Helen Thomas row rabbi makes Hitler parallel, retracts

In ‘Post’ interview, Rabbi David Nesenoff draws parallel between Helen Thomas and Hitler, then retracts his comments.

By GIL STERN STERN SHEFLER
September 15, 2010 20:28
3 minute read.
Helen Thomas

helen thomas 311. (photo credit: Rabbi David F. Nesenoff)

Rabbi David Nesenoff hit the headlines after capturing journalist Helen Thomas on video issuing a career-ending utterance that Israeli Jews should “go home” to Germany and Poland. But on Wednesday Nesenoff proved he isn’t immune to impolitic remarks when he drew analogies between Thomas, Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler and sex offenders, before retracting the Hitler comparison.

Asked in the course of a telephone interview with The Jerusalem Post during a visit to Israel whether he had any qualms about his part in ending Thomas’s career, which had spanned five decades and 10 US presidents, Nesenoff said he had none.

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“I didn’t hire her and I didn’t fire her,” he said. “Hitler was a very, very, very profound, incredible artist. The fact that he killed tens of millions of people shouldn’t take away from the great artist he was? Thomas was a profound journalist. Now should we revere her career and ignore what she said?

“When she asked the president questions about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, was she worried about Arabs or American soldiers getting hurt?”

Nesenoff also went on to draw an analogy between Thomas, the long-time former UPI and Hearst Newspapers correspondent, and a high school teacher found guilty of sodomy, asking whether such an individual’s record in educating children shouldn’t be blemished by his offense.

When the Post asked him if he really meant those parallels, Nesenoff at first acknowledged that his was a “little exaggerated analogy to Hitler.”

Later in the interview, after being repeatedly asked about the analogies, Nesenoff retracted the Hitler comparison and said he was sorry.

“I retract the Hitler statement, I think you’re correct,” he said. “You don’t have to lambaste me on comparing her to Hitler if it doesn’t fit well. It’s fine. There are enough evil people in the world to compare to.”

On May 27, Nesenoff attended a White House reception in honor of Jewish-American Heritage Month. Outside, he bumped into Thomas, and asked her if she had any comments to make about Israel.

“Tell them to get the hell out of Palestine,” said Thomas, whose parents immigrated to the US from Lebanon. Pressed by Nesenoff on where Israelis should go instead, she said “home... Poland. Germany... And America and everywhere else.”

At first, Nesenoff told the Post on Wednesday, he didn’t realize the news value of the video. He spoke to the New York Jewish Week about it, he said, but was told it was “nothing new.”

On June 4, shortly after the flotilla incident, in which nine Turks on a Gaza-bound ship were killed in an IDF raid, he decided to upload the clip to the Internet because, he said, he had heard Thomas calling the IDF’s actions a “deliberate massacre.”

The video caused an immediate uproar. After issuing an apology saying she regretted her remarks, the 89-year-old journalist announced her retirement on June 7.

Nesenoff said he too had suffered from the affair.“There were two issues,” he said. “There were actual human beings who threatened me via tens of thousands of emails. We had to be very cautious. The second was the media, and that was even more frightening.”

The incident also raised Nesenoff’s public profile. The Conservative rabbi and filmmaker has since delivered speeches at universities around the US for various Jewish groups.

The Long Island-based Nesenoff, who has a blog called RabbiLIVE.com, is currently editing a documentary about the coast-to-coast trip he took earlier this year that will be called 3,000 Miles.

“Helen Thomas changed my life,” he said. “But I can’t credit her for it. It’s more of a divine providence that’s going on in my life.


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