The rabbi and Helen Thomas
By Cindy Mindell
NEW HAVEN – Rabbi David Nesenoff is the writer and documentary filmmaker whose interview with veteran White House correspondent Helen Thomas in May elicited the infamous comment, “Tell the Jews to get the hell out of Palestine.”
Nesenoff was a keynote speaker at the IASA conference.
The case of Helen Thomas and the slur heard around the world goes something like this, Nesenoff told the audience:
Adam Nesenoff, the rabbi’s teenage son and blog-master of Schmoozepoint.com, called the White House to request media passes to the annual White House Chanukah celebration. Instead, he was offered tickets to the May 27 American Jewish Heritage Month event.
“On May 1, my 50th birthday, I sat and prayed, asking, ‘What do I want to do to help Eretz Yisrael?’” said the rabbi, who runs the website RabbiLive.com. “I decided to post video clips of people talking about Israel.”
Nesenoff came to the White House event armed with cameras, a SmartPhone, and the question, “Any thoughts on Israel?” Thomas was the first person he encountered.
“This was an example of Hashgacha Pratit, individual providence,” Nesenoff said. “God said, ‘I’ve got something for you.’ At which point, Helen Thomas replied, ‘Tell the Jews to get the hell out and go home.’ I asked, ‘Where?’ and she said, ‘Poland and Germany.’”
A week later, Nesenoff posted the interview on YouTube. The Gaza flotilla incident had just unfolded and Thomas had publicly accused Israel of “massacring Palestinians.” Within two days, the video had 700,000 hits.
“It hit a nerve,” Nesenoff said. “Something happened, and it has to do with hate and the fact that you can no longer say, ‘I hate Israel, I’m anti-Israel, but I’m not antisemitic.’ For 60 years, Helen Thomas used that excuse and now you can’t say that. She didn’t say, ‘Get the hell out of Gaza and the West Bank and go back to Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa. She said, ‘Go back to Poland and Germany.’ She was asking to cleanse an entire region of people and send them back to where the cleansing began. She reached the limit. We finally heard the truth and she was unmasked.”
Nesenoff called Elie Wiesel to ask what he should do next. Wiesel said, “I heard you were a Chabadnik. Go find out what the Rebbe wants you to do.”
Nesenoff, who is actually Modern Orthodox but holds Chabad in high regard, met with his local Chabad rabbi, who referred him to a friend of the late Rebbe. “We spoke with him for an hour and he was crying,” Nesenoff said. “He said, ‘A Jew has the opportunity to tell the world. Helen Thomas denied the relationship between Am Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael, like there’s no connection, like it makes no sense that Jews are there. Your job is to tell the world that there is a connection and that the two don’t exist without each other.’”
From then on, in every interview, Nesenoff would make the point, no matter what the question was. He received 30,000 hate letters, and hundreds of thousands of online comments.
“But more than the antisemites who wrote those letters and emails, there’s more of an evil antisemitic being,” Nesenoff said. “It’s the media, and they’re frightening, because ignorance leads to racism. There’s no responsible journalism any more. The University of Media teaches hate. It infuriated media outlets that Helen Thomas was taken down, especially by a Jew and a rabbi.”
MSNBC announced that Nesenoff should be named the “second worst person in America,” after Bill O’Reilly. The Huffington Post called Nesenoff a “racist” for a Purim shpiel he did three years ago, in which he dressed as a priest.
“Antisemites are smarter than we are; they know what’s important to us,” Nesenoff said. Our Sages teach that they wanted to take away our sameach, our happiness. The mystics take the letters of the name and say that Shin is for shem, or name: if you take away your Jewish identity, your Hebrew name, you won’t be around much longer. Mem is for milah, as in brit milah, our connection to Avraham and the land of Israel. Chet is for chodesh, calendar. The Jewish calendar announces the new month; they blew the shofar at the Temple in Jerusalem at the beginning of every month to keep track of your life and the holidays. You look at a Jewish calendar, you’re connected to Israel. Those three things are what antisemitism goes after. If you separate the Jews from the land of Israel, you’re pulling the plug.”
Nesenoff and his son are editing “Three Thousand Miles,” a documentary film on hate. He told the conference audience, “Don’t ‘sha,’ but yell a lot more, and fight antisemitism.”