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. NRQ

    Hmm I'm just trying to figure out what is the freedom of speech... when a rabbi hurts or israel hurts with such comments its different but when on facebook "Draw muhammad contest" and stuff happen and millions of muslims hurts we say its Freedom of Speech...

    June 9, 2010 at 3:05 am |
  2. Noel Bligh

    What,s wrong with freedom of speech, or are the jews superior to the rest of us.

    June 9, 2010 at 3:05 am |
    • oceans

      I'm amazed at the stupidity on this board. Freedom of speech in America relates to the limitation on the government to restrict speech. Ms. Thomas said something on duty that embarrassed her employer. End of story. She had her freedom of speech and exercised it. She jeopardized her employment with it. There are many professions where the exact same thing can happen without violating freedom of speech.

      What's disturbing is the number of people like yourself who seem threatened when Jews or people supporting Jews stand up and call out the groundless broad-based criticisms of "the Jews." Criticize the Israeli government all you want, but if slam Jewish people as a whole, expect a negative reaction.

      The same thing goes for Muslims. We are all free to criticize the Islamic governments and their violations of human rights. However, that doesn't mean that every Muslim supports those governments. Broad negative claims about Muslims are just as stupid and offensive as those against Jews.

      June 9, 2010 at 12:21 pm |
  3. evensteven

    If you think Helen Thomas' remarks were outrageous, listen to what the current Prime Minister of Israel said regarding 9/11 in 2001:

    “Regarding what took place on September 11, well it’s very good… Well, it’s not good, but it will generate immediate sympathy for Israel.”
    — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s response to the attacks on America as reported in The Jerusalem Post, September 12, 2001.

    June 9, 2010 at 2:57 am |
  4. JewFromRussia

    All of you demanding that Israel be destroyed, I have a bad news for you. No matter how shrill you howls become, no matter how bad you foam at the mouth, no matter how much pain your obsession causes you, you will not persuade the Jews to self sacrifice themselves for your relief.

    You only, I repeat, your only option is to try and kill us. But this time, you won't have the same safe fun you always had goring Jewish women with pitchforks. We have nuclear bombs and will use it to protect our lives. Let me just add that our bombs will detonate. After all, it was the Jews who created the A-bomb.

    June 9, 2010 at 2:38 am |
  5. Steve X

    Free speech only if you bash Arabs and Muslims- speak ill of the policies of the Israeli (Foreign) Govt in America and you will get destroyed.

    We can bash our own govt, but utter one word of Israel and you are a racist pig. Never mind that you could be a humanitarian with a conscience or an American sick and tired of our tax dollars ($15billion/year) or American blood (how many US soldiers must die for a foreign country???)

    Search Gaza and natural gas and you will see why Israel started this naval blockade. Rigs sucking out the natural gas in Gaza waters and selling it to British Gas.

    June 9, 2010 at 2:34 am |
  6. Observer

    The guy is a professional filmmaker, can u see how he videotaped her?Bias! he intentionally tryed to show her features in a way that would picture her as a devil woman! this only speaks for the professional filmmaker. Unfortunatlly for her he got what he was looking for.

    June 9, 2010 at 2:33 am |
  7. Mario J Barrientos

    I TOTALLY agree with her..... Israel should be dissolve as a country.

    June 9, 2010 at 2:07 am |
  8. Mike H.

    Quite simply, I've never understood why America has always been Israel's nanny, of sorts. The Jews wanted a place to live, and Palestine was taken by decree and force following WWII. And we are surprised there is hostility in that region of the globe, and animosity toward Jews? Duh!

    Why is it when one sides with the Palestinians over the Jews it's considered anti-semetic? Why can one simply not have a more sympathetic view of the Palestinian plight without being hit over the head with all the anti-semitism whining?

    I have Jewish friends from Israel. I have Islamic friends from the Middle East. Coincidently, they are friends of each other as well. Why can this not happen on a bigger scale? I'm guessing it's government and media who want to keep things stirred up....

    June 9, 2010 at 1:51 am |
  9. kooz1971

    Can someone tell me what was wrong with what she said other than how she said it? There is only a "jewish state" because it was created after World War 2 and now that a generation has been born away from that conflict, the land should be shared with the Palestinians. The people that do not want to do that should not keep it from happening by claiming it is their "god given right to be there" If that was true, they would not have to use military force to defend it . NO nation is above critique, including our own. Just because someone is critical of Israel does not mean they are an Anti-Semite. There will be no peace in the Middle East until a 2 state solution is realized. Period. Its ridiculous to think otherwise.

    Helen Thomas should know that words have power and being cantankerous AND political is a recipe for disaster. Ice T said it best "Freedom of Speech .....just watch what you say"

    And yes, I am a conservative.

    June 9, 2010 at 1:38 am |
  10. Saadat Ali Zia

    God forbid if anybody as a different opinion than that of Jews because that is anti-Semitism tied into anti-Israel (sentiment).
    The fact is the only country with a nuclear weapon in the Middle-East is Israel and yet they are portrayed as the victims. And you can't even question them because that is Anti-Semitic. You can't tell them to go back to Germany or Poland because about 60+ years ago apparently 6 million Jews were brutally murdered.
    But what about hundreds of thousands of Muslims, killed in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Gaza, & Lebanon – innocent civilians, women & children. Who are they? What is this? Is an Israeli life has more value than that of a Muslim? Who decides what is Holocaust and what is a war against Terror?
    I want peace in the Middle-East and around the world. I don't hate America or what it stands for. I don't even care enough about Israel to hate them – but the obvious mistreatment of the whole situation is just too much of a bitter pill to swallow. You can't as much as comment against Jews but they can shoot fishermen or humanitarians just because they are think they can be attacked by these men.

    June 9, 2010 at 1:35 am |
  11. davem

    Welcome to America, the land of the free. Here, you have complete freedom of speech, the freedom to speak without censorship and/or limitation, as long as you agree with us....lol

    June 9, 2010 at 1:34 am |
  12. jack Cooper

    Hey Avi People make up the country not the UN and definitely not some European immigrants who took over the land by force

    June 9, 2010 at 1:31 am |
    • Udi

      "some European immigrants who took over the land by force", hmmm.
      Sounds like the same description for America, no? Becareful Jack Cooper, I wouldn't throw stones from a house made of glass.

      June 9, 2010 at 10:12 am |
  13. Pope Gregorius

    I did not know who Helen Thomas was before all this artificial scandal started. Judging the media reaction, I figured she must be a great personality. A woman in politics, still standing and corresponding since JFK? She must be a vertical person, I thought. But I really started to admire her seeing how ridiculously the media reacted: ALL organizations, groups, political personalities, known or anonymous (all nullities) started a race to accuse her! Not necessarily agreeing with Mrs Thomas’ opinion of Jews leaving Israel or with the language used (I think peace between the two parties is the only solution), I stand by the fact that in journalism, there is no such thing as ‘shocked by the answer’. The rabbi is hypocrite, he was after cheap publicity, we don’t care about him.
    @jfusa, thanks for mentioning mitworld.mit.edu/video/488, extraordinary debate!

    June 9, 2010 at 12:55 am |
  14. jack Cooper

    Helen Thomas said the facts, it's amazing how this country have changed we used to lynch anyone who lies now we crucify who dares to tell the truth

    June 9, 2010 at 12:51 am |
  15. Libya

    I hink what she said should be very expected. What those Israelis have been doing in the last fifty years is terrible and unfogivable. Why do not you guys ask why such a nice woman would say that. Have not you all seen the news just a week ago and saw how many human rights activists were killed. Killing unarmed 19 human rights activists is not OK and talking about the killers badly is NOT OK. I do not understand this mess???

    June 9, 2010 at 12:47 am |
  16. babyB

    Give us America: Faith~ Hope~ Love: Let us lead by example. Stand strong Together, we need each other. Let us have freedom & promote peace.
    Let us be the first to help and the last to condem.
    I may be a baby to some ~ But I can think, & Feel too.
    PS: please don't build an temple next to the worse crime in our history. Isn't that the way the Holy Land has suffered since the beginning of time?!!!

    June 9, 2010 at 12:27 am |
  17. Naana

    Arden... this is the way of the Jews, there are some human ones who came out of the former Soviet Union

    "When the Lord your God brings you into the land you are entering to possess and drives out before you may nations...then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them and show them no mercy." Deuteronomy 7:1-2, NIV. 1
    "...do not leave alive anything that breaths. Completely destroy them...as the Lord your God has commanded you..." Deuteronomy 20:16, NIV. 1

    And you attach the Qaran...... it's like the pot calling the kettle black...... you are in essence the same......enjoy each other....

    June 9, 2010 at 12:26 am |
  18. Alex

    @Arty I am a Jew and don't say you never met a nice Jew as I am going out on a limb to help. You are an Idiot! go to bed You are giving your fallow anti-semits a bad name.

    June 9, 2010 at 12:20 am |
  19. Religionisfake

    The fact is all this fighting is about one thing, RELIGION. Well guess what everyone..God is fictional no matter what god you believe in.

    June 9, 2010 at 12:20 am |
    • Arden

      Not really. You can make all the same arguments without any reference to religion at all, at least on the Israeli side.

      June 9, 2010 at 12:24 am |
  20. oceans

    Just because someone calls you out as a racist doesn't make them one as well. Racism is the belief that another group (ethnic, racial, nationality, etc) is inferior. You couldn't possibly have met enough Jews to form any statistical basis for such a belief. As for you and Bob, how many Jews have you ever met? How do you know when you've met one?

    June 9, 2010 at 12:16 am |
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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.