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. Ric

    It Has always amazed me that people have seen Just what they want to see. When it all comes down to it.. Israel is no better or no worse than anyone else out there as a nation. They DO need to stop the expansion.. they SHOULD have never started. Yes.. The little strip of dessert has been home to them for 1000s of years.. But REMEMBER according to their own histories.. they land was forcefully taken by the people who lived there before them.. the only justification.. "God states that this land belongs to Us.. and since we WON the battles.. our thoughts on the maatter MUST be true..." No different than today. It is time we start letting Israel fight its own battles.. and see if God Truely still wants them there.. or.. will they lose the holy land again

    June 10, 2010 at 1:10 pm |
  2. Bill

    I don´t understand. What is the problem. The lady said what she obviously believes and why should the Rabbi or anyone else for that matter feel that they can object to her saying it. They may disagree which is to be expected and which is fine but to object is such a manner and demand an apology is silly and somehow a bit foolish.

    June 10, 2010 at 1:08 pm |
  3. Mark M

    I agree what MS Thomas said was horrendous and unacceptable. Having said that, the woman is 89 years old. Could there be a little dementia there? I also think that Hearst bears some of the blame. Hearst should have retired her long ago. Instead they made a cartoon characature of her. I think the whole situation is very very sad. I hope she will not be remembered for just these statements.

    June 10, 2010 at 11:42 am |
    • Bob

      Well, I'm not 89 and I can certainly appreciate what she said and why she said it. Suggesting dementia is condescending, at best.

      Israel is more than an ally, it's become a sacred cow (mixed religious metaphors-R-us) in U.S politics. The nation of Israel represents the Zionist movement, not the Jewish faith. Like any spoiled child which always gets what it wants, Israel has grown into an arrogant bully. The cause of world peace would have been better served if the nation of Israel had never been sanctioned by the U.N., but it's too late now. The best that U.S. foreign policy can accomplish is a long painful period of distancing itself from Israel.

      This would also help the economy if we stopped sending billions of dollars of taxpayer money to Israel in military and economic aid, and could stop spending untold more billions fighting wars that are the fallout of the current policy. However, everything is complicated by the interference of "strange bedfellow" religious groups ranging from the far left (organized Jewish groups) to the far right (evangelical Christians who see Israel as a fulfillment of prophecy), and everything in between.

      June 10, 2010 at 12:28 pm |
    • Udi

      Bob – get your facts straight. Israel gets 3 billion dollars aid from the US. This is on conditions that Israel purchases only from US companies – so the money actually never leaves the US but goes at the end to US companies. Israel is not a bully it is a peace loving country with no intentions of war. Arabs states are constantly trying to invade it over the years. At any given time there are millions of people across the globe who are plotting to destroy Israel and murder Jews.
      The US and Israel are strong allies not because of the bible belt but because democracy and a lot of shared values. You should look at this clip of how Palestinians are 'celebrating' 9/11 – these are the people you are defending Bob, if Bob is your true name. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KrM0dAFsZ8k

      June 10, 2010 at 2:21 pm |
  4. Keith

    To Tim at 1:58 You are right on! I agree 100%

    June 10, 2010 at 11:42 am |
  5. Eric F

    Israel was home of the Jews before it became 'Arab" land. I cant believe I read someones comment that the Jews persecuted the Christians. Thats quite laughable. If Gaza wasnt sending suicide bombers, missiles and rockets into Israel, I think there could be a possible solution

    June 10, 2010 at 11:35 am |
  6. Michael P

    The history of the world's acquiescence to the Nazi "final solution" is a shame. and a blot on the honor of all those who sat silently by while it happened. At the same time, the reality of the mistreatment of those who lived in Palestine when the Israel was began should be of equal concern. How can we have symathy for the Jews who were mistreated and driven from their homes, and not have the same sympathy for those driven from their homes in the new state of Israel?

    June 10, 2010 at 11:17 am |
    • Bob

      "How can we have symathy for the Jews who were mistreated and driven from their homes, and not have the same sympathy for those driven from their homes in the new state of Israel?"

      Because European Jews have a greater voice in U.S. politics than Arab Muslims?

      The creation of the nation of Israel was a knee-jerk reaction to a revealed atrocity. Since the days of the Crusades, people of European descent have been indoctrinated with anti-Arab propaganda. Pity – if not for Arab scholars, much of the wisdom of the ancient world would have been lost during the Dark Ages. Arab astronomers and mathematicians continued to make progress as the Church was busy persecuting Galileo and denying Copernicus.

      June 10, 2010 at 12:40 pm |
  7. BillS

    I'm SO TIRED of people of people creating propoganda by deliberately misinterpreting any criticism of the state of Israel as anti-semitism!!! The holocaust was real and was horrible, but it gives no one the right to turn around and drive innocent people from their homes and steal their land...who wouldn't fight back then? Both sides, in their own ways, are victims turned criminals. My close circle of friends includes three Jews whom I love dearly. But the state of Israel is a study in collective sociopathology and crimes against humanity.

    I hope Helen Thomas continues her career as an independent journalist.

    June 10, 2010 at 11:13 am |
  8. Moo

    See, anything critical of Israel is immediately anti_Semitic. Why does the Rabbi feel Helen Tjhomas needs to apoloqize to him and his son? What she said was an emotional outburst more that rational foreign policy, but she said what she felt was Israel's treatment of Palestinians and how they have been there since 1945 in a made-up country whereas the others have been living there for thousands of years. Also, Israel seemed to have a short memory and seems to be treating the Palestinians in a fashion they have fought against for themselves at every turn. If you take your son and expose him to the world, then be man enough to have him handle a difference of opinion. Helen was wrong, but it was not anti-Semitic, and no apology is warranted.

    June 10, 2010 at 11:03 am |
  9. isaac rosen

    The problem which nobody addresses is as follows: where will Israel be at 25-50 years from now? Thinking along these lines will hopefully solve the problems of today. The middle east situation cannot go on forever. There has to be an end sometime. Again, thinking by the politicians where the countries will stand 50 years from now is the key to end this fighting and misery for all.

    June 10, 2010 at 10:09 am |
  10. holliday

    There is a huge difference between criticizing the militart and political actions of Israel and tellling Jews to go back where they came from. I also love the comments of how the media always attacks anyone who's anti-Israel when this story is about a iconic and prominent media member who has sounded off on the opposite side. By the way, Helen Thomas has not had her free speech rights infringed upo. She has not been arrested by the government because of what she said. She is simply facing consequences from what she said- that's how life is supposed to work... you pay consequences for what you do and say. This civics lesson is brought to you by your 6th grade government teacher who wishes you had paid attention in class so you wouldn't seem so clueless years later...

    June 10, 2010 at 8:09 am |
    • Eva

      Holliday, how about saving your lectures to those who kill unarmed peace activists, instead of directing your scorn at those who are trying to stop it? It would make you a lot better teacher.

      June 10, 2010 at 10:45 am |
  11. LANA

    She did not say for Israelis to leave the country….she said Jews
    Should leave the country…30% of Israelis are Arabs. She did not mention them.
    History lessons…Jews always lived in this land. They were thrown out 2000 years ago.
    Who is occupying what? Jews without a country are subject to prosecution, pogroms, and extermination…for this 2000 years…Israel is the only dignified solution for there
    Survival…Just read this blog…If you are a Jew…it is scary to read.

    June 9, 2010 at 9:31 pm |
    • couriersean

      native americans. Enough said

      June 9, 2010 at 10:29 pm |
  12. LANA

    This is not freedom of speech. This is similar to the Nazi-inspired hate-motivated anti-Semitic threat to the existence of the country and its people. It was devastating that American citizen representing the journalistic view that is clearly equates to insulting people race or religion. She has an official status and her words echoed a terrifying
    Similarity to Nazi time psychology. There is a speech…and there is a shadow
    of the past that still voiced in a country like ours…and it is shocking.
    It would be the same as letting KKK speak their mind for the world to listen
    And excuse is as ‘freedom of speech’. How is it different from Achmadenijan
    Rhetoric? What is next? If this is kind of talk is fine is defendable as freedom of speech,
    Then acting on it should be just as defendable? I grew up under communism. I live here
    For 35 years. I praised this country as a place where I can ‘breath’ and be free of
    Being hated. And yet,,, the hate seems to poke its ugly face even in America…

    June 9, 2010 at 9:10 pm |
  13. bob2000

    Why is being 'anti-Israel' so often considered 'anit-Semitic?' It's ridiculous. I respect people of all religions, yet I possess a strong dislike for the actions of the Israel government. It occupied Palestinian territory and continues to commit human rights atrocities against Palestinians. Every time someone points out its questionable actions, the Israeli government (and some of its supporters, such as this rabbi) hides behind the false claim that opposition to its actions is equal to anti-semitism. It is unfair that anyone who questions Israel's actions for legitimate reasons be labeled anti-semitic. The religion of Judaism and the Israel government are two separate entities.

    June 9, 2010 at 7:23 pm |
  14. Jim

    Helen Thomas Set Up by a low level Rabi and the right wing Jewish Media here.

    June 9, 2010 at 6:24 pm |
  15. Gary

    I guess the bombing @ the wedding in Afgahnistan is the fault of Isreal and jews.....I guess the various bomb attacks in Pakastan and all over muslim world are the result of Isreal and the jews....

    June 9, 2010 at 4:50 pm |
    • Bob

      In a way, they are. Terrorism and Islamist jihad are the unfortunately natural results of the West's policy of appeasing Israel and supplying it with whatever it wants to kill its neighbors and grab more land.

      June 10, 2010 at 12:46 pm |
  16. Matt

    I would think an enemy of the Jews would be the person who says, "You guys should stick it out. Keep fighting. Keep dying. Don't come to my country."
    As a person of Jewish decent, I support Helen Thomas.

    June 9, 2010 at 4:48 pm |
  17. Robert

    Well, her career may be over, but we'll always remember how great she was in Lethal Weapon and Mad Max. Oh... sorry. Wrong anti-semite.

    June 9, 2010 at 4:33 pm |
  18. Eva

    Well, when Americans are killing aboriginals I am anti-American.
    When Saddam is killing the Kurds I am anti Saddam.
    When Osama is killing people in New York, I am andi-Osama.
    When Nazis are killing jews/gipsies/communists, I am anti-Nazi.
    When Israel is killing innocent civilians and unarmed peace keepers, I am anti-Israel.

    I am anti-violence.

    Anything wrong with that?

    June 9, 2010 at 4:27 pm |
    • Kuzma

      I have a question for you: when americans during WWII were killing germans, would you be anti-american (if lived then)?

      June 9, 2010 at 10:54 pm |
    • Eva

      Let's put it this way. I am old enough to know that one person's hero is another person's killer.

      June 10, 2010 at 10:50 am |
  19. Ralph

    I don't know how being pro palestinian means being anti semitic. Anytime anyone condems Israel for their actions, people raise the anti semitic flag. Seriously!

    June 9, 2010 at 3:56 pm |
    • Gary

      Ralph good point.....How anyone can be pro palestinian is what concerns me. pro blowing themselves up? pro terrorism? I could care a less about Jews Judism or any other religion for that matter...

      June 9, 2010 at 4:17 pm |
  20. T Rudder

    The American Indian could wish every American would go back to the lands of the ancestors origin and leave the indians land back to them and their gods.

    June 9, 2010 at 3:51 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.