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. Larry

    As I watched and listened to Helen Thomas, I was struck by remarks that did not belong to her. It's almost as if she's experiencing a drastic change in her mental health. This is not the Helen Thomas whom I've admired for decades. Without appearing to be presumptuous about a woman i've never met, her behavior seems removed from her normal range of reality. She's 20 years my senior and I can readily attest to the fact that she's going through a different reality, one that lacks her acute intelligence and forethought. I am saddened by her behavior; however, that does not change my overall appreciation of her skills and contributions to the media and our country.

    June 8, 2010 at 4:05 pm |
  2. HelloIsJewThere

    GG! Helen Thomas – Score one for the gippa – Hip! Hip! Horay! Now we can listen to the perpetually persecuted perpetrate even more. She gave some turd of a Rabbid Rabbi his 2 min of fame – cheers!

    June 8, 2010 at 4:04 pm |
  3. Dave Hd

    Even though her words may be harsh to our ears, she doesn't owe anyone an apology for her opinion. And furthermore, its time the leaders of this country acknowledge that Israel is a failed experiment...and its time for countries like the US and Germany and Poland, etc. to offer to repatriate the Israeli Jews and sincerely welcome them. The only other possible outcome is that someone in the Middle East will light off a nuke at which point all future bets are off.

    June 8, 2010 at 4:04 pm |
  4. Ladislav Nemec, Big Bear, CA

    As a non-Jew with limited sympathies for Israel and its excesses, I am glad that there is no Helen Thomas any longer to poison the air of the White House press room. The rabbi smoked her out, so to speak and that was the right thing to go.

    Her rudeness has been known for decades but there were, we are told, 'special' rules for this old angry lady. Time to retire, Helen!

    June 8, 2010 at 4:04 pm |
  5. AG

    Still fail to see why it is so horrible and offensive to even suggest that Israel might have done wrong in taking the land they have. I know it's not quite the same situation, but I know I would seem ridiclous if I demanded an apology every time someone suggested that maybe the U.S. shouldn't have taken the entire country from the Native Americans.

    June 8, 2010 at 4:03 pm |
    • J Harris

      We are very lucky the remaining Native Americans do not have good financial and military backing! Just think if they decided to take their land back from all of the illegal immigrants (The European settlers, oh that’s my ancestors!).
      What was done by my ancestors to the Indians is truly a dark spot in the history of a great country. To think that over 10 million Native Americans were killed so we could live like we do is a chilling thought.
      Perhaps the world could learn something from this and Hitler’s crimes!

      June 8, 2010 at 4:15 pm |
  6. Andrew

    Now wait a second! It's kinda funny if she had said anything mean spirited toward Arabs Mohammad, I bet everyone would be cheering her on, like a god, backing her up, respecting her free speech and courage. BUT wait she said something negative toward the Jews in Israel.. OH NO!! YOU can't do that! Apparently I didn't get any memo stating Jews are exempt from such harsh words. If we applied the reaction to Helen's words to say RUSH, Hannity, Glen Beck.. my god they shouldn't have jobs either. Why haven't they been fired? Each of them have said far worse things about anyone they disagree.. OH but wait they're expressing free speech... OH I get it.. since they never say negative things about Jews.. they keep their jobs, but they can still continue to demean every other culture, race, creed, gays, immigrants.. while making millions of dollars doing it. I'm starting to see the truth..

    Disagree with Israel = BAD! Being a racist toward everyone else = GOOD!

    WOW thanx for clearing that up,, boy didn't want to not be accepted by my fellow Americans.

    June 8, 2010 at 4:03 pm |
  7. HJS

    "Nesenoff is looking for something more personal. “She owes me an apology,” he says. “She owes my son an apology.”"
    She doesn't owe you an apology. You asked for her opinion, and she gave it. If you didn't want to hear that opinion, you shouldn't have asked!

    June 8, 2010 at 4:03 pm |
  8. Ira

    I agree entirely with Helen Thomas on this one. The mass immigration of Jews to Israel over the past 60 years has displaced and marginalised the Palestinians who were already resident there. The Jews came from America, from Russia, and from Europe. Many of those fled the holocaust. But newflash – THE HOLOCAUST ENDED DECADES AGO. Germans, in fact, are deeply ashamed of what the Nazis did. There's no reason why German Jews should feel the need to flee Germany now, or not return to Germany.

    June 8, 2010 at 4:02 pm |
  9. Vova

    How about this:
    Journalists are impartial, neutral, objective, fair. She 's non of the above, but now, in addition, senile.

    June 8, 2010 at 4:02 pm |
  10. keburg

    I'm a strong advocate of free speech. In fact, I'm going to law school to defend others' rights to it. But too many people on this site are confusing one's right to free speech with the right to employment (which in large part doesn't exist).
    Ms. Thomas had the right to say what she did and exercised the right to say what she did. And Hearst had the right to tell her she had to resign or face being fired. And tomorrow, Thomas will still have the right to say what she did. And this time she won't have to fear losing her job over it.
    Our civil rights are designed to protect us - primarily - from a heavy-handed government. Thomas didn't suffer repercussions from the government. She suffered them from her employer, Hearst.

    June 8, 2010 at 4:01 pm |
  11. jcnsiuii

    Tired of this bat witty j. they are not the only American here. We the people are free to speak. I will always say and speak the truth as I see it. I am not afraid of witty and abusive people, I am honest and so was Helen.

    June 8, 2010 at 4:01 pm |
  12. Elijah Shalis

    Why should ethnic Khazars that are from Germany and Poland expel Palestinians off their land? My birth father's last name is Libera showing my Jewish roots. Make no mistake Helen Thomas had a valid point. Why is it that she was blacklisted and censored. I am for a One State Solution were the Jews and Palestinians live together in equal peace.

    June 8, 2010 at 3:56 pm |
  13. Steve R.

    I agree wholeheartedly with what Mrs Thomas said. The jews need to get ouf of Palestine. They have no right to be there. Give them back their land. The jews can stay in Israel....THEIR homeland.

    June 8, 2010 at 3:56 pm |
  14. Free Speach

    What she said, even if painfull for some it is true. You can't takes somebodies land, kick them out and expect everybody on the planet to ignore it or forget it. Not everybody on the planet can be brainwashed to think that all the jews came from palestine; only few did, the rest came from everywhere else.

    June 8, 2010 at 3:56 pm |
  15. Mickey

    Imagine if a journalist stated publicly that all but the Native Americans should return to where they came from.

    June 8, 2010 at 3:54 pm |
    • Free Speach

      that doesn't even make any sence

      June 8, 2010 at 3:57 pm |
  16. barb

    Helen Thomas owes nothing to Nesneoff or his kid. Anybody with intelligence knows exactly what Thomas was alluding to, but the rabbi wasn't interested in getting to the real story. Nesenoff is a sleaze... a noboby who was out to make himself a somebody at the expense of someone else. It seems that hanging out at the White House is the way jerks like Nesenoff do that these days. The good rabbi no doubt saw how much mileage those other two gate crashers got out weaseling their way past security. That this guy and his kid were credentialled is not really a surprise, I mean, those talking heads that make up network news these days are no better. Helen Thomas was a better reporter on her worst day than Ed or Chip or any of those other losers on their very best. Nesenoff will disappear back into the vapor in a day or so, but Helen Thomas will forever be an icon of journalism for those who know better. Nesenoff, you are the one who should be ashamed.

    June 8, 2010 at 3:53 pm |
  17. Mike

    If having a question answered in a manner that you don't like merits an apology, then there a few girls I asked out in high school that better call me before I get them fired.

    June 8, 2010 at 3:53 pm |
  18. adam

    “I didn’t remember that she had pro-Palestinian thoughts, anti-Semitic feelings,” Since when you would be considered Anti-Semite if you are pro Palestinian? I didn't know that. Would I be Anti-Semite if I was against the apartheid state of Israel?

    June 8, 2010 at 3:52 pm |
  19. Sammy

    Big Joe for president – thanks for uncovering the truth

    June 8, 2010 at 3:52 pm |
  20. Dave

    Helen shouldn't be made to feel apologetic at all. Rabbis offended? Move to Israel then.

    June 8, 2010 at 3:50 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.