Rabbi who asked Helen Thomas about Israel takes your questions

Jun 21, 2010

Rabbi David F. Nesenoff discusses his Outlook article titled 'I asked Helen Thomas about Israel. Her answer revealed more than you think.'

I saw an interview on TV (I believe before she resigned) in which you said that there was more to the Thomas interview and that you would soon release the additional footage. Is there more footage? Have you released it?

We did release the complete interview and it is found on RabbiLIVE.com

Why did you think to ask this question? What did you think her reply would be? Did you presuppose her prejudice?

I was asking everyone that same question. I did not presuppose any answer.

Although many followed Helen Thomas for many years, none of us (I think) would suspect she holds these opinions about the Jews. Do you think there are many others around us, journalists, politicians, celebrities - who hide a similar opinion of the Jews? or do you think Helen Thomas is an exception?

I think there are certainly  people in the world, and in this country as well, that need to hate and use the Jew and other minorities as their vehicle to arrive at their hateful places. Those people are not excluded geographiccally, professionally or vocationally.

Question: Rabbi, Was your interview of Helen Thomas recorded with a hidden camera? I do not mean to be rude, there is a factual basis for my question. The shots are remarkably close and steady for a hand-held "flip cam" that you reportedly used. And, just three months earlier you were wired for an "undercover rabbi" series and said you would be doing more episodes. I hope you are able to verify the many early reports that Helen knew she was on the record when she made her comments.

With regard to the shooting of the interview. It was not a hidden camera. She knew that there was a camera, and that it was very close to her face. You cannot get a shot that close to someone without them knowing it is there. The reason it was close to her face was so that I could capture the audio. The White House lawn was being mowed (which can actually be heard in the tape) and I wanted to insure the audio. I appreciate the compliment as far as my steady hand shooting. The "undercover" (not series) was a Purim shpiel video shot 3 YEARS ago and has nothing to do with my question to Ms. Thomas.  I appreciate your questioning, but I must tell you that people find it difficult to believe that she would or anyone in her position would comment the way she did so openly. I agree with you,  the only conlcusion for such words of shameless open hate would be that there was a hidden camera... but alas that was not the case. BTW this is the White House grounds... people don't walk around with secret hidden anything.

Some people have excused Helen Thomas, saying "she is just a frail old lady - leave her alone." What is your response to this?

People should not be prejudicial to other people with regard to their age. All people of all ages can be vital and productive. And nobody was picking on her to have the need to leave her alone. She was given her freedom of speech, and American right. And she exercised it.  BTW have you seen the strong aggessive impressive manner in which she asked questions for 60 years regardless of the person's age or gender that she was confroting? I was quite calm and soft with my one question.

Is every negative comment about Israel an indication of anti-Semitism? Is it possible that someone might criticize Israel's policies and actions toward the Palestinians without being anti-Semitic?

Yes. It is cetainly possible. Jew, Israelis, Israel supporters, memebers of the Israeli Parliment, Israeli journalists, and rabbis have been known to criticize policies concerning all different gloabal and Mid-East players... but when you say something Anti -Semitic then you are giving a negative comment that is Anti-Semitic.

Has Helen Thomas tried to get in touch with you since this happened? What would you try to say to her if she did?

She has not tried to get in touch with me. I am a rabbi and would be glad to speak to her concerning this issue.. regarding its global and personal outcome (for her and myself). Just as I was cordial and polite and curtious during the interview I would of course be the same way if I had the chance to speak to her again.

Are you ashamed of yourself for what you did to Helen Thomas? Do you plan to apologize to her?

Even thought your question is a bit agressive and not so impressive, I will answer you.

You have some odd interpretation of how "news" works. I guess if you were running the freedom of speech part of our consittution you would just broadcast the stuff you wanted and liked and edit out stuff you didn't personally want America to hear and see. And when someone reports on the news of what an individual said, you seem to think that the reporter is somehow to blame for the words and the reaction to the words. Any  reporter who hides the news from the American public should be ashamed of him or herself.  Should the anchor man and woman on the six oclock news apologize after each sotry. You shouldn't be so silly.

I have a Jewish friend who has known Helen Thomas for her entire life. I spoke to my friend and she said, despite the awful statement, that she still has respect for Ms. Thomas as a person. After hearing this, I wanted to give Ms. Thomas the benefit of the doubt. I wanted to think that she was just speaking off the cuff, that she was not thinking, perhaps that she was just suffering from an addled mind of old age. But I fear it is much more than that. I fear that you caught her true feelings, her true hatred. Still, I wonder how someone in her position, with her undeniable intellect can be so blind to the nuances that you spotlight in your article. If someone such as Ms. Thomas still holds such views, I fear that we may never see the stability in Israel that we all crave.

One should never jsut insult an older person and dismiss their words as a product of old age. Her feelings were vocalized. Incidentally, although she has given a sound byte regarding "regret"... she has not stated since then that she believes that the Stae of Israel should exist. That I have not heard.

Did you approach Ms. Thomas knowing that she is very vocally pro-Arab and hoping for a damning quote or did you really want her advice for journalism students?

I approached her without any preconceived notions. Sorry, I know that doesn't help those who want this to be a different story.

What was wrong with Helen Thomas's response?

What was wrong with Ms. Thomas's response is that the president of the United States, two press secretaries of two different political parties, her agent, her co-author, a high school, and millions of known and unknown people throughout the world found it offensive.  It was not a political comment on a specific offense that she was pointing out. It was a complete dismissal of an entire people from an entire region and demanding that they go away. She also used language that was offensive and undiplomatic. Oh and her employer wasn't thrilled with her either.

Rabbi, I read about the hate mail you have been receiving since this incident, and it's sad to know that this is how people react to Helen Thomas revealing her thoughts about Jews. All you did was allow Thomas to speak her mind, you didn't set her up or incite her in any way. It's just terrible that she is viewed as a "victim" and that some people react with anti-Semitism.

Isn't it amazing that the vulgar hate mail and offensive threatening words to me and my family (and the Jewish People) are of no concern to some people. The jsut want to know if I ambushed Helen an dwhy did I report on this etc..

I do appreciate you asking and I must tell you that I have received thousands of emails from Christians and Jews throughout this country letting me know that these hate-mongers don't represent the hate words which I published on RabbiLIVE.com

Rabbi, I see in your picture you have on a yarlmulke. When you approached Ms. Thomas, were you wearing that or did you have on a baseball cap? Did she know she was speaking to an observant Jewish person? Just wondering.

The two teenagers were wearing Yarmulke skull caps and tsittsit fringes hanging from their shirts. I was wearing a Yarmulke, but since I was outside I cover my shaven head from the sun with a baseball cap. Indoors the cap came off. It was Jewish Heritage Day and there were numerous Jewish people on the gounds.  I'm not sure of the impact as to whether it is important that we were openly Jewish, it was on Jewish Heritage Day, or if we weren't even Jewish. Certainly it showed a fervor and a pride and a lack of shyness to make such comments with the heck word to young teenagers with yarmulkes at the Jewish Heritage day event on the White House lawn.

In requests you get for interviews, are the majority from FOX News-types or not?

I have received requests for interviews from agencies throughout the world. There is though a bias in the press as to some media who either do not report on this story, report on it a week late, or reprt on it and not even ask me or check any details with regard to my invovlement. They are either bias, antisemitic or lame reporters who do shoddy work. Some should probably win first or second worst reporter of the year award.

Do you think she deserved to lose her job over this?

I did not hire her or fire her. I will say that we should probably review her wrok over the last 60 years and see if her complete diregard for the existance of Israel effects any of the stories that she reported on to the Amercan people.

Thanks for providing the "rest of the story," so to speak. What concerns me about Ms. Thomas's comments is that I really think she put voice to what I believe is the predominant view among so many of the so-called elites. Witness the near-constant shellacking Israel would take at the United Nations were it not for the U.S. wielding veto power over various resolutions. What puzzles me most is that, religion aside, Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East so it should be held up as an example of good, not as a villain. Further, Arabs are treated better in Israel but their government and have more rights than in any Arab country. Taking this into account, why do you think anti-Semitism is on the rise again?

Why why why? Beacuse Anti-semitism is evil and there is evil in the world. It always exists. there is evil being done to many people in all different places. But it is acceptable to lob rockets from Gaza into chidlren's schools in Sderot Israel. It is acceptable to blow up buses and restaurants in Israel. When the hate and disre to exterminate the Jew is put aside, then negotiations could begin with real hope. Are boats inteerested in bringing supplies to Gaza or are they interestied in hurting Israel. See the video on RabbiLIVE.com thank G-d for video, it becomes so clear.

It was a pleasure chatting with all of you and trying to answer as many questions as I could. You may join me at RabbiLIVE.com and I will be speaking throughout the country, so you can contact me if you are interested in me coming to your area.

G-d Bless and keep asking quesitons, but with respect.

In This Chat
David Nesenoff
David F. Nesenoff is a rabbi in New York.
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