No sooner was the video posted on YouTube of longtime White House correspondent Helen Thomas saying Jews should “get the hell out of Palestine” and “go home [to] Poland, Germany and America and everywhere else,” than anti-Semitic e-mails began descending on the Long Island rabbi who interviewed her.
“I have received thousands and thousands of e-mails saying such things as ‘Jew dog, die,’” said the rabbi, David Nesenoff of Stony Brook, a documentary filmmaker and former pulpit rabbi. “Some wrote paragraph after paragraph.”
The firestorm of controversy the video triggered led various Jewish groups and others to call for Thomas’ firing. Her retirement was announced Monday by her employer, Hearst News Service, after Thomas, 89, released a statement saying: “I deeply regret my comments. ... 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.”
But the hate e-mails kept coming to Rabbi Nesenoff even after Thomas’ resignation.
It led the rabbi to wonder why he, and not Thomas, was “the one to be blamed. For more than 60 years she was tough and she made her living that way. I asked her one question, ‘Tell me something about Israel.’ She looked right at the [cell phone] camera, and I only filmed what followed.”
Thomas’ response: “Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine. Remember these people are occupied and it’s their land. It’s not Germany or Poland.”
When Rabbi Nesenoff asked Thomas if she was familiar with the history of the area — Jews have lived there since biblical time — Thomas said she knew the history because she is “of Arab background.”
The recording was made May 27 on the White House lawn shortly before the start of Jewish Heritage Day celebrations there.
Rabbi Nesenoff posted it on his Web site, RabbiLIVE.com, late last week and it quickly circulated on the Internet.
Thomas’ anti-Israel views are well known among friends and colleagues and have occasionally been on public display. On June 1 during a briefing by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs about the nine people killed when Israeli soldiers stopped a boat carrying humanitarian supplies to blockaded Gaza, Thomas questioned why the U.S. had only expressed “regrets” about the deaths.
“[It was a] deliberate massacre,” she told Gibbs. “What do you we mean ‘regret.’ It is something that should have been so strongly condemned. … What is this sacrosanct iron-clan relationship with a country that deliberately kills people?”
Thomas, 89, began working for United Press International in 1943 and started covered every president since Dwight David Eisenhower. She was assigned to the White House beat in 1960, becoming the first female member of the White House Press Association.
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