The Celebrate Israel Festival on May 31 at Pier 94, slated to be the largest gathering to date of Israeli-Americans in New York.
Rabbi David Nesenoff has given Accuracy in Media the most detailed account yet of how his encounter with veteran White House correspondent Helen Thomas caused him to reevaluate not only his view of the media, but of the White House and President Obama.
Nesenoff is a self-described liberal Democrat who used to think Obama should be given a chance to change U.S. foreign policy for the better. Now he worries about the existence of the state of Israel.
He says he is increasingly troubled by the failure of Obama to speak forcefully about the right of Israel to exist, at a time when some of the country’s neighbors are more determined than ever to destroy it.
Thomas said the Jews ought to “get the hell out of Palestine” and presumably turn the land over to the Arabs and Muslims. She also said they should return to countries like Germany and Poland, where the Holocaust took place, which ultimately led to the creation of the Jewish homeland in Israel.
Nesenoff tells AIM that he has learned a lesson in a personal way – that anti-Semitism is alive and well. He says he has felt the brunt of it as a result of exposing Thomas.
He explained, “It kind of rocked my world a little, because I have to kind of reevaluate my life and my standing and the agendas, because I’m a New York Democrat, Jewish, liberal, supporter of Obama, [and] donated to his candidacy for a year.”
He said he came to believe in Obama because the media constantly said, “give him a chance.” But now he questions the media and Obama’s policy toward Israel, even though the Obama White House denounced Thomas’s comments.
Personally, the rabbi was surprised at the venomous e-mails he received and attacks in the media against him. After all, he didn’t take Helen Thomas’s words out of context and he didn’t suggest or urge that she be fired or resign.
Clearly angry, he said, “They want to make me out to be a racist – how dare they! How silly is that? How stupid of them, how buffoonish of them to call themselves journalists and not use the luxury of this beautiful media of [the] Internet in a responsible fashion.”
All of this stems from a chance encounter Thomas had with Nesenoff and his son on the grounds of the White House on May 27.
Nesenoff and his son and a friend were there for a White House ceremony honoring Jewish Heritage Week. Both the father and son have blogs, and they were asking people on camera for their views of Israel.
They openly had a camera as Thomas passed by. He simply asked the question, “Any comments on Israel?”
Expecting perhaps to hear something in support of Israel and the Jews, instead Thomas was venomous.
Nesenoff’s initial reaction was shock but he thought other people might not regard it that way. He called up a reporter at a Jewish newspaper about the comments and was told this was nothing new from Thomas.
Nevertheless, he still thought it was newsworthy and waited for his son to post the interview on YouTube and his website, RABBIlive.com. It was only then, more than a week later, that word about the video – and the video – got out, creating a storm of controversy.
Fox News reported it, followed by the rabbi being invited on “Fox & Friends” to personally discuss it. The rest of the media tried to catch up. By the time The New York Times reported on it, Thomas had resigned her special place in the White House press room. But the Times didn’t even then report the most egregious part of what she said.
The media consensus was that the comments reflected Thomas’s differences with Israel and U.S. policy in the Middle East, and that this was nothing new.
But Nesenoff argues that her comments are new – and that they are not just anti-Israel but anti-Semitic.
He explains, “There are issues [on which] Israelis disagree with their government. And, by the way, they’re allowed to without being beheaded. That’s one of the only countries in the region [where people] can disagree with their government, and vote against their government, and protest their government, without being beheaded and killed. There are American rabbis, there are Jews all over the world that might disagree with something Israel does, or doesn’t do . But – but – when you start talking about the very existence of the state, that’s not up for negotiation. That’s anti-Semitic. That’s out of the realm of some political, geographical, regional discussion. That’s not about fences, or Gaza, or Golan, or West Bank, East Bank, West Jerusalem, East Jerusalem .”
On CNN’s “Reliable Sources” with Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post, the rabbi talked about how he became the issue and was accused “of being some right-wing ambusher.” He explained that he was a liberal Obama supporter who was just trying to tape comments on the Jews and Israel.
But now that he has seen through the liberal media agenda, and where their sympathies lie, he is reviewing not only his view of the media but of Obama, their hero.
“And now I have to reevaluate,” he told Kurtz. “I have to now speak to people with all different agendas. Because if I was part of a team where their agenda was that Israel and the Jewish people don’t have a connection, which is exactly what Helen Thomas has said, there is no connection, why are they even there . So, I have to really reevaluate liberal and conservative, and really find out where I stand, because I think I’ve been a little blind.”
Asked about a poll taken in April by McLaughlin & Associates that showed while 78 percent of Jews had voted for Obama, the percentage of those who said they would vote to re-elect him was down to 42 percent, Nesenoff stated he still has hope for Obama and appreciates his way with words. But, he added, “I am definitely finding myself in a group that is terribly disappointed in him.”
He described Israel as a state that “lives with dozens of countries with rockets and bombs faced at them on a regular basis, and this is a friend – and I’m very disappointed in that lack of friendship towards Israel. He’s the one in charge now, Obama, and I would like to see him step up to the plate and make it clear that Israel has the right to exist, Israel is our friend . ”
At least as it relates to Israel, Nesenoff seemed to miss the days of President George W. Bush, who pursued policies that he – Nesenoff – rejected but who always maintained a pro-Israel stance.
“I was in Israel a few years ago, during that Lebanon war,” he recalled. “And I remember sitting in a hotel room, watching the television, and I saw President Bush get on television. And no matter what I had, feelings about different things with his administration, I was in tears because I saw the only leader in the world get on world television, as I’m sitting in a country at war, and say, ‘Israel has the right to exist, and Israel has the right to defend herself, and we won’t stop her.’ ”
He doesn’t see this pro-Israel view in the Obama White House.
About the Author: Roger Aronoff is a media analyst with Accuracy in Media (www.aim.org) and is the writer/director of the award-winning documentary "Confronting Iraq: Conflict and Hope." He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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