitler's Germany there were millions of jews who lived there and in Poland and throughout the world peacefully. In today's society they have the option of returning to those places. It certainly does not erase to scars, wounds or the enormous loss of life as no one would ever suggest. I think we all need to take an intellectual approach to understanding all segments of history, both war and peace and only make judgements based on full disclosure not sound bites. Ms. Thomas was attending a Jewish Heritage Festival. Do you really think she would say something inflamatory about jewish citizenry at their event as an invited guest? My guess would be no. Now, through the lack of intellectual reasoning and understanding, we have persecuted an American Icon in our media and are treating her the very same way that we all regret others have been treated. History is factual as well as open to subjective interpretation of events, times and agendas. There are winners and losers in every war and confrontation. They are not always who we think they are. Look beyond the simplification of the written word and examine everything more indepth. I think everyone should look at History more objectively.

    June 8, 2010 at 2:08 pm |
    • paris2venice

      When you have re-taken your history class, please let us know. Until then, please try to get to your point in less than two sentences.

      June 8, 2010 at 2:14 pm |
    • John K

      "...before Hitler's Germany there were millions of jews who lived there and in Poland...peacefully."

      The word "were" being the operative word. Sorry, but if you don't see the offensiveness of calling for the expulsion of every Israeli citizen back to their original country of persecution, you will never understand.

      June 8, 2010 at 2:28 pm |
  20. Fraendy

    By the way.. I wonder if Helen is willing to go back to lebanon... I guess we should all leave the US and go back to wherever our ancestors came from. The interesting thing about Israel is, that for Jews, that is their ancesteral home.

    June 8, 2010 at 2:08 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.