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. Sharon Beverly

    This conflict has been going on so long that many people forget all the facts. The Palestinians had a homeland in the original division of the Middle East. It was called Trans-Jordan. I don't think the Israelis had anything to do with the re-ordering of the political boundaries. Also, the Israelis never threw the Palestinians out of Israel, the Arab countries surrounding Israel invited them to leave so that they could kill all the Israelis after Israel became a state in 1948. They said they didn't want to kill their Arab brothers. Israel soundly trounced the Arab nations and then the Palestinians who left had nowhere to go. The Arab countries who led them out refused to let them settle within their boundaries. It furthered their agenda to leave them homeless so they could blame it on Israel. Many Palestinians re-settled in Lebanon and other countries that would allow them to settle. But then, many people today want to contend that there never was a "Holocaust" either. Good thing Allied soldiers took pictures when they liberated the camps. Joseph Goebbels has been dead for 65 years, but unfortunately his "Big Lie" propaganda techniques seem to still be thriving.

    June 8, 2010 at 11:49 am |
    • Inthe12

      Thank you, Sharon. I'm glad someone got the history right–not that any of these people who are posting these vitriolic anti-Israel comments will notice.

      June 8, 2010 at 3:27 pm |
    • Howard Markowitz

      Nice post! I have posted some of the same as responses, but I think you got the modern history part better.

      June 8, 2010 at 3:34 pm |
  2. ChicagoMatt

    Not that I support Helen Thomas, but I thought we lived in a nation where we can speak as we please? Have you all forgotten this? Isn't the 'War on Terrorism" a war for are freedoms? What are we really fighting for? (R) Jake Knotts referred to an opponent, AND our president, as a raghead, but he's is still in the running for SC governor. Thomas is a private citizen. I think that anyone that disagrees with her right to free speech should be sent to German, Poland, or where ever the hell THEY came from.

    June 8, 2010 at 11:49 am |
    • Wayne Schmand

      What disturbs me about this whole thing is the quote.
      “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).”
      I have the feeling that this was a "corectness" quiz. Don't ask people questions if you don't like the reply. What did ever happen to free speach? Did she threaten anyone?

      June 8, 2010 at 12:02 pm |
  3. Bill

    By the way, I am a Jew who thinks the creation of an Isreli state was a mistake in the first place, so don't jump on me. I am just calling it as I see it.

    June 8, 2010 at 11:49 am |
  4. Ken

    Collier, Thomas was not just being "supportive of Palestinian civil rights". She was telling Jews to "go back to where you came from." Maybe we should all go back to Africa, where we all came from. Barring that, Thomas revealed a twisted world view, surprising coming from someone whose work gave her the best opportunity to understand the world.

    June 8, 2010 at 11:49 am |
  5. Alan Green span

    We got the $$$$$$$$ and the White house ooooh OBAMA knows my mama tooo. But I have to admit sooonnnn when all racist and prejudice south comes to power we will suffer baaaaddly because of our own greeeeed and hitler will look like the best option we had ... it is the truth now take this to the BANK............

    June 8, 2010 at 11:49 am |
  6. sean

    Helen spoke of truth. I am %100 agreed with her.

    June 8, 2010 at 11:48 am |
  7. TG

    People need to get over it. It was one comment in an otherwise flawless career. I think that people need to be able to saw what they feel without others getting all bend out of shape. Everyone said Thomas is anti-jewish, however, I never heard her say she hates Jews. Others have said worse things. There are more important things to worry about in this world than what one 89 year old lady said.

    June 8, 2010 at 11:48 am |
  8. Joecooool

    So being historically accurate is now anti semitic. The Israeli lobby has a choke hold on this country that needs to end. How many more terrorist attacks must we endure for our support? How many more wars must we fight for Israel?

    I am tired of picking up the check and spilling our blood for these people. Jews in America need to pick a side. You can not be loyal to both. All Israelis must serve in the military, yet the us military is virtually Jew free. Why is that? If you love America so much why is less than 1/10th of 1% of our military Jewish? Heck, there are more Muslims in the US military than Jews.

    June 8, 2010 at 11:48 am |
    • Howard Markowitz

      Wrong! Ms. Thomas was not historicall accurate.

      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.

      Serving in the mllitary is a noble endeavor, but in America we have a volunteer armed forces. It is everyone's right to decide for themselves. Most Jewish families focus on education and solving problems with one's mind, not one's fists unless absolutely necessary. For Israel, it is absolutely necessary.

      June 8, 2010 at 3:29 pm |
  9. James

    JulesS, Helen Thomas did not express "compassion, support or sympathy" for Palestinians, she said that Israel should cease to exist as a country and that Jews should 'go back to where they came from". Had she simply expressed, say, her objections to Israel's settlements in the West Bank or to their bombing of Lebanon, she would still have a job.

    June 8, 2010 at 11:48 am |
  10. Michael Sawyer

    In the picture above, there were two other women in the press core. That is because of Helen Thomas, who when she started told the boys of the press club to go to hell when they told her she was supposed to stand, in the back, in the balcony. She is going to be remembered differently for sure, but rest assured, when you look at her accomplishments, and her journey, it will not all be bad. Many women who have served the press core owe her thanks, and many men, and presidents, owe her a mea culpa.

    June 8, 2010 at 11:47 am |
  11. notanapologist

    funny this.....many Isaelis and Israeli government leaders have asked repeatedly over the years for foreign government to take palestinians out of the west bank and from the many refugee camps. Many Palestinians are removed from their land by settlers or from Jerusalem now...perhaps the good rabbi would care to talk about that as well?????

    Seems to be a glaring omission from the discussion. I for one am sick of the double standard.

    June 8, 2010 at 11:47 am |
  12. linda wright

    what has happened to freedom of speech? that is what is to be so great about America. the freedom and right to say what ever with no fear of loosing your job, freedom, or anything else. Palestine has been occupied and the world should know that. Shame on the world for making her retire.

    June 8, 2010 at 11:46 am |
    • LES

      I still don't understand how you can occupy a nation that never existed as a nation. There has never been a sovereign state called Palestine. Still think there was? Tell me when it existed, who it's leaders were, etc. And what's all this talk of Jews killing 2 million Arabs? Where? When? What were their names? It's all an invention. Show me where in writing the Israelis – or any Jews – have declared that they are dedicated to the destruction of any Arab people or nation. You can't. But Hamas is dedicated to the destruction of Israel. So many of you have – through ignorance, I assume – flipped the truth on its head. Get educated!

      June 9, 2010 at 3:04 am |
  13. Ken

    By the definitions I've been reading, free speech exists everywhere on Earth. Just say what you want as long as you accept the consequences. I think a lot of people don't really get it......

    June 8, 2010 at 11:46 am |
    • ChicagoMatt

      "freedom" defined is without repercussion. Only elsewhere should your throat be ripped out for denouncing your (any) government.

      June 8, 2010 at 11:57 am |
    • Jason

      You are mistaken; freedom of speech means you do not face imprisonment. It does not mean you are free from repercussions of non-governmental nature. If you go in to your bosses office and say s/he is an idiot, you can lose your job but still have freedom of speech.

      June 8, 2010 at 1:53 pm |
  14. Bill

    There really isn't much of an argument, here. She was asked a simple question and gave an astonishingly stupid answer. She dug her own grave. I am (unfortunately) sure there are plenty of people in Washington, the media and the world that have biggoted views. They just don't share them with the public. She made her own bed. Don't feel too bad for her.

    Leave it to CNN to spin this.

    June 8, 2010 at 11:45 am |
    • Martin

      I agree with Bill. The uproar is over the callouness of her reply. The idea of involuntarily sending Jews back to Ggermany or Poland, countires which tried to kill them and succeeded in killing 6 million other Jews is patently anti-Semitic and deserves all the negative response it has engendered. Helen Thomas is allowed to say what she wants but those who find her views biggoted and ofensive are also allowed to voice their views. By the way, Israel belonged to the Jews before they were conquered by the Romans, who forcibly expelled much of the population to other parts of the Roman Empire, but the Jews always had settlements in Israel. These settlements were then taken over by the byzantine Empire and then thearea was conquered by the Ottoman Empire and then, after World War I, the British. During the Ottoman and the British eras the number of Jews who decided to return to Israel, and join the Jews who had never left, increased, especially as violence against Jews increased in eatern Europe. If you look at the censuses taken during the Ottoman occupation of Israel you will find that it was largely unpopulated and not until the Jews started to return and invigorate the economy did the ancestors of the Paestinians start to settle in the area in any number to take advantage of the boom brought by the Jewish settlements. After World War II when the British handed the conquered Ottoman territory over to the UN the number of Jews who had returned and aquired land (through purchase) had increased to the point that the UN felt they could form their own country. Looking back over the history, can the Palestinians really lay absolute claim to land in Israel which they gained due to the forced eviction of many of the Jews from the land and subsequent conquering of Israel by a succession of empires which allowedthe Palestinians to settle on formerly Jewish land.

      June 8, 2010 at 2:21 pm |
  15. Serge Crespy, Collingwood, ON

    Was Helen Thomas basing her opinion towards the Jewish people due to her (primary) Lebanese roots?

    June 8, 2010 at 11:45 am |
  16. vulpecula7.62mm

    Damn... you cant say a thing against the Nazi like actions of the Jewish occupation of Canan without being attacked as a bigot and maybe loosing your job. I dont hate Jews but if this keeps up... I may end up doing just that.

    June 8, 2010 at 11:45 am |
  17. Ralph Gentry

    Let's assume these remarks reflect Thomas's true thoughts. Is there any evidence that her secret thoughts were part of her NEWS reports? Did her secret thought effect the validity of her reporting? A good reporter would not have let her private views affect her written words. I don't follow Thoma's work so don't have an answer.

    June 8, 2010 at 11:45 am |
  18. Dr Jazz


    June 8, 2010 at 11:45 am |
  19. Ara

    Bye Bye Witch.

    June 8, 2010 at 11:44 am |
  20. Gregg

    One of the beauties of getting older is that you actually REMEMBER History, because you actually "lived it". Israel was given Statehood in 1948, and then attacked shortly thereafter, losing land in the process. In 1967 and again in 1973 Israel was attacked. With a stronger Army and Air Force though, Israel was able to ward off the attacks, and in the process claim land – and re-unite Jerusalem – the Capital City. Show me in recorded history where a Country is attacked, repels the attack, captures land in the process, and then has to return the land. If that were the case, why is Texas still a part of the U.S. – why not simply "return" the State to Mexico?

    June 8, 2010 at 11:44 am |
    • vulpecula7.62mm

      That's assuming its a country. It was given "statehood" by white Europeans who wanted rid of the Jews and America who is/ was heavily influenced to them. To another great segment of the world... It is not a state. Just because the white western world says a thing.... does not always make it so.

      June 8, 2010 at 11:48 am |
    • LES

      TO: vulpecula7.62mm By your reasoning, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria are also not legitimate nations. Oops...

      June 9, 2010 at 2:58 am |
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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.