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. buddgoode

    I'm surprised that the US dont have an automatic life sentence for negative comments about Israel!!!! These terrorists are an indirect cause to 9/11. Think about it, all these mid-east terror groups hate the US because we support these Israeli terrorists. If we didnt give them their planes, copters and guns they use to murder innocent civilians and harass their neighbors this would have never happened!! And I know some Israel sympathizers will respond to this and I dont care what you have to say, this is my opinion and is welcomed along side yours!!!!

    June 8, 2010 at 5:32 pm |
  2. Holden

    "Nesenoff is looking for something more personal. “She owes me an apology,” he says. “She owes my son an apology.” "

    I DO NOT agree with what Helen Thomas said however why dose Nesenoff believe he personal is owed an apology?! HE asked her a question and she answered. What she said might of offend him but he asked the question, not everyone is pro-Israel.

    June 8, 2010 at 5:32 pm |
  3. lulu

    god bless you norma, you said the truth nothing but the truth help us god

    June 8, 2010 at 5:32 pm |
  4. Truth

    One who says truth is always rejected by fewArrogant Americans. Many of the americans with open mind and broad thinking know that what she said was right..

    June 8, 2010 at 5:32 pm |
  5. AJ

    It is pretty sad to see how many of you are totally and completely brainwashed... Go research Zionism and see how it differs from Judaism. Being anti-zionist doesn't make you anti-semitic!

    June 8, 2010 at 5:31 pm |
  6. Iconoclast

    I think Helen is simply telling it like it is. I respect her, hope she retracts her apology and I think the good rabbi should apologize for his obvious biased exploitation. Helen's position re: Palestine was very well known and he's simply exploiting her honest (and educated) opinion for his purposes. Speaking of biases I'm curious if the good rabbi holds duel citizenship(US/Israel). I doubt Helen is anything but an American citizen. Who has the conflict of interest here and please don't give me that crap "you don't understand my point". My point is clear, what's best for Israel is not what's best for America and being pro Palestinian is not being anti-semitic unless of course Israel wants it to be, in which case fine, I wonder how many non Jewish friends the average Israeli has???

    June 8, 2010 at 5:30 pm |
  7. RonMD

    I am neither pro Palestinian nor Israel. It is very common in free society to express your frustration. For an example, Plenty of folks would says things like Spanish people should go back to their country or Muslims should be rounded up and other hatred comments. Yet nothing happens.

    However, when it comes to Jews and Israel, the AIPAC and their cronies don’t tolerate any thing and make the reporters and other officials pay big time. This has been the case over and over.
    It has gotten to the point that reporters and other high level officials are held hostage of power ful AIPAC and other Jewish lobby organizations. This is now threatening the very existence of the United States and principals our forefather stood for.


    June 8, 2010 at 5:29 pm |
  8. Greg Munro

    what was so bad about what she said? She is being punished because she spoke her mind. She has been sacrificed and it is a sad, sad day when they throw an old lady under the bus. She she keep her job. It is not a crime to speak one's mind – they asked, she told

    June 8, 2010 at 5:28 pm |
  9. DowCHuck

    That answer was quite a shocker. I'm sure that statement was the last thing that Rabbi expected out of the mouth of a sweet little old lady! Did he happen to ask anyone of the Muslin faith the same question? People have the right to say what they want, but her statement, heard by millions, only encouraged those with her same views to iniciate violence. Thats what she did wrong.

    June 8, 2010 at 5:28 pm |
  10. David

    We all know Helen was telling the truth. I hope all of us dont pay for not standing up for it. I hope the besat for you Helen, for you started the movement to end that problem over there. The world knows it now.

    June 8, 2010 at 5:27 pm |
  11. bunny

    Nesenoff is looking for something more personal. “She owes me an apology,” he says. “She owes my son an apology.”

    WHY??? Just because you don't like what someone says, why should they owe you an apology? He was the one asking her the questions, if he didn't want a truthful answer, then why did he bother asking her in the first place.

    June 8, 2010 at 5:27 pm |
  12. jim

    Fishmox, if your "freedom ends where the sensibilities of others begin" then your freedom of speech is completely worthless. No one needs the right to say that which is offensive to nobody!

    June 8, 2010 at 5:26 pm |
  13. Rick224

    Sanjose. Maybe the schmuck rabbi got in her face and he got what he deserved. He baited her. Jewish Awareness Week!!!
    Why on earth would the rabbi put her in that position? What about Italian, Russian, Greek, Chinese, Korean, Awareness Week? Why only Jewish. It's enough we have to watch Moses on TV during Easter so the Jews can hide the fact that they crucified Christ.

    June 8, 2010 at 5:25 pm |
  14. evensteven

    Those parties in the Middle East who cannot recognize or admit they are part of the problem, are in fact, the biggest part of the problem. All this denial on the part of Israelis and Palestinians who fail to see the role they each play in creating this mess simply points to psychopathic behavior on both sides. No one side is "right" in this situation. All the finger pointing is wrong!

    June 8, 2010 at 5:22 pm |
  15. Confused

    This is an honest question for any of you here that found her remarks offensive. Please explain it to me. I'm not joking. I am an American born Catholic. As such, if anyone were to tell me that Americans don't belong here and that they should leave the U.S. and give the land back to Native Americans. And that we should go back to wherever we came from.... I would not see it as Anti-Catholic or as Anti-whatever. I would take it as someone (very upset) making a point that we Americans are not originally from here and that someone is still very upset about what Christians did to obtain this land. HOWEVER, I WOULD NEVER suggest they owe me an apology or that they are anti-Christian or whatever. Her remarks seem to me more about the state of Israel and about her personal feelings about that state's legitimacy... they don't in any way seem anti-Semitic. My honest opinion is that the anti-Semitic label will eventually be overused to the point that it will feel the same as when I used to hear Jesse Jackson cry out racism... numb. Not that he wasn't right over half of the time but, the it was thrown around so much that it stopped sticking to anything that he threw it on.

    June 8, 2010 at 5:19 pm |
    • J Harris


      June 8, 2010 at 5:22 pm |
    • evensteven

      Native Americans have been allowed their OWN NATIONS within the United States–that is one major difference. The Israelis would rather kill every last Palestinian and Muslim in the world rather than share Jerusalem.

      June 8, 2010 at 5:25 pm |
    • Ruth

      You're confused because you don't understand what was hurtful about her comment. Go read some history. It was the second part of what she said that was so horrifying. Typical of an American to not care that 95% of the Jews in Poland ad Germany were murdered in WWII. The US enabled them. Israel is the only thing standing between worldwide Jewry and another Holocaust. Jews tried to leave and had nowhere to go. Now they do. I think that's what infuriates people so much about Israel. Israel is a protection against another Holocaust.

      June 8, 2010 at 5:28 pm |
    • Marlon

      @Ruth... I'm sorry if her words hurt you so much. However, if her words are hurtful to you then maybe there's a question you need to answer within yourself. Is she right? We all want to focus on the atrocities of our ancestors..(blacks, asians, jews, indians, etc), but no one wants to speak openly about it. Ok, so there was a holocaust...now what? Ok, so blacks were enslaved..now what? Racially, we are constantly isolating ourselves to make a useless point that does nothing more than divide us. Everyone has an opinion about slavery, holocaust, and other human fallacies. Nevertheless, we need to stop comparing scars and move on. Holocaust is no longer an open wound! Slavery is no longer an open wound! Get over it! This whole thing is becoming a sickening virus!

      June 8, 2010 at 6:10 pm |
  16. Xi Chin

    She only said what most of us think. The Jews in Israel are from poland, Germany, ex-USSR etc... they are mainly the descendents of converts and most of them do not have a single ancestor they can prove ever set foot on that land. They cerate trouble, violence and are full of hate. It is the truth. Somretimes it hurts. But the truth is still the truth.

    June 8, 2010 at 5:14 pm |
    • Xi Chin

      And by the way, if you don't beleive it, don't take my word for it. For a start, listen to the accents of the Israeli spokes people. Mark Regev. A semite? Are you kidding me? But he gets to kick poeple out of their houses whose families have really, and actually lived there for generations. It is extraordinary that any non Jewish person supports these barbaric people. yes, I do say barbaric. Read the bible, genocide etc... read the Talmud. Read the human rights reports. Read "breaking the silence" website where Israeli soldiers speak out about what really goes on.

      June 8, 2010 at 5:18 pm |
    • J Harris

      Ok you have made a very important point here. Being Jewish is a religion not an ethnic heritage. Most of the people in Israel are in fact of European decent. The only ones that can lay claim to the land are Jewish Arabs, not Jewish Europeans. However there are indeed many Jewish Arabs.

      June 8, 2010 at 5:21 pm |
  17. Kay

    Saying anything critical about Isreal is like saying the 'N' word – over-sensitivity to both are so over the top. I think most Americans are worried about jobs, housing and education. This is a waste of time and energy and I hope someone else hires her and she gets her press seat back – she is a reporter – not the story.

    June 8, 2010 at 5:13 pm |
    • oceans

      No, it's mixing criticisms of the Israeli government with broad statements about the "Jews" that's the problem.

      June 8, 2010 at 7:40 pm |
  18. Erin

    I do not think that Ms. Thomas's comments should spell the end of her career. Also I am not sure how the comments she made could be considered anti-Semetic, whether I agree with her sentiments or not.

    June 8, 2010 at 5:11 pm |
    • nuff said

      her career should spell the end of her career

      June 8, 2010 at 5:18 pm |
  19. sharon

    Sometimes we open our mouths and the truth comes out of what we really mean. Her thoughts came through as how she felt about the Jews. Sometimes we have to think with out brain before we engage our mouth.
    I feel she was wrong. She represents a prominent newspaper and some people actually believe that what she says should never be questioned. She should be unbiased, like all news agencies and report only the facts with having done research. She is probably becoming too old to use good judgement and it is a good time for her to move on. Too bad she leaves her name with such a bad legacy. I will always remember the name Helen Thomas and the last thing she said.

    June 8, 2010 at 5:10 pm |
  20. Ruth

    My father was born in Poland and grew up in Israel. My grandfathers entire family was murdered in the Holocaust. The entire village was gassed in Auschwitz. My grandmother was born and raised in Jerusalem, my great grandparents were born and raised in Jerusalem, their parents were born and raised in Jerusalem, their parents were born and raised in Jerusalem etc.

    I have more right to Israel than any so called Palestinian who has been there for a few generations. My family has been there for over three thousand years.

    June 8, 2010 at 5:10 pm |
    • J Harris

      I thought you said your father was born in Poland?

      June 8, 2010 at 5:13 pm |
    • Ruth

      JHarris, your so called Palestinians were born in Egypt or Jordan. Yasser Arafat's parents were from Egypt. None of them have a three thousand year history with that country in any way shape or form.

      June 8, 2010 at 5:23 pm |
    • Rick Salomon

      So what? The area should belong to Jewish, Christan and Muslim equally. The mistake is that is because a Jewish state. Any time religion is brought up to hate another human being we are bound to have trouble. Also your Israeli government has behaved in a very shameful manner. More like a mafia than a government. You can't support that! There is already enough pain.

      June 8, 2010 at 5:25 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.