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. ElloIsJewThere

    .....and the beat goes on – "Everyone who is talking bad about Israel, are racists. NO group of people have suffered what they have suffered" – NEXT channel please – the perpetual persecution card has been declined...

    June 8, 2010 at 6:38 pm |
    • Johnny Orlando

      Really, you must know about the african slave trade, you should read a history book

      June 8, 2010 at 6:40 pm |
    • ElloIsJewThere

      o ya "The Afrikan Slave Trade" – You mean the one where there own race/tribes captured and sold them? OO ya I remember now ya the one where they were then transported accross the Atlantic on Dutch ships? Run by East Indians? (Carribean slave traders) ..ahh ya I read my history – but your version was obv. the edited down version – politically correct editing ofcourse...

      June 8, 2010 at 6:48 pm |
  2. Joe H

    Booooooring! Israel deserves the heat for their raid on the embargo ship! I suppose I will be called an anti semite for that, too. Some are always so quick to use that term and it is their first and only line of defense.

    June 8, 2010 at 6:36 pm |
  3. Shawn G Kelly

    And yes this is NOT a freedom of speech issue. If someone went up to a black man and told them they need to go back to africa, it would be a hate crime and hate speech. For all of you who say, it's different, because they were slaves. Were the JEWS not slaves in WWII? Does their history not show they were slaves as far back as ancient times? Is that not what Moses did, was lead the jew slaves out of Eqypt and into the promised land. And if you think her personal bigotry did not make it's way into her reporting, then you are stupid. THAT is why she was fired, it was clear she had a hidden agenda and all her reporting has the stench of subjectivity too it.

    June 8, 2010 at 6:36 pm |
    • Joe

      People have been saying that stuff to our President since the inauguration.

      June 8, 2010 at 6:55 pm |
  4. Rat tat that

    I do not agree with Helen Thomas as I find her statements to be both simple-minded and unrealistic. But I would need more before I called her an anti-semite They were anti-Israel and anti-Ziionist but one could hold such views and be a devout Jew... and though very wrong from the mouth of a supposedly independent journalist – they are also unusual in that such rants are usually thrown against the Palestinian side from the Fox News crew and the hucksters at Talk without Thought radio.... so if the good rabbi feels that an apology is owed, I 'm hoping he means to his Palestinian brethren as well.

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

    She was ready to retire and made the biggest statement of her life as a parting shot. It would have been nice if she would have taken it one step further and made the analogy to the US where Native americans =Palestinians and Europeans= isreali's. Don't get mad at this as it's very close. The African American analogy doesn't work. They were brought here by force. They didn't invade, usurp and subjgate.

    June 8, 2010 at 6:30 pm |
  6. Johnny Orlando

    This is typical jewish victimization at work. The man asked her a question and got an answer jews didnt like and now a woman has been forced into retirement because of a bunch of sissies who love to complain and oppress, complain and oppress...

    June 8, 2010 at 6:29 pm |
  7. wh-P

    Helen is not wrong;
    the Israeli government (not the Jews) have become persecutors.

    Her comments were political, not cultural or religious. Israel fans who equate religion/culture with political force are also part of the problem.
    When Ben Nat-n-yahoo is hanging out with christian religious fundamentalists, there's not respect to be had for the Israeli government.

    Mr rabbini man needs to get a better jog

    June 8, 2010 at 6:29 pm |
  8. ThatDudeRob

    I have a hard time understanding exactly what she said was wrong.

    So there didn't use to be a country called Palestine?

    To me it's the equivalent of what the US Government did to the native tribes that were here before us. "We're taking your land and you have to leave, bye." If they disagree, protest or throw rocks back while being shot at with automatic weapons they are suddenly the bad guys.

    If somebody showed up an my door with guns & tanks telling me I had to leave so somebody else could build a home where mine already was I don't think I'd be very happy about it.

    There will never be peace in the middle east as Israel is allowed to doing what it has been doing for years.

    June 8, 2010 at 6:29 pm |
    • Arden

      No, there never was a country called Palestine.

      June 8, 2010 at 6:46 pm |
    • TomKas

      And Rob, no one else wants them either. Jordan does not want the Palestinians. No, they are political pawns.

      Everyone please understand that what happend in the past, 200, 300 to 400, years ago is not allowed. the countries in the western Med are where they are. If the muslims don't like the jewish people, they better learn to deal with it. The lines were drawn following the war. That's it. final. The Palenstinain attack on Isreal must stop. There is the issue.

      June 8, 2010 at 7:04 pm |
  9. Shawn G Kelly

    Everyone keeps talking about the Jews and Israel and the 1947 UN resolution that set up the State of Israel, the entire world was divided up following WWII. Is that what everyone wants, to go back to the pre- WWII borders? The Jews have ever right to be given a state. Everyone who is talking bad about Israel, are racists. NO group of people have suffered what they have suffered. I dont blame them for being aggresive. Daily thier neighbors have speeches about thier destruction. And who are the Turks to be critical, anyone here know the plight of the kurds? Israel is as narrow as 12 miles wide at some points. They can not afford to NOT be preemptive.

    June 8, 2010 at 6:27 pm |
    • ElloIsJewThere

      "Everyone who is talking bad about Israel, are racists. NO group of people have suffered what they have suffered" – NEXT channel please – the perpetual persecution card has been declined...

      June 8, 2010 at 6:36 pm |
  10. OldGirl

    What is that quote? Here it is in some rough form...
    "I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."
    I am TERRIFIED of enforced verbal conformity.
    I totally disagree with what she said.
    But unless she used the power of her job, she should be allowed to state her opinion without fear of retribution.
    This prejudice is some twisted form of what Israel is fighting against.
    Enforced conformity and mind control are, or should be, the enemy of freedom.

    June 8, 2010 at 6:27 pm |
  11. aip

    The rabbi asks a question, and when he doesn't like the response, he wants an apology? What would have been acceptable to him? The continued milking of the American taxpayer for a jewish dream? The continued expropriation by colonists? American jewry should consider where their loyalty lies – America or Israel?

    June 8, 2010 at 6:23 pm |
  12. lance

    We should view history with a sense of responsibility. Thus, the Jews that were forced from their homes and countries deserved a place for their self. The western world did a poor job of setting the nation of israel up, but an even poorer one of protecting the jews in the 30s and 40s.
    Its easy to say, "the land was already occupied. its not their land" when you've never been to Auschwitz or even a holocaust museum. But if you talk to the people, see the place they were forced to live and die... you'll see there is no black and white.

    I support a nation for the jews, I despise anti-seminitism, but I do not support the current israeli government.

    June 8, 2010 at 6:23 pm |
    • Johnny Orlando

      They were offered the entire island of madagascar, and what they are doing to the palestinians proves they deserved those camps.

      June 8, 2010 at 6:32 pm |
  13. TR

    It was clear that Helen was set up by this Rabbi, because she criticized Israels actions in response the the question by the paparazzi, now Helen was a Anti Semite, the Jews are clearly out of control.

    June 8, 2010 at 6:22 pm |
  14. Monica Gee

    This is the death of free speech. Has anyone considered that her remark might actually bring peace to the Middle East. Unfortunately, where politics live, the truth is almost impossible to find.

    Maybe, just maybe, in her 89 years and decades of experience, she's seen enough of life to have some good ideas on how to actually lower the body counts. WHAT IF SHE'S RIGHT ?

    June 8, 2010 at 6:22 pm |
  15. David from Dallas

    I agree with what she said and I think they are many like us who are in the closet. Everyone in the U.S. is afraid to criticize Israel for fear of being accused of being anti-Semitic. I would fight for the right of Jews everywhere to worship as they choose, but the U.S. can't continue to support the tyrannical behavior of the state of Israel. By continuing to do so our national security is becoming more at risk every day.

    June 8, 2010 at 6:22 pm |
    • oceans

      Then don't conflate the state of Israels with the Jews. They aren't the same thing and are certainly not monolithic.

      June 8, 2010 at 7:58 pm |
  16. TomKas

    II am just disappointed in most of you folks. She meant what she said. There is no excuse for her. It was not right and simply reflects the point of view that others are justified in their actions, rocket launchers, blowing up school buses and all. It did not surprise me as she is a loony anyway. I feel sorry for her and in some ways for you, if you choose to defend her. It's embarrassing that someone like Helen was a major communicator in America today.

    June 8, 2010 at 6:21 pm |
  17. lisa g.

    the problem here is that they kept her way past her expiration date...like by 24 years.

    June 8, 2010 at 6:20 pm |
  18. CNN-Observer

    Sorry, I meant AIPAC not IPAAC

    June 8, 2010 at 6:18 pm |
  19. lisa g.

    what the hell.... she's 89?? She's waaay past her expiration date – like by 24 years. thats the problem.

    June 8, 2010 at 6:18 pm |
  20. Peter

    When will we stop cowering under the threat of being stained with the "Anti-Semitic" label and state the obvious. Regardless how anyone feels toward Arab people in general, or the Palestinian people in particular, what's happening there is wrong. It always has been, and always will be. It amazes me that a people who suffered through, and survived one of the worst atrocities in memory, can deny someone the most basic of human rights.

    If the Palestinian people didn't have the obvious image problems that most middle easterners have, and Israel wasn't the perpetrator, politicians and media alike would not hesitate to condemn this situation and cry for justice.

    June 8, 2010 at 6:18 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.