Still Talking about Thomas! Why?

Still Talking about Thomas! Why?


Rabbi David Nesenoff was in Atlanta earlier this month, sharing his thoughts on a little event that became a huge story. Some of you might be scratching your noggins, trying to recall where you’ve heard the rabbi’s name.

Ron Feinberg
Ron Feinberg

A few of you might remember that he’s the guy who bumped into Helen Thomas a few years ago on the front lawn of the White House and that – more significantly – after they chatted, the veteran newswoman was toast. But for those of you still trying to recall the juicy details, here’s a little background that might jar your memory:

It was June of 2010 when Thomas, the dean of the Washington press corps and a columnist for Hearst, managed to put both feet in her mouth by suggesting that Jews in Israel should “go home” to Poland, Germany and America.

Caught a bit off-guard during a short interview outside the White House, Thomas told Rabbi Nesenoff that Israelis should “get the hell out of Palestine.” The rabbi then posted the taped interview on his website,, and the rest – as the saying goes – is history!

The interview, only a minute or so long, went viral. Thomas was pretty quickly blasted by her colleagues, U.S. officials and politicians on both the left and the right for her, ahhh, candor. She eventually apologized – in a fashion.

“I deeply regret my comments…regarding the Israelis and the Palestinians,” she said in a statement a week or so after sharing her thoughts on Israel. “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.”

You would have thought Thomas – who covered nine presidents, beginning with JFK in the early 1960s – would have been better at preparing an apology, perhaps actually focusing on her anti-Semitic declaration that Israelis should “get the hell out of Palestine.”

My guess is that’s exactly how she felt and that she never had any plans of backtracking from her beliefs. And, frankly, that’s okay. In fact, I found her fetid comments strangely refreshing.

Thomas had been quietly critical of Israel for years, even as she was working as an “objective” reporter for UPI, at the time one of the largest news organizations on the planet. And, finally, she had fessed up and shown her true colors.

It was almost like one of those iconic Perry Mason episodes from the 1960s, when the suspect suddenly stands up in the courtroom and shouts their guilt to the jury. Instead of tiptoeing around the contentious political issues that had simmered in the Middle East for decades, dropping buzz words about bilateral talks and summits and the importance of a two-state solution, Thomas said what she really thought – kick the Jews out of Palestine.

It’s a belief that Helen in her dotage shares with thousands of academics here and in Europe, as well as angry, festering mobs across the Arab world; and naïve, idealistic liberals – hey, I’m sort of one of them, except on this issue – who think peace will come to the region once Israel is wiped off the map.

Those are the facts, mostly, with a little editorializing on the side. If you’re still reading, let me take a moment to thank you for your indulgence before signing off with a final thought and a somewhat, admittedly, petulant question.

Helen Thomas has a worldview that I find repellant. She also had a 60-year career that had her rubbing shoulders with the country’s political elite, reporting and offering up opinions on events big and small that shaped our lives.

Now, at 92, she’s mostly a fading memory. To fall back on a cliché: Out of sight, out of mind!

Meanwhile, Rabbi Nesenoff has turned his encounter on the White House lawn into a cottage industry. According to his Wikipedia page – and, yes, the rabbi has a Wikipedia page – he’s been interviewed by The New York Times, Fox News and CNN; written about the incident for The Washington Post;and been the featured speaker at oh-so many events.

I understand the media feeding frenzy playing out over the summer of 2010. But the rabbi’s talks, like those this month in Atlanta, continue today.

My simple question: Why?

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