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. Naana

    The Fairy Tale aka the Old Testament does not mention Byzantines.... The Byzantines are Greeks and they were not mentioned in your Fairy Tales of Moses, Abraham, Levy .....

    June 9, 2010 at 12:09 am |
    • Naana

      not to mention the burning bushes and walking on water and all that jazz......................

      June 9, 2010 at 12:11 am |
  2. Alex

    Its time to go to sleep. I can only hope that I wake up tomorrow and this world will come to peace.
    I hope all people love each other and not be singled out because of there religion or skin color.
    I hope religion is practiced behind closed doors and all fanatics stop using religion as an excuse to kill and hate.
    I hope Israel and Palestine can live side by side in peace... ENOUGH!!!

    June 9, 2010 at 12:07 am |
  3. Arty

    I'm joking for the most part but I really have never met a jew that was kind to other people

    June 9, 2010 at 12:02 am |
    • moondoggie

      Then you have not met very many Jews, you have never met me or the children I teach. I am conflicted though. On one hand, I hope never to meet a person like you, on the other hand, you have a lot of waking up and learning to do. Maybe a day in a Jewish Community Center or School whould help you to become more aware of who the Jewish people REALLY are.

      June 9, 2010 at 11:20 am |
  4. Alex

    I hate agreeing with a Racist, but I got to agree with you on this comment.

    June 9, 2010 at 12:00 am |
  5. Chris

    This woman represents so much that is wrong with America. Why is she only singling out Israel when many think America should get out of Iraq and Afghanistan. And why is she only singling out Jews. Would she ever try and suggest that Muslims must get out of America, or black Americans must go back to Africa. Of course she wouldn’t. How would she feel if she was told to get out of America and go back to Lebanon, she would resent that, but she thinks there is nothing wrong with singling out the Jews and Israel.

    After she got caught out she claimed that she stands for mutual respect and tolerance. No she does not, like much of America she is a hypocrite.

    June 8, 2010 at 11:52 pm |
    • fw robinson

      first off she provided a direct answer to a direct question. the question was about jews she was not singling out the jews. the questioner was a jew asking a question about jews get it??? the reason nobody wants to respond to these types of questions is because of concerns about being prosecuted for being honest. the jews want everyone to agree with their position. and we don't. and the jews can't handle that. who would agree to sanction the position of a people who have treated the palestinians like whites have treated blacks historically? and then cry out that they have been misunderstood? the world just doesn't understand the plight of the jews? we do understand the plight of the jews we don't agree with suggested solutions and that is because the jews today are out of touch with the times........and reality. the only thing missing from this story is that helen thomas has not been burned at the stake for her comments. and that is only because you can't get away with it today. but the collective actions of the jews to exact a pound of flesh to punish helen thomas amounts to the same thing. and you want what??? to show us how civilized the jews have become??? yea!!! the response of the jews here really shows us just how much progress you have made as a people.

      June 9, 2010 at 1:59 am |
  6. Arden

    The fact is that the Arabs who lived there are the descendants of people who stole the land from the Byzantines who were the remnant of the Roman Empire who stole it from Jews. This is not a "fairy tale" it is simply fact. If you disagree then you have simply been misinformed. Look it up for yourself. It's all over the place. Common knowledge.

    June 8, 2010 at 11:49 pm |
    • Eva

      And I am related to the caveman who owned it a million years ago.

      June 9, 2010 at 11:08 am |
      • moondoggie

        Lucky girl!! It is so simple even a cave man can do it!

        June 9, 2010 at 11:15 am |
  7. Luke

    Even though Zionists will always justify every horrible atrocity they commit by pointing to the Holocaust, they themselves are capable of the same. What Jews do every day to countless animals in Kosher slaughterhouses is far worse than anything the Nazis ever did to any Jews, as evidenced by videos posted online by undercover investigators.

    June 8, 2010 at 11:37 pm |
    • oceans

      Thanks for painting all Jews with the same broad brush. Good to know how tolerant and open-minded and compassionate you are.

      June 9, 2010 at 12:03 am |
    • The Observer

      Right On, Luke!!!!

      June 9, 2010 at 12:30 am |
  8. SBinSanJose

    This rabbi has already been shown to be a racist, that it makes me laugh that he claims Helen Thomas is. She spoke the truth. The Israeli settlers occupying parts of the West Bank and other Palestinian lands meant for Palestine under the original two state plan need to get out of Palestinian lands. They should go back to where ever they came from if there isn't room in the Israeli land that was meant for Israel.

    It's sad that anything negative against Israel is automatically spun into anti-Semitism. The rabbi should be the one apologizing for stooping so low in saying she's racist.

    June 8, 2010 at 11:29 pm |
  9. Krush

    It's hard to believe that someone thinks they are owed an apology when they asked someone else for an personal opinion. If you don't want to take the chance at being upset, don't ask. Furthermore, each and everyone of us have the right to our opinions, no matter how unpopular or out of fashion with political correctness. Helen Thomas should have known that anti-Israel comments would lead to the end of her career. But, at the same time, what was Rabbi David Nesenoff thinking? I have nothing against Jews or Palestinians. If both groups really put their alleged faith into action, they would be sharing the Holy Land and showing love and respect for each other.

    June 8, 2010 at 11:24 pm |
  10. Rina

    Helen Thomas has a right to speak her mind. I wonder what would have happened if she would have said Palestine should never be an independent State? This is America.

    June 8, 2010 at 11:19 pm |
  11. Luke

    Israel wants peace and harmonious coexistence with the Palestinians just like American expansionists wanted peace and harmonious coexistence with Native Americans. For anyone who values peace in the Middle East, the very creation of the state of Israel was a mistake. The fact that an American reporter is hounded so doggedly for stating an opinion only illuminates the disproportionate influence of Zionism polluting American discourse on world affairs. Israel will do nothing for America but drag it into an endless series of wars and conflicts, and the leaders of both countries know this well.

    June 8, 2010 at 11:19 pm |
    • SBinSanJose

      @Alex – That's actually not racist. You are assuming he's racist because he's against the creation of Israel after WWII. One can actually think that it is a bad idea without hating Jewish people. Unfortunately, in this day in age, nothing can be said against Israel without being smeared as a racist.

      June 8, 2010 at 11:42 pm |
    • SBinSanJose

      @Alex – You are taking his quote out of context. Simply saying "Zionism polluting America[n]" is racist. That's not what he's saying at all. What he is saying is that Zionist (e.g. Israeli, not just Jews as you are making it out to be) interests are affecting (he chose a harsher tone) how America deals with the world and how we are perceived. Unfortunately, the reactions of most politicians regarding 9 dead on that flotilla lends credence to what he is saying. That's not racist.

      Now he could be racist in real life, neither of us really knows, but the words he's using are not. Unfortunately, you are proving many people's belief that saying anything against Israel automatically gets them labeled racist and anti-semite.

      June 9, 2010 at 12:11 am |
  12. The Observer

    It seems that the United States of America has over time and quietly become the United States of Israel.

    Helen should go "kick some ass" at BP!!!!!!!!!

    June 8, 2010 at 11:18 pm |
    • Alex

      @SBinSanJose making a comment like "Zionism polluting American" is Racist. Its as if i said that Mexicans are polluting America. He is mixing up the State of Israel and Jewish people as a whole!

      June 8, 2010 at 11:53 pm |
  13. Chief Gimmeeback

    Our Great Father in the Sky said that Florida belonged to the Seminole. We want it back. We want the United Nations to close down Miami Beach tomorrow. We want the United Nations to create the sovereign nation of Seminolea. We want the USA to give us an unlimited amount of military aid. We want to close the borders between ourselves and Georgia and Alabama.No, we take that back we want to build settlements in Georgia and Alabama, We want all the Seminoles in the rest of the United States to raise money at innumerable fundraisers and send it to us. Anybody who disagrees with these demands is anti-Seminole.

    June 8, 2010 at 11:11 pm |
    • Arden

      People might be annoyed at this proposal but it certainly would be just and fair if it happened.

      June 8, 2010 at 11:52 pm |
  14. LM

    Israel has now come full circle. It has now become that which had brought it into existence. It is now no different than the Nazi government of Germany 1939 and Gaza is it's very own Auschwitz.

    June 8, 2010 at 11:09 pm |
    • Alex

      Great analogy . . Accept Israel didn't put the Palestinians in concentration camps and death chambers instead send humanitarian aid despite the constant missile attacks and suicide bombings by humas.

      June 8, 2010 at 11:13 pm |
    • SBinSanJose

      @LM – While Israel is doing terrible, indefensible things, comparing it to Nazi treatment of Jews in Europe is a little too far.

      @Alex – You should actually learn about the "humanitarian aid" Israel provides. It's not as good as you make it out to be. This is the reason the aid flotilla was trying to break the blockade. Israel doesn't allow or heavily limits the amount of cement Palestinians get so they can't rebuild the homes Israel demolishes. And they don't allow prefabricated shelters. You are correct that there are no death chambers, but the ghettos they are forced to live in are similar to concentration camps.

      June 8, 2010 at 11:56 pm |
    • LM

      @alex True, it's not a concentration camp ...yet. The Gazans are living like dogs in that squalor The Iraelis claim thay have now beef with the ordinary people of Gaza just their government Hamas, but didn't they elect that government in a fairly won electon in 2007? So I guess Israel is collectively punishing the Gazans for electing Hamas the terrorist group, huh?

      Might i remind you, one mans terrorist is another mans freedom fighter. The Israelis should know this well as Menachem Begin one of Israels first Prime minister was considered a terrorist, just ask the British, whose officers' club he blew up with a bomb killing innocent people, among other terrorist acts, eventually ending British mandate in Palestine. Hamas is merely following his example.

      June 8, 2010 at 11:58 pm |
    • LM

      @Sbin, I admit the comparison is a bit extreme I apologize for that, but if any people should be more understanding of another's plight it is those living in Israel as their for fathers went through the horrors of the holocaust and should not wish that kind of treatment on any other soul.

      June 9, 2010 at 12:05 am |
  15. Katie

    How about firing Obama for saying he is going to "kick some ass"

    June 8, 2010 at 11:07 pm |
    • Alex

      Yes! Firing Obama, thats a great idea and let replace him with a genius like you.

      June 8, 2010 at 11:10 pm |
  16. Luke

    Helen Thomas made the unforgivable mistake of speaking out against Jewish interests in America, where even thought-crime against the state of Israel is swiftly punished. Free speech is fine, as long as that speech doesn't conflict with Jewish interests. Funny how much power the pro-Zionists wield in the supposedly free United States of America.

    June 8, 2010 at 11:06 pm |
  17. Bob

    An old lady answered a question. Was it the PC answer? No. Wait until you get to be 90 and see what you say. It is time for her to retire, but this shouldn't have been the cause of her retirement.

    June 8, 2010 at 11:02 pm |
  18. Kuzma

    As to the freedom of speech. Ms. Thomas certainly has it and used it. Other people having the very same right criticized her and excersizing their freedoms decided not to deal with her. Nobody fired her or procecuted in any way. She got ashamed and as a result decided to resign. Good for her. She can enjoy the retirment while all others may support or criticize her.
    The bottom line: she has freedom of speech just as others have freedom of criticizing her. She also has the responsibility for her own actions and if her speech made many other people to dislike her and stay away from her – this was her choice. The freedom of speech in no way is a right to be loved and respected by others.

    June 8, 2010 at 10:59 pm |
  19. Emeka

    listen everyone, have you all forgotten what the bible said? "Give to Ceaser what is Ceaser's and to God what is God's". So i say to Isrealis if the land belongs to the Palestinians give back period.

    June 8, 2010 at 10:51 pm |
    • oceans

      But it belonged to the British before it was made into the modern State of Israel. Should Israel give it back to them? Would Palestinians be any better off then?

      June 8, 2010 at 11:01 pm |
  20. Lance

    What people are not seeing here is that Thomas has completely destroyed her image of objectivity. How can anyone ever trust that what she reports is factual, instead of the result of her prejudices? Reporters are supposed to be NEUTRAL. Reporters are supposed to REPORT the unbiased truth; it is up to their readers to come to conclusions, not the reporter. Thomas has demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt that she is not neutral; that she is biased; and on the topic of Israel she is wrapping editorial in the mantle of reporting.

    If she is bigoted in this axis, how many other areas is she equally bigoted? Can she be trusted to report factually on topics concerning Africans (American or otherwise)? Catholics? Gays? Asians? Anything except her own self-interest?

    She has freedom of speech. She used it. And now she is free to take the consequences of her speed. Free to look for another job. Free to go exercise some more free speech. What she does NOT have the freedom to do is to wander into the White House any time she feels like it and have access to the Presidency. I don't have that freedom, none of you do, so why should she? Employment is never a right. Neither is a security clearance.

    Now, if she wants to go become the editor of some Aryan or Jihadist newspaper, we can be sure that what we are getting is opinion not fact. Go for it, Helen. I'm sure they'll be happy to have you.

    June 8, 2010 at 10:48 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.