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 Allen

    Thanks Helen,

    The attack on you for voicing a widely held belief (google it) has awakened a powerful group of mainstream, tax paying citizens to the notion that media and politics within the USA are controlled by a cabal. I was surprised at the number of intellectuals and professionals who have made an about face on this issue now that you have been rocketed out of your position for speaking your mind.

    Keep an eye out for new media corporations as they spring up and spend your marketing dollars on local businesses so their marketing dollars will flow to these new media outlets.

    The USA is the Home of the Brave and the Land of the Free, so support your fellow citizens and keep an eye out for new and emerging mainstream media outlets that support all points of view.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:00 pm |
  2. bob

    Right or wrong they asked her opinion and she gave it to them. If he didn't want to hear what she had to say, then the interviewer shouldn't have asked her.

    June 8, 2010 at 11:59 am |
  3. Marc Seltzer

    First off, Arabs are Semitic people, just like Jews. Second, it was a trick question. He got the elderly lady confused between Palestine and Israel. Bringing 'settlers' into Palestine from Germany, Poland, and America by bull dozing existing, occupied homes in Palestine is an atrocity – and should be stopped – even by Jewish standards.

    June 8, 2010 at 11:59 am |
    • Gavin Arnprior

      You're full of it and a lefty apologist. Would you also support her is she felt all Blacks should go back to Africa (or perhaps to Haiti, for the more recent arrivals)? How about all Hispanics? Should they all go back to South America and Mexico? A racist is a racist – period. Don't try to dissect and manipulate her clearly biased views. It only makes you look stupid.

      June 8, 2010 at 12:02 pm |
    • seer

      actually, gavin, you look pretty stupid trying to compare this situation to any of those you mentioned – none of which involved creating a new state. (and leave african descendants alone – africans didn't flee their homeland, they were dragged away!!!) lumping everything together is at least race/history-ignorant.

      June 8, 2010 at 1:50 pm |
  4. Dementia

    Has anyone considered that this woman, who had a long career, may be starting to exhibit signs of dementia or Alheimers? Perhaps once she realized it is effecting her job, she decided to retire.

    No one should be outed in disgrace over one incident after having a life-long, integrity-based career.

    June 8, 2010 at 11:59 am |
  5. Lou

    She should have retired 15yrs ago.....she's waaay past her prime (are ya listenin Barbara Walters???)....a few yrs ago a noble prize winning Harvard Prof said some racists remarks about black people when he was in his 80's....he ended his career in shame instead of holding his head high, as will this lady....lesson learned...get out on a high before you screw it up....

    June 8, 2010 at 11:58 am |
  6. ny

    JuleS: perhaps you should refresh your recollection of the Bible and modern history. The Jews did not steal anyone's land. First, Jews have inhabited the land for thousands of years. Second, the reason why Palestinians are refugees is because in 1948, most left the new state of Israel due to threats from their Arab bretheren from surrounding states as they invaded Israel. They were told to leave, or perish in the onslaught. Next, these refugees were refused citizenship in the Arab lands to which they fled. Israel itself was created by U.N. vote, which also provided for Palestinian state. However, the Arabs rejected this, and launched a war, followed again by more attacks on Israel in 1967 and 1973. So, if you can shed your anti-Semitic views for just a few minutes, and study the facts yourself, you might become enlightened.

    June 8, 2010 at 11:58 am |
  7. Dave

    hindsight being 20/20, the UN should have been HQ in Jerusalem. The area set up as a country of the world, like DC is to the USA. What right does any one religion have to control the founding city of 3 of the worlds top religions. Israel should treat Israelis equally by citizenship, not religion.

    June 8, 2010 at 11:58 am |
    • Dave from California

      Unfortunately you are probably right. One of the previous posts suggested that Israel should have been established in Bavaria, and when you think about it that probably would have saved a lot of struggle over the ensuing decades. Regardless of what you think of the UN, it may the idea thsohave been a better approach than to grant conntrol to one religion over a region that is so important to other religions. The Israeli's have a legitimate fear for their safety and as such they are reluctant to give up control over anything, but something has simply got to change. Delegating the governance of Jerusalem to the UN is not a bad idea.

      June 8, 2010 at 12:07 pm |
  8. Manny

    Helen Thomas got fired for telling the truth. It has nothing to do with being antisemitic, it is the truth is not their land they are occupying it. And yes I have been there and seeing it with my own eyes. And I have nothing against Jews or their way of life but they left, came back and told these people move aside cause we are back. No matter who it was if they did it to me I would fight them too.

    June 8, 2010 at 11:58 am |
    • E. Saab

      1) Israel is THEIR land.
      2) Gaza and the West Bank is NOT their land.
      3) Let's all grow up and convince others that a two-state solution is the ONLY answer.

      June 8, 2010 at 1:16 pm |
  9. dennis

    Gee...whatever happened to Freedom of Speech ??....watch out....it could cost you your career. What she did was hardly a hate crime. She was asked a question and gave her personal feelings outside in the driveway.

    June 8, 2010 at 11:58 am |
  10. ev

    That's not fair, she did not say that Mitchi, you did. and if you know anything about Helen Thomas, I seriously doubt she would ever say a statement like that.

    June 8, 2010 at 11:58 am |
  11. KK

    Fighting over the land is not new, in india pakistani's fight over the part of kashmir they think its theirs. This is just something the Britishers have started in several countries. The British are to blame in this, they did the same to India what they did to Palestine. Their divide and rule policy has worked. My belief to end this conflict is to give back what was decided to the Palestinians, occupation of the West Bank was not part of the treaty. The Jews can have their promised land and only the part of the land which was promised to them. Killing people terrorizing them and grabbing is not going to win any luv for them, arabs are like the afghans and they dont like being occupied. The UN and the bigger countries should step in to end this conflict soon enough. They are not interfering because there is no OIL or Rare Commodity to be offered from that region. They should impose sanctions upon the country that misbehaves without any bias towards either one of them.

    June 8, 2010 at 11:58 am |
  12. Mike

    Where is the Native American Indian's home?

    June 8, 2010 at 11:58 am |
    • matt

      wow, asking where the native americans home is sounds anti-semetic.

      June 8, 2010 at 12:32 pm |
  13. Patty

    I cannot stand Helen Thomas and I am glad that she is done as a reporter. I think that the folks in the Middle East need to get along and stop all of the fighting. I think that Israel is right and the Palestinians are wrong. Israel has gotten a bad rep since Obozo has become POTUS. He is antI-Israel and I guess the Obozo loving Thomas thought it was ok to be anti-semitic if the POTUS is too.

    June 8, 2010 at 11:57 am |
  14. Eyesblindtothetruth

    Anti-Zionist is not the same as anti-Semitism.

    June 8, 2010 at 11:57 am |
  15. rinsac

    Sad comments but...........If one could be truly objective about this in today's world. I have been to Palestine and have sympathy for both sides. I can't help thinking that if I had been alive after world war II and the rest of the nations of the world sanctioned creating the State of Israel and it resulted in my loosing my land and rights how I would have reacted. That being said it has been a done deal for so long that it cannot be undone, and maybe should not. Be. I do know this, I have seen how the Palestinians are treated in my visits to that country. It shocks me that a people who have suffered so much during history and the genocide of the Second World War could treat the Palestinians as they do. And I also know that violence by either side will only make it worse. There MUST be a respectful and honorable two state solution which recognizes the rights of both sides to live in peace and harmony. Both sides must change and the world needs to stop supporting bad behavior from either side.

    June 8, 2010 at 11:57 am |
    • DB

      Very well said!

      June 8, 2010 at 1:25 pm |
  16. mickey 1

    Steve, is there such a thing as objective reality? Is there anything that is not biased?

    June 8, 2010 at 11:57 am |
  17. Don

    Ms. Thomas' comments were useless drivel that does nothing to solve a complicated problem. But don't we all complain often times espouse simplistic and impractical solutions to complex problems, only thankfully we don't do it on camera. This makes her moronic like all the rest of us can be at times but racist? Are Jews who have every right be pro Israel racists because it they disapprove of a Palestinian state?

    June 8, 2010 at 11:56 am |
  18. Paul

    Maybe President Obama should hold an apology conference and have the Rabbi and Ms Thomas over to the White House for a Beer.

    June 8, 2010 at 11:56 am |
    • seer

      that's the wisest thing i've read here! and for those who never followed up – it worked. and of course, as we all are, turned out those two are related in (traceable) ancestry.

      June 8, 2010 at 1:43 pm |
  19. Henry Miller

    “I was hurt, I was shocked,” Nesenoff told me.

    Oh, so sad!

    I'm sure your hurt and shock at a few words are far, far, worse than the minor inconvenience to the Palestinians of having their country stolen.

    June 8, 2010 at 11:55 am |
    • BostonRanger88

      Yeah was thinking the same thing. .... "Hurt and Shocked..." by the words of an 85 year old woman? Get over yourself rabbi and grow a spine! Instead of running to youtube you should have opened a discourse about why she felt that way.

      June 8, 2010 at 12:41 pm |
    • yakov

      ? their land was stolen" What fantasy land history did that come from. Prior to WWII, the whole area was under the control of the British, The area they called Palestine was made up from parts of Israel, Lebanon, Syria & Jordan. In 1948 Britiain turned it over to the UN, which passed a two-state resolution. The arab countries joined together to crush the new Jewish state and failed. The arabs living their then had a choice to run away or stay. Those that ran away are now refugees (or 2nd & 3rd generation refugees). These "refugees" should be blaming their brethren, not the Jews. There are plenty of countries where Musslim Arabs are welcomed. Just one for the Jews. A country barely the size of NJ. How can anyone be surprised they want to hold on to it.

      June 8, 2010 at 1:36 pm |
    • seer

      yakov, there is only one country that welcomes jews? hahahaha do you even know what we're discussing on this blog? that we are in america? where the greatest number of jews outside of israel live and thrive? wake up before you type.

      June 8, 2010 at 1:41 pm |
    • Henry Miller


      Prior to 1948, there was a spot on the map, right where it's marked "Israel" today, that was labelled "Palestine." Yes, for a variety of not-very-good reasons, the British ran the territory from 1920-1948, but that in no way affected that was still "Palestine."

      And with respect to those who "had a choice to run away or stay," that wasn't really much of a choice was it? Stay under the oppression of a hostile regime? That's not an option anyone with any sense would take. And why should that choice be imposed on them in the first place? It was their land. It was their country. And then suddenly their told that they only have "permission" from this hostile regime to keep their own land. Is there any wonder they were outraged?

      Israelis, and Jews in general, need to get over the misconception that they have some sort of "right" to the place presently called "Israel." The land was stolen; the "Israelis" are no more than occupiers maintaining their presence by force and intimidation.

      June 8, 2010 at 3:45 pm |
    • Howard Markowitz

      H. Miller
      The land of Israel was conquered by the Romans and then by the Ottoman Empire. Palestine was never a nation, only a province of the Roman Empire. As the Ottoman Empire waned in power, Turk citizens bought the land and slowly sold it off to European Jews who were looking to escape persecution. After WWII, Britain held soverneighty over the land and from pressure from the UN agreed to make it the country of Israel. So in all ways 'lawfully', the land belongs to the people who purchased it and were granted soverneignty as a nation. And oh BTW, through sweat and determination, the Israelis have turned a desert into an oasis and properous land.

      June 8, 2010 at 4:07 pm |
  20. Dave from California

    The point here is not whether the U.S., or for that matter CNN, holds a particular view about the position in the world of the Israeli's or the Palestinians. I am an American Jew who has always favored a two-state solution and who believes that the only road to peace must involve a Palestinian homeland. The problem with Thomas was not that she is sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinians, but that her only solution to a very complicated problem is to "return" the Jews to go "home" to Eurpoe and America. "Home??" Whether it was the right thing to do or not, Israel was formed over 60 years ago and many Isrtaeli's know no "home" other than Israel. Helen Thomas lives in the United States, where a native population was displaced by Europeans. Sound familiar? Maybe Helen Thomas should go "home" to wherever she came from.

    June 8, 2010 at 11:55 am |
    • Siara Delyn

      At the end of WWII the allies should have created Israel in Bavaria. That's where the Nazi movement started. Palestine wasn't ours to give away.

      June 8, 2010 at 11:58 am |
    • Paul

      Ms. Thomas is from Lebanon, so she could go home there in her retirement!

      June 8, 2010 at 11:59 am |
    • Tina

      Very well-stated, Dave! I wish more people on both sides could exhibit that kind of thoughtfulness.

      June 8, 2010 at 12:29 pm |
    • JKP

      By her logic, we should all go home. Europeans go back to Europe, Jews go God-knows-where (seeing how Germany and Poland are not really "home" especially since the whole Holocaust thing), African Americans should go back to Africa and we should give our country back to Native Americans. And she should go back to Lebanon. She is an idiot.

      June 8, 2010 at 12:54 pm |
    • Suha

      The difference is Israel is an illegal State built on stolen land taken from the natives Palestinians. That's what Helen's intention was. This has nothing to do with being Anti Semitic and everything to do with Israel's treating the Palestinians as animals vs humans. People dont rely on censored US pro Israel TV news for coverage anymore!! Palestinians have their story too and it should be heard. They are the victims.

      June 8, 2010 at 1:04 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.