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. Aboriginal

    America is the homeland of native Americans, aboriginals, also known as Indians. What has happened to native Americans since Europeans settled this land can rightly be described as a holocaust. The US government should divide the USA in half and give half to native Americans to govern as a soverign nation. The current residents will just have to accept their new government.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:22 pm |
  2. God

    re: land of the Jews

    Deuteronomy 1:8 " See, I have given you this land. Go in and take possession of the land that the LORD swore he would give to your fathers—to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—and to their descendants after them."

    June 8, 2010 at 12:22 pm |
    • WJH

      Who wrote that? Oh, it's in the Bible... Then it's unquestioningly true, irrefutable evidence that the land of Israel belongs to a certain group of people. Forever.


      June 8, 2010 at 12:25 pm |
    • Tina

      It scares me to death when anybody quotes a religious text to justify real-world actions. Even leaving aside for a moment the fact that you can interpret most verses in any way that suits you, think about all the OTHER things justified in the Old Testament.

      June 8, 2010 at 12:47 pm |
  3. AaronS

    Isn't it amazing that if Helen had told the Palestinians to "get the hell out of Palestine–enough's enough already!" we wouldn't have heard anything from the Jewish Lobby? She'd still be fine–even if she had to offer a small apology to some Muslim group or two.

    The Jewish Lobby exists for one reason: To crush, humiliate, and destroy anyone who speaks out against Israel's actions. I am staunchly pro-Israel, but I am sick to death of the Jewish Lobby not even permitting legitimate questioning of Jewish heavy-handedness.

    Israel dropped cluster bombs on Lebanon (with a known civilian casualty rate of over 90+%)? NO PROBLEM. But let a single stray rocket land in Israel, and you'd think Armageddon has come.

    Let Israel push people from their heritage (the Palestinians have as much claim to that land as anyone–they've lived there for generations), and it's just fine and dandy. Let the Palestinians become outraged and fight back and the Jewish Lobby makes sure we hear of the the terrible "terrorism."

    There is terrorism. This is not meant to make light of it. But let's quit acting like Israel doesn't have its share of thugish practices. Like every nation, they are tarnished. The difference is that they have a much better PR machine. They quickly alert influential Jews in America to make waves–and/or people in leadership that don't want to be called anti-Semitic.

    Remember Jimmy Carter? Wrote a book that criticized the Jews. This good man was painted as a bigot, anti-Semite, idiot, naive, and everything else. The Jews strike again.

    Helen simply was saying that the Jews have no more of a claim to that land than the people they displaced–and should thus turn around and go back home. That was not some consignment to death camps (though the Jewish Lobby would have you believe that). THERE ARE NO MORE DEATH CAMPS FOR JEWS! It's just using a tragedy in history to keep getting their way.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:22 pm |
    • Jolan

      Thank You

      June 8, 2010 at 12:51 pm |
  4. Corey

    I'm afraid more and more Americans with each passing day concur with Helen's' thoughts. You can chalk it up to racism if you want, but if you do, you will miss the true cause and the tide of public opinion will inevitably turn on Israel. Tread lightly.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:22 pm |
  5. Frank Rizzo

    Who cares about Israel? The truth is the truth and I know it hurts but hey thats the way it is. America needs to cut ties with Israel some people say that Israel causes more harm to the US then Islamic Terrorist! Hey the clear bottom line is why is Israel always causing problems in the Middle East hate to say it but Helen Thomas was correct in her statements and why not?

    June 8, 2010 at 12:21 pm |
  6. John

    She doesn't OWE anyone an apology....especially a Rabbi and his Son, which are both perusing the White House with media credentials. If she apologizes then she should keep her job...if she loses the job anyway, I see no need for apology.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:21 pm |
  7. dnsmith

    It is true that when Great Britain was given a mandate to create a Jewish and an Arab state back in the 20's they only created an Arab state, a Palestinian homeland called Trans-Jordan, specifically for that purpose. Then GB chose not to make a Jewish homeland. This fostered animosity of both Jews and Palestinians. The Palestinians looked at it as GB legitimizing them and not Jews. GB must bear a great deal of blame for all the hostilities in Palestine. When Israel was created in 1948 most of the land was owned by Turkey (Ottoman empire) and was purchased. It was mostly barren and unoccupied. Now that Israel has developed it, the Palestinians who left at the urging of the surrounding Arab countries want it back. Dur tétines. The Palestinians have their homeland and they abandoned what became Israel. In addition, the Arabs have lost land to Israel, the perils of starting a war you can't win.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:20 pm |
  8. Ross P. Alander

    Isreal needs to get out of Palestine, the U.S. needs to get out of Afghanastan (sp?) and Iraq, the English needs to get out of Northern Ireland and Scotland, and other countrys occupying land that is not theirs, It's not about the Jews it's about Isreal, international realtion and nations sovernity (sp?) ...sorry bad spelling day.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:20 pm |
  9. Anonymous

    Don't take this the wrong way, I think the rabbi did a good reporting job by bringing this to light, but how did these people get press credentials? Does anyone with their own website qualify as press now?

    "He was accompanied by his 17-year-old son Adam, who also was credentialed – representing his website http://www.shmoozepoint.com – and a friend of his son."

    June 8, 2010 at 12:20 pm |
    • Frank Rizzo

      well when you have IPAC and other Jewish groups supporting each other it's a terrorist cell operating near gates of the most power government in the World. It scares me to think that these People have such access to our government, law enforcement academies and military installations, the USG needs to wakeup the Israelis have spied on us kidnap and killed American Citizens and all the USG and it's People say "We Support Israel No Matter What" come on America wake up and smell the Onions.

      June 8, 2010 at 12:35 pm |
    • Tina

      (cough) advertisements in the article (cough)

      June 8, 2010 at 12:35 pm |
  10. danny

    Why do I see people making the analogy of Helen Thomas telling Jews to go home to that of racists telling black Americans to go back to Africa? You people obviously didn't do well in the analogy section of the SAT...blacks were kidnapped and brought here in chains hundreds of years ago. No one kidnapped the Jews and took them to Israel. Today, there are still American Jews moving to Israel...they call it "making Aliyah"...thats the PR to encourage them to leave their home (America) and go to Israel (their imagined homeland). Its so crazy.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:20 pm |
  11. Imagine no religion

    Perhaps the difference between Christians and Jews is that forgiveness is not hard-wired as a tenet in Judaism as it is in Christianity. Rabbi David Nesenoff does not deserve an apology from Helen Thomas' inane and ridiculous opinion. He should just let it go instead of acting out his vengeance. I suspect her opinion was fueled by the recent human rights abuses in international waters.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:20 pm |
  12. dennis

    Because of everyone being hyper-sensitive about being PC.............Freedom of Speech now equals Hate Crime.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:19 pm |
  13. hampster

    She got a raw deal. It was the Rabbi that should have been fired and sent back to Israel!

    June 8, 2010 at 12:18 pm |
  14. David

    There is not a direct translation where Jews = Israelis. There are many Jews who do not support the actions of Israel (to varying degrees). That being said, I think it is prejudicial to say the Jews stole the land from the Palestinians. Jews had always lived in Palestine and ther was an influx of refugees during and after WWII. In 1947 the UN had split up the land into a Jewish palestine and an Arab palestine. The Arab Palestineans (and 7 other Arab states) did not accept this and decided to go to war with the Jewish Palestine.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:17 pm |
  15. Pro-freedom

    To all who are suggesting that Helen Thomas' comments are the equivalent of telling Blacks to "go back to Africa": Blacks did not invade this country. They were brought here against their will. Jews in Israel are occupiers, plain and simple. I don't agree that the Jews should leave Israel, but they should act like the guests that they are. The Jews collectively suffer from abused child syndrome. They treat the Palestinians no better than Hitler treated them.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:17 pm |
    • E. Saab

      Really? Concentration camps & crematoria? Hadn't noticed.

      June 8, 2010 at 2:15 pm |
    • Howard Markowitz

      The Jews are not guests. Read some history.

      June 8, 2010 at 4:27 pm |
  16. heltay

    What happened to freedom of speech. Why is it that anyone who says anything negative about isreal or jews gets crucified

    June 8, 2010 at 12:17 pm |
    • Frank Rizzo

      It's because IPAC and other Jewish groups control the World, and you think Islamic Racial are dangerous ...here the enemy is staring you front in your face using your tax money, government grants etc you get the picture. These People are very dangerous not only to the Middle East to the Whole World and everyone knows it but reminds silent

      June 8, 2010 at 12:27 pm |
    • E. Saab

      Nice choice of words mate.

      June 8, 2010 at 2:13 pm |
  17. Richard

    I'm not surprised to see the terms "anti-semite" and "holocaust" being tossed around. It's typical and effective.
    There have been enough atrocities committed in Israel and Palestine by both sides for several lifetimes, and any objective viewer can see that, but there is no arguing the way something will play in the US media if either of those terms can remotely be applied to the subject matter.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:16 pm |
    • Frank Rizzo

      Richard, these people have been this game for over sixty years. One day America and World will turn away from the past to look forward to the future, and why not?

      June 8, 2010 at 12:38 pm |
  18. What Ever

    Helen Thomas doesn't owe you d_ck.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:15 pm |
  19. Mark

    Why does she owe *him* an apology? That is what she believes. He asked for her opinion and she gave *her* opinion.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:15 pm |
  20. Lewis

    I don't understand how having an opion about something and expressing it, outside of the White House is anything different from what other people do. Just because her answer wasn't a "good" one should be no reason to have to resign.

    June 8, 2010 at 12:14 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.