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. Blake

    Absolutely pathetic to read the pro Israeli sentiment coming from so many of you when Israel is such a terror and oppressor to so many in this world. They continuously attack and encroach the Palestinian way of life. You call yourselves Americans? I call you trash for supporting such a rogue terrorist nation as Israel.

    June 8, 2010 at 8:01 pm |
    • jojomonkey

      Exactly – America for Americans first.

      June 8, 2010 at 8:03 pm |
  2. Blake

    Helen Thomas is absolutely right. The jews should go home, quit occupying Palestinian territory and terrorizing their people.

    June 8, 2010 at 7:57 pm |
  3. mrdeedz

    “Remember, these people are occupied. And it’s their land.” She's right.
    What's worse is, this story, about a woman who has every right to speak her mind and a right to free speech, is getting more attention and press on CNN (TV & Internet) than what Israel did to the Marvi Marmara and the activists. And, Gibbs immediately comes out and denounces and condemns Ms. Thomas' opinion, but both he and the WH have yet to fully condemn Israel's lackluster behavior and improper actions. She poses hard, thought provoking questions to our leaders that others in the WH press corps dare to ask. The other members of the press corps are blind puppets and sheep with no spine, unwilling to ask the tough, unpopular questions. She'll be missed.

    June 8, 2010 at 7:56 pm |
  4. ken

    Well she said what many say behind the scenes. She is I think senile and was loosing good judgement when she said it.
    Is she right? Well lets put it this way – What we americans did to the indians what Isrealis do to the Palestinians. Now the Isrealis aren t going anywhere soon – so this stuff is going to go on for many years. Its sad.

    June 8, 2010 at 7:56 pm |
  5. Naseer

    It was not only a matter of freedom of speech, which is most often interfered with when it comes to Israel, but what she said was entirely true. Why should the Palestinians suffer as a result of the persecution of Jews in Europe at the hands of the Christians? Can the massive immigration of Jews from Europe and other parts of the world and their ethnic cleansing of the indigenous Palestinians who had been living there since the dawn of time be justified? What about the destruction of hundreds of Palestinian villages and the massacres and genocides committed by the Israelis? What about their huge settlements, the apartheid wall which encroaches into the Palestinian lands and the road blocks and the highways cris crossing the West Bank exclusively for the use of Israelis only, and the eleven thousand Palestinians rotting in Israeli dungeons, some of them for more than twenty years, including women and children and the complete blockade of Gaza from land, sea and air, with the undeclared intention of starving the Palestinians into subjugation? It is a shame that we Americans support such barbaric atrocities. We better know what the facts are. It is quite natural and understandable that the Palestinians are resisting. They have a right to live in their own land and lead a dignified existence, just like all other human beings of this planet earth.

    June 8, 2010 at 7:55 pm |
  6. Diane

    Ms. Thomas owes you NOTHING Nesenoff...nothing but the truth and that is what she gave you! Go cry on somebody else's shoulder. Your crocodile tears of "offense" don't play well here. Why did you ask the question and then get mad at the answer? You knew how she felt...you just wanted her out of the White House press corp and you succeeded you slimeball. You have succeeded in silencing legitimate debate and discussion on an issue that is far from settled...the right of Israel to occupy Palestine and force apartheid on its residents. We are sick of sending $4 billion to your country, sick of you trying to control this nation and use us for your own ends...why don't you get the hell out of here too!

    June 8, 2010 at 7:54 pm |
  7. Dave

    consequence free" speech is not in the first amendment

    June 8, 2010 at 7:52 pm |
  8. Hema David

    Again, another thing that the jewish people have to twist around to make it look like its anti-semitic! Only they could think of such things to do to end a wonderful woman's career. She makes sense though, if you think about it, jews have no land or country which they can call their own. Even God didn't give or arrange them a particular land to "inherit" and they are the TRUE intruders in Palestinian land! Its unfortunate for them, but that's how it has been since the beginning of time. And what more rights do they want, they occupy themselves in almost every country and make a stink about everything in life! They don't allow even other races to come up in life, and try so hard to keep other down. Yet they want the world to feel sorry for them! Sorry not even a chance, at least not from me! I've been to the Holy City, and I've seen the injustice with my own eyes and how the jews behavior portrayed in Palestinian land against the Palestiniains, but media turns it around b/c of its jew influence. Wake up America and see the injustice which they show!

    June 8, 2010 at 7:52 pm |
  9. Dave

    SCOTO since she is old does that mean she has lost her freedom of speech. I don't agree whit what she said, but she has a right to say what ever she wants.

    June 8, 2010 at 7:49 pm |
  10. Dave

    News media is like a pack of wolfs. They eat thier young and thier old!

    June 8, 2010 at 7:44 pm |
  11. SCOTO

    I think some of the posters here are confusing free speech with "consequence free" speech. If you make ill considered (and in my view simplistic and ignorant) remarks then you will bear the consequences of others reactions This is at it should be. I dont really know much about Helen Thomas but I do know that we humans at a certain age are not what we used to be in many respects (mentally physically etc). Helen Thomas looks like an old lady whose time is past. She should have retired before this.

    June 8, 2010 at 7:44 pm |
  12. Lena

    With all do respect to Mr. Nesenoff and his son, Helen Thomas does not owe him or his son an apology. I believe we still have free speech in this country. Although I don't agree with Helen Thomas, she answered a question Rabbi Nesenoff asked and he took the answer to heart instead of as part of his assignment.

    June 8, 2010 at 7:40 pm |
  13. Avgperson

    I think what her mistake reflects is in a way constructive to remember in light of the main point here;
    That being what the flotilla media PR stunt really accomplished – to stir emotions without logic about issues none of us can personally grasp without having experience in the region.
    To forget that security is in place because the ruling party HAMAS is a recognized TERRORIST organization.
    That is not up for dispute. It's a fact.
    Anyone here would be wise to remember that regardless of your race, creed or religion, radicals do not welcome western culture or freedoms.
    Helen seemed to forget that she stands for equal rights for women which is as well what Israel stands for in one aspect.
    Radicals abhor that ideology for one.

    June 8, 2010 at 7:37 pm |
    • Arden

      Absolutely! No reasonable person could disagree with this!

      June 8, 2010 at 7:42 pm |
  14. Angela

    Why a person is always punish when they talk something about Israelians. Why waste time and making a lady who is giving a good example of hardwork, at 89 years old she is still working. How about all the Indians that were kill in South America, they are not complaining for new land. Why Palestine has to give land when they didn't do nothing wrong with what happened in the killing of all the jewish people in Germany, Poland, and all the countries that she mentioned. Please people stop pointing fingers to each other and lets come together with solutions for love in this planet. Peace

    June 8, 2010 at 7:35 pm |
  15. Lawrence

    Can't remember who said it, but it rang true-"'If Hamas disarmed, there would be peace. If Israel disarmed, Hamas would destroy them".

    June 8, 2010 at 7:34 pm |
  16. Darach

    Hello America !
    Being critical of Israel does not make a person anit-Semitic. A major problem these days is that these are mixed up.
    Israel has been an absolute disgrace on so many levels over decades in relation to the Palistinean people. Jewish people around the world however, are largely decent people. They should be ashamed of the Israeli Govt though

    June 8, 2010 at 7:34 pm |
  17. shay

    I think they wanted her out because she had been there since 1960. I am sorry to see her go and to say this has defined her as a journalist is SAD!!!

    June 8, 2010 at 7:32 pm |
  18. Kuzma

    My late father was a physician. I remember him comparing eldery people with an old car with bad brakes. It it not that Ms. Thomas now became more antisemitic than earlier in her life – it is that while beeing younger she was able to hide these feelings. The Jewish state with all the jews living there represents only a tiny piece of Middle East region full with arabs. And while arabs – citizens of Israel have all the civil rights that the jews have (without obligation to army service) the jews practically cannot live in most of the arab coutries. What is the problem there that the arabs cannot live peasfully next to a small and democratic state of Israel?

    June 8, 2010 at 7:32 pm |
  19. Lawrence

    Considering the events of the past 10 years re terrorism and America, I find it illuminating that there is so much good will for Hamas in this discussion.

    Hey, here's an idea- would all of you pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel people be interested in taking in and supporting a few million Palestinians here in America? It certainly would be an act of Christian mercy and kindness.

    June 8, 2010 at 7:32 pm |
  20. concerned

    Offend a Jew and get cruxified in the US of A in the year 2010. Wow, that's huge. Who's pulling the strings? May the puppeteers please stand up.

    June 8, 2010 at 7:31 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.