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. uft

    Nonzionist Jew

    I am a first generation Jewish American (my mother was born in Germany and fled after Kristallnacht). I love the religion of Judaism. I am constantly dismayed by the way that Jews and Judaism are confused with Israelis and Israeli policy. They are not one in the same. Many Jews stand against Israeli treatment of peaceful Palestinians. Many Jews support a Palestinian State. Jews need to realize that modern Jewish thought and culture are not land based – they are not inextricably tied to Israel. Jews can and need to speak out more against policies that violate Jewish law and custom.
    Beautifully said. I completely agree.

    June 9, 2010 at 7:36 am |
  2. Freeman

    Hooray for Helen Thomas, my sentiments entirely! A/P fired her for that??? She was and is a sharp cookie and I have much respect for her in that she said what she thought and it was usually right on target! Why does the Israleis keep Gaza under seige? Those people have a right to life too. My solution is: Put Israel in Northwestern Australia and leave Palestine as it was in the Bible. Problem solved.

    June 9, 2010 at 7:33 am |
  3. E Smith

    What she said is what she believed. It's sad that it's taboo to even have this opinion. Many people share this belief. It IS a debatable point.

    June 9, 2010 at 7:29 am |
  4. Emma

    Ms. Thomas was a nationally-known reporter who has covered the White House and written numerous articles and columns in the American press. The blatant anti-semitism and anti-Israel sentiment she recently revealed disqualifies her from those positions. She was properly dismissed and her reputation will forever be tainted by this event. Instead of being known as the 'dean' of White House reporters, her bias will be her legacy.

    And let's disregard the ravings from the neo-nutzies who jumped on this forum when they saw their opportunity to once again bash Israel and all the Jews and spew their hate in a public place. Thomas is an elderly, bigoted fool. They are the personification of evil amongst us.

    June 9, 2010 at 7:29 am |
  5. Dystopiax

    Mr. Nessenoff, I believe there is a special, dark, storage place for your camera.

    June 9, 2010 at 7:27 am |
    • Lissa in Montreal

      Blaming the messenger is oh-so-helpful...

      June 9, 2010 at 8:43 am |
  6. Bemused

    A personal apology, for what? You asked her the question and didnt get the answer you wanted.

    June 9, 2010 at 7:15 am |
  7. Mufeed Rizvi

    Helen Thomas was wrong. One should not speak against the country you are living. US belong to Israel, so people should be careful about what they say. Freedom of speech and free world are just window-dressing items and should not be taken seriously by common Americans. Americans are actually bonded slaves of the Zionists.

    June 9, 2010 at 7:13 am |
  8. Amazed!

    Why does this imply that Israel is legitimate whereas the Palestinians who lived in Palestine for centuries can be dispossessed of their lands and homes?

    June 9, 2010 at 7:00 am |
  9. OmegaMann

    This shows who holds the power. If you speak the truth against them they will crucify you. It doesn't matter if you are a minority also, as the woman in this case found out. "Some are more equal than others..." - Orwell

    June 9, 2010 at 6:51 am |
  10. Rikard

    Regardless the right to the soil of Israel/Palestine, which may be, and is interpreted in many ways. A lot of people that dislikes the argument that what she says falls under "freedom of speech" need to remember, that a part of the general idea is that when you have freedom of speech, you also have a choise. Which is not to listen.
    With that said... I abandon this pointless argument and go back to improve the world for real.
    Peace and love to all...

    June 9, 2010 at 6:29 am |
  11. OutVoted

    I would never have considered my self anti-semitic. Until these recent stories. Unfortunatly a group of people have come into our country that graciously welcomed them, saved them from complete extinction and they are going to forcefully trample rights we hold dear 'Freedom of Speech". How dare anyone stand in the way of the rights of our citizens and the way i see it if you dont like freedom of speech GTFO!

    June 9, 2010 at 6:14 am |
  12. Sami D

    It would be insensitive to call for deportation Israeli Jews back to the countries their parents' or grand-parents, originated from. It would manifold more insensitive to not be bothered by much worse statements made about the Palestinians in mainstream America. Israel, with the full support of mainstream media and US policymakers, continues to suffocate the Palestinians, the natives of the land, because they are not Jews. Israel's existence as a Jewish state is predicated on ethnic cleansing and denying the natives right to their land, resources and freedom. Shock at Mrs Thomas' statement has weight only when coming from someone who expresses much more shock at what Israel is doing to the Palestinians, i.e. not the rabbi who filmed Mrs Thomas, not the US media or officials.

    June 9, 2010 at 6:06 am |
  13. Amazed!

    The Palestinians who fled from Palestine fled because they feared for their lives after the Deir Yasseen and many other massacres of the civilian population. The myth of Palestinians fleeing because other Arab countries asked them to has been debunked many times over. At any rate, regardless of why they fled, why can't they claim back their own homes? and why is it considered anti-Semitic or unreasonable if they asked to recover what is rightfully theirs? and why do Jews have a greater right to Palestine than the people who had been living there for centuries?

    June 9, 2010 at 5:57 am |
  14. R. Mussared

    Everyone has a right to their opinion people. THis is AMERICA. Leave this woman alone. She has covered the white house before I was born. She must be good at it to have done it for so long. Just because she shared a different opinion, different from the "politically correct" does not diminish her ability or her repspect as far as I am concerned. GO HELEN!

    June 9, 2010 at 5:37 am |
  15. Duke

    I'm so proud of what she did sniff sniff :`-) You Go Girl!

    June 9, 2010 at 5:22 am |
  16. AM

    Anything you say is anti-semitism. The whole should unite today against this evi propaganda of anti-semitism. It sees the anti-semitism garbage is only designated for the jews. what about the arabs, they are semites too but never hide themselves like coward behind the anti-semitism propaganda. Helen was right ... go back where you come from, poland, germany, US and more tha that HELL. Get out of Palestine YOU FILTHY.

    June 9, 2010 at 4:52 am |
  17. Susie O'Connor

    Tell the Rabbi to "squash the drama", it's Thomas' opinion, only in America, who the hell cares about the Rabbi and his feelings! If he didn't want Ms. Thomas' honest answer, he shouldn't have asked her! Gee, maybe he could also "sue" her into appoligizing, get a grip Rabbi, your all to dramitic w/yourself!!

    June 9, 2010 at 4:29 am |
    • Cocopuf

      That is not how it works in Washington when you are a guest of the White House. Sometimes, what you say in public can affect your career path. Besides, I think she was a very biased person to begin with working for the media ... The Rabbi had every right to question her response. Wouldn't you have said something, Susie?

      June 9, 2010 at 4:46 am |
  18. Amazed!

    Can anyone dispute that the Jews living in Israel have dispossessed millions of Palestinians of their historical homeland? what is anti-Semitic about making this statement of fact? and why is it not allowed to be pro-Palestinian or to questions what Israel does without being automatically labeled as anti-Semitic? I am sure there are Jews out there who disagree with what Israel does. Should they be labeled anti-Semitic as well? No Mr. Rabbi, Helen Thomas does not owe you, your son, or anyone else an apology for her statement. In fact, we should be apologizing to this woman of great courage and integrity because we accepted to have her dismissed in the blink of an eye after many years of dedication and service to her country (the US, not Lebanon which this biased article seems to imply).

    June 9, 2010 at 4:01 am |
    • Cocopuf

      In 1948, when Israel declared independence all the surround Arab nations warned the Arabs living in Israel and told them to leave. Because they were going to invade and eliminate Israel and throw them in the sea. So most of these Arabs packed their bags and left to join the other side.
      BUT Isarael won the war (a miracle of God considering)- and ever since, the Arabs wanted to return and claim their land. WEL, I SAY SCREW YOU? Those Arabs that stayed were smarter even though they must of thought that Israel was going to lose.
      Now with idiots like hamas and the rest they are sworn to destroy Israel by any means.
      For the last few years, hamas has been launching rockets INDISCRIMINATELY into Israel. So, that is why Israel has attacked hamas in Gaza and THAT IS WHY THERE IS A BLOCKADE to avoid missiles from being brought in from Iran and Syria; both of which are supporting hamas and the rest of these hoods.
      Hence, I cannot blame Israel for ENFORCING the blockade. Enough is enough.
      THE PALESTINIANS PEOPLE IN GAZA ARE PRISONERS OF hamas and NOT ISRAEL. The world has to understand that.

      June 9, 2010 at 4:37 am |
  19. lucerot

    I encourage Jews to refrain from crying "anti-semitism" every time someone calls out Israel for violating international law every chance it gets. People have begun to stop listening. And to Obama. Jeebus man – he needs to grow some balls. I had high hopes when he was elected. But Obama has proven that he will let anyone and everyone walk over him, now including AIPAC.

    June 9, 2010 at 3:29 am |
  20. george

    helen thomas who has served our nation for last 50 yrs, spoke her mind about her opinion as a columnist regarding a foreign country, israel.

    how does that equivocate to kidnapped and forced slavery of africans from africa in this country?

    June 9, 2010 at 3:14 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.