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. Mike

    I guess because I don't agree with Israel, I'm an anti-semite and someone must report abuse. You cowards!

    June 8, 2010 at 8:26 pm |
  2. Lawrence

    I just don't get what some of you are missing. I have no problem with her saying she disagrees with Israel's policies. I have no problem with her saying the Palestinians are 'occupied', though I disagree. None of this was what toppled her.

    What did it was her saying the Jews there should 'go back'...to Germany , or Poland....places from which many of the Holocaust victims who helped to build the state of Israel had crawled away from.

    At the very least, it was an incredibly insensitive comment to make, and the 'they should go back' type of outlook has no start nor end. Perhaps the English who settled this place should go back to England and give the land back to the Native Americans, and all subsequent immigrants should return to the countries of their origins? We certainly occupy their land.

    It's just nonsense, obviously

    June 8, 2010 at 8:26 pm |
  3. Bill

    I wonder about Rabbi Nesenoff's honesty in claiming not to have known about Helen Thomas's pro-Palestinian views. Those views were well known, particularly to those such as a rabbi who is familiar with Jewish issues.

    Israel has been widely criticized for its recent raid of the Mavi Marmara. This political pressure would ease if the critics backed off and if the criticism itself were discredited as anti-Semitic. Nesenoff's motive, I suspect, was to bait Thomas into suggesting something unreasonable like relocating Jews to Germany and Poland. Hopefully, that remark would then paint all other criticisms of Jews or Israel as somehow equally unreasonable. The Rabbi also wanted to intimidate journalists from criticizing Israel. The message was clear: if we can take down the dean of the White House press corps, we can certainly take you down.

    June 8, 2010 at 8:24 pm |
  4. Dan

    Excellent points D Russell... unfortunately "they" seem to have persecution goggles on all the time, and can't see clearly.

    June 8, 2010 at 8:23 pm |
  5. Vuksanka

    Nesenoff – why does she need to apologize to your son? Get over it! The woman spoke her mind – boo hoo...you didn't like her response... are you a narcissist? Ok – so she was a bit abrupt with her comment; however, it's called freedom of speech. It's not as if she yelled "FIRE!" in a crowded movie theatre.
    BRAVO Thomas for speaking your mind!

    June 8, 2010 at 8:22 pm |
  6. Anthony

    Second posting i know, but all this terrorist activity , they leared that from the jews in Palestine before it was called israel. The Jew were blowing up things just like the palestinians and the other arabs to get what they wanted, you really should pick up a few history books, you would be supprised to what you would find out. the muslims are just taking a play out of israels old play book.

    June 8, 2010 at 8:21 pm |
  7. Confused

    How is what she said anti-Semitism?? She said that all of these blue-eyed blond-haired Jews should go back to Poland, Germany or America, where they came from, and leave Palestine to the Palestinians who have been there all along. How is that anti-Semitic??

    June 8, 2010 at 8:20 pm |
  8. D Russell

    So, it is ok for Israel's founding father to admit what she said was true, but no anyone in America:
    "Jewish villages were built in the place of Arab villages. You do not even know the names of these Arab villages, and I do not blame you because geography books no longer exist. Not only do the books not exist, the Arab villages are not there either. Nahlal arose in the place of Mahlul; Kibbutz Gvat in the place of Jibta; Kibbutz Sarid in the place of Huneifis; and Kefar Yehushua in the place of Tal al-Shuman. There is not a single place built in this country that did not have a former Arab population."

    - Moshe Dayan, April 1969, Ha'aretz; quoted in Edward Said, 'Zionism from the Standpoint of Its Victims', Social Text, Volume 1, 1979, 7-58.

    "Let us not ignore the truth among ourselves ... politically we are the aggressors and they defend themselves... The country is theirs, because they inhabit it, whereas we want to come here and settle down, and in their view we want to take away from them their country."
    - David Ben Gurion, quoted on pp 91-2 of Chomsky's Fateful Triangle, which appears in Simha Flapan's "Zionism and the Palestinians pp 141-2 citing a 1938 speech.

    June 8, 2010 at 8:20 pm |
  9. chris hammes

    If they chose to force her retirement than I believe it was warranted, if that's not the message of the company who employs her. Having said that, however, I can't help but agree with the woman. Actually, i don't care if Jews continue to live in Israel, but I see no reason for the US to continue to stand by Israel's side. How on Earth can the US with our Bill of Rights ensuring freedom of religion, possibly allign itself with a country built on state sponsered religion? News flash folks, most of the world isn't Jewish, so the idea of a Divine or Biblical claim to the land sounds like a lot of hogwash to a lot of different ears. Would we unflinchingly support an Islamic state treating people in the same way? I think Israel should fight her own wars. If they are truly God's chosen why do they need our military prescence? I can understand after WWII wanting to reach out to the Jewish community, but the creation of Israel was not the correct thing to do. You don't right a wrong by punishing someone else. It was not the world's land to give away, and much of our country's current problems in middle east spring from this fact.

    June 8, 2010 at 8:19 pm |
    • oceans

      You ask, "Would we unflinchingly support an Islamic state treating people in the same way?"

      Answer: We already do. It's called Saudi Arabia. It is a repressive theocracy and possesses one of the world's worst human rights records. It gave us almost all of the 9/11 hijackers and funds numerous terrorist groups.

      June 8, 2010 at 8:29 pm |
  10. Brian

    Why do conservatives get so upset with people who don't agree with Israel?? Maybe Israel has more power over our country than I thought

    June 8, 2010 at 8:18 pm |
    • Silhouette

      You got that right. The reality is that Israel is not US's proxy, its the other way round. they run the show and in return present you with the best available resources to enjoy, courtesy of blood thirsty capitalism and coloniozation of resourceful territories.
      We here in the US are 5% of the world population, consuming 40% of the world's resources. Its hard to blame someone when your belly is that full.

      June 8, 2010 at 8:25 pm |
  11. drebin

    why is this in the "belief" blog?

    This has nothing to do with religion, but with politics.

    Making this a religious discussion is just.....

    Oh. Schechter.....i got it now.

    June 8, 2010 at 8:15 pm |
  12. Danny

    I'm sorry i may be straying from the trail of thought here , But Helen Thomas was right.
    Jewish people can claim citizenship of Israel based on there religion so they can build the jewish population at a faster rate than through birth. Hence why the need so many settlements. Now how is this fair to the Palestinians who have generations of family's, who grew up on land that has been illegally taken from them by the Israeli government to make way for religious citizens. So she was right to say they should go home. Anyone who has claimed Israeli Citizenship through there religion should be sent packing back to there country of birth as they have no business there but to cause trouble for the people who have been there for generations.

    One last thing. As an Irishman i sympathize with the Palestinians as there plight is similar to what ours was in the 1920's. We had to bring the British empire to its knees to get them to listen and take notice, And if that is what the Palestinians have to gain there freedom and dignity back from the oppressive hands of the Israeli government then i support there cause.
    As we say in Ireland, one man's Terrorist , is another man's freedom fighter.

    June 8, 2010 at 8:15 pm |
  13. Mike

    I give Israel credit, they are accomplishing something Native Americans, Hawaiians, and other Native people who fell victim to their own land haven't and will probably never ever achieve. Vio con Dios, Israel,! I'm sure if the Native Americans threw white people in refugee camps and built reservations all over the U.S. it would be WWIII.

    June 8, 2010 at 8:13 pm |
    • Arthur

      Native Americans, Hawaiians, and other Native people who fell victim to their own land haven't and will probably never ever achieve is because THERE CULTURE don't have a "pain body" like Israelis. They are peacefull and move on!
      I lived in Spain and I learned the were many kids and families that died in the holocost (not jewish) Franco Spanish president at that time, sent a lot of people from the parts of Spain he didnt like. They were not jewish who ALSO died on the holocost.
      I never hear about them before... THEY NEVER ASK FOR NOTHING!

      June 8, 2010 at 8:56 pm |
  14. Anthony

    Thomas should have been fired for her statement, she is using her freedom of speech. Israel is an occupying force and should be on the human rights watch list, just like china and its other middle eastern countries. They have no right to land they are occupying. Their only claim to that land is a few thousand years old mythological book, that has brought more harm then good to the world. Thomas is right the jews should go home back to poland and germany

    June 8, 2010 at 8:12 pm |
  15. JOHN

    ARE YOU KIDDING ME!!! She was a super left wing liberal baised propagandist...she was not a reporter...GOOD RIDDANCE!!!!

    June 8, 2010 at 8:12 pm |
  16. Bob Prentiss

    If, as francis isslhardt claims, the Israelis treat Palestinians like the Nazis did, why are there so many still alive? I believe his prejudices are showing.

    June 8, 2010 at 8:08 pm |
  17. Dan

    I'm sick of American Jews intimidating and harrassing people because they make a statement or opinion. You don't see Catholics getting all twisted on a bunch when statements, jokes, etc. are made about them and the whole abuse scandal..
    Stop kow-towing to these hypersensitive people.. They've been squeezing enought drops out of the Holocaust well too many times... The Russians, Chinese, or Rwandans, don't whine as much about their genocide!

    June 8, 2010 at 8:08 pm |
  18. Stephen

    I believe that this Is a sort of recurrence of the red scare. Anyone who had a view slightly different from the government was branded as communist, now its just changed its name to Anti-Semite. I guess we have a new McCarthy...

    June 8, 2010 at 8:06 pm |
  19. David

    60% of Israelis are from Arab countries – Morroco, Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Iraq and Iran; Not from Poland and Germany. T(here were hardly any Jews left in Germany and Poland to go to Israel). Are these Arab countries willing to welcome the Jews back? Is Helen Thomas willing to welcome Lebanese Jews back to Lebanon?

    June 8, 2010 at 8:06 pm |
    • Silhouette

      David, thats an even more disturbing fact. These jews were living along/ among the arabs for centuries and didn't experience any particular persecution of any sort. Actually they were all living very peacefully.
      What ticks most of the rational people is the illegal creation of a state. Its the creation of this state over someone else' land that has stirred the arab world against them. They were doing pretty ok till that time.

      June 8, 2010 at 8:20 pm |
    • Arden

      Oh no, no "particular prejudice." Just having to live in walled off portions of the cities, not being allowed to own horses or swords, paying extra taxes, not being allowed to pray in public, having a special curfew etc. etc. No big deal.

      June 8, 2010 at 8:28 pm |
    • Silhouette

      Arden, although half of what you stated is exaggerated, thats still way better than what they were experiencing in europe at the hands of white man/ christians.
      Do the jews have the right to live peacefully? as much as any other group in the world.
      Do the jews have the right to have their own country based on their race/ religion? I have no problem with that.
      Do the jews have the right to have their own country on someone else' land? We are in disagreement if you say yes.

      June 8, 2010 at 8:38 pm |
  20. jojomonkey

    Drawing hateful pictures of a religion's prophet == freedom of speech
    Saying anything about Israel in your own country (America) == automatic hate speech – never allowed.

    American Jews are frauds. They should either choose America or Israel.
    They will always choose Israel before. E.g. I was on line election day 2004 waiting to vote for the President and a couple of Jews in front of me began talking and said 'Vote for this guy – he is better for Israel' – ON ELECTION DAY IN AMERICA!

    June 8, 2010 at 8:01 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.