The rabbi who recorded the comments that led to the late Helen Thomas’s downfall recalled in a piece on chabad.org that he sought advice from Philadelphia’s Rabbi Abraham Shemtov about how to deal with the media firestorm.
In 2010, Rabbi David Nesenoff, a New York-based filmmaker and blogger, met Thomas at a White House event and asked the journalist for a few comments on Israel. Her response, that Jews should “get the hell out of Palestine” led her ultimately to resign as a columnist for Hearst Newspapers and to the end of a career that started in 1943.
Thomas, a child of Lebanese immigrants, was a trailblazer for female journalist and a fixture on the White House Press corps for nearly 50 years. She died July 20 at the age of 92.
In the Chabad piece, Nesenoff wrote that he was overwhelmed with the media attention he received for his role in the 2010 incident, and he was unsure what to say or how to ascribe meaning to the events.
Ari Fleischer, the former White House press secretary under President George W. Bush, had contacted him and hold him that he needed to formulate a coherent message. Fleischer urged him to ask several luminaries about what he should say.
At the behest of Elie Wiesel, Nesenoff ended up speaking with Shemtov, who oversees Chabad’s activities in Philadelphia and is one of the leaders of the outreach movement internationally. Shemtov is also known to have deep contacts in Washington and has been a guest at the Oval Office on more than one occasion.
Nesenoff wrote that Shemtov told him that “Israel and the Children of Israel are one. It doesn’t matter where or when you are born and live, or what language you speak; we are always the Children of Israel.”
Nesenoff wrote that shortly after his meeting with Shemtov he appeared on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” with Howard Kurtz.
“I can’t remember what he asked me, but I know the answer was that the Children of Israel and the Land of Israel are one, and that is what Helen Thomas and those who want to delegitimize Israel are denying.”