Monday, June 07, 2010

The Rabbi Who Took Down Helen Thomas

In May 1996 I sat in the Breslin Center arena in East Lansing as I watched my then girlfriend (now wife) graduate from Michigan State University. A year prior I watched President Bill Clinton speak to the crowd at Spartan Stadium for MSU commencement. The speaker at this graduation was none other than Helen Thomas, former UPI and Hearst Newspaper columnist of Lebanese descent.

Fast forward more than a decade. A couple years ago I watched an interesting documentary on HBO about Helen Thomas titled "Thank You Mr. President." It detailed Helen Thomas' long career in the front row in the White House Press Corp where she always got to ask the first question.

This past Saturday night, my wife asked me if I had heard what Helen Thomas said about Israel. I tuned into YouTube to find an impromptu interview conducted by none other than my colleague, Rabbi David Nesenoff, a Conservative rabbi on Long Island (Temple Tikvah Synagogue of Hope in East Northport). At the White House for last week's Jewish Awareness Month dinner, Nesenoff asked the 89-year-old Thomas what she thought of Israel and she responded that the Jews should leave Israel and return to Germany and Poland.

Nesenoff (pictured) runs a website called in which he posts various video footage of him interviewing people (sometimes undercover with a hidden camera). I'm sure when Nesenoff pointed the camera at Helen Thomas he wasn't expecting that her recorded words would eventually bring about her downfall, but that's precisely what happened.

Helen Thomas retired today and issued the following statement: "I deeply regret my comments I made last week regarding the Israelis and the Palestinians. 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."

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said today that Thomas's comments about Israel were "offensive and reprehensible." During his press briefing this morning, which Thomas did not attend, Gibbs said that though he hasn't spoken with Obama about the her comments, they "do not reflect" the view of his administration. He added, "she should, and has apologized."

Some might argue that it's not the place of a rabbi to conduct interviews like the one Nesenoff conducted of Helen Thomas. However, Nesenoff's video showed the world what Helen Thomas really thinks of Israel. It should be a wake-up call that someone with those views has not only been covering the news for so many decades, but has had such a high level of access to our nation's leaders.

Even before Helen Thomas resigned, she had been dropped by her speaker’s agency, Nine Speakers, Inc for her comments posted on Also, Craig Crawford refused to work with Helen Thomas on any future book projects and she was dropped from a High School graduation key note speaker position.

Former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer and Lanny Davis, former White House counsel, both called for Hearst Corporation to fire Helen immediately.

Thanks to Rabbi David Nesenoff, Helen Thomas now ends her storied career on a very sour note. And deservedly so.


Barbara Brickman Spack said...


Karen Gordon Rosenberg said...

Exactly - thank you for this post

Dina Berdy said...

Nicely written

Alexandra Paige Kirsch said...

Well written.

Reb Barry said...

It may be a deservedly sour note, but it's a sad one nonetheless. A pity to close out an otherwise relatively illustrious career in such a fashion.

Rabbi Jason Miller said...

Barry, This is why we praise those individuals who retire when they're on top. Helen Thomas got to ask questions to the last ten presidents. She had a glorified career. At 89-years-old, no one is still at the top of their game. I'm sure she's always held these beliefs, but when you're younger you have a better sense to filter your less popular (or politically incorrect) views in the public domain (and certainly when a video camera's in your face!). Wouldn't you agree to that?

Jason said...

great post Jason