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Stony Brook rabbi who outed Helen Thomas speaks out

Rabbi David Nesenoff asked the question that led

Rabbi David Nesenoff asked the question that led to the resignation of long-time political reporter Helen Thomas. (June 9, 2010) Credit: Ed Betz

It was Rabbi David Nesenoff's first day as a self-declared journalist representing his own website, and the Stony Brook resident had landed a press pass to the White House.

Invited to cover a Jewish heritage event hosted by President Barack Obama, Nesenoff and his teenage son were wandering the grounds and asking people to comment about Israel, when they bumped into Helen Thomas, the dean of White House correspondents.

Thomas spoke, and the rest is history - within days of posting the videotaped interview on his website, Thomas resigned amid a furor over her statements that Jewish people should "get the hell out of Palestine" and go back to Germany and Poland.

Nesenoff, 50, who has served as rabbi at several synagogues on Long Island, says he was as shocked as anyone by the 89-year-old Thomas' comments.

"When I heard what she said, I was taken aback, confused. I was not expecting it," he said. "I guess I was a little naive about her reporting over the years."

Nesenoff actually sat on the explosive May 27 interview for a week before posting it on his website.

He said his computer-savvy son, Adam, 17, is his webmaster, but could not post the video because he had to study for his high school final exams.

"Every day went by and he said, 'I have this test. I have that test. I have driver's ed,' " Nesenoff said.

He also said he wasn't in a rush because he wasn't sure Thomas' comments were big news. He called a reporter he knows at a Jewish publication to ask his opinion and "he kind of shrugged it off," Nesenoff said.

His son finally posted the video on June 3. By June 7, Thomas had resigned. Thomas covered 10 presidents during a half century - for years as a correspondent for United Press International and more recently as a columnist for Hearst Newspapers.

Nesenoff says his feelings now are less focused on Thomas' downfall than on the Jewish people and the anti-Semitism he says the video interview has provoked.

He said he's received thousands of pieces of hate mail, some of which he has posted on his website. He filed a police report, and the Suffolk County police department said its hate crimes unit is investigating.

But he also said he's received support from people and some of the more recent e-mails are positive.

While Nesenoff said he was stunned by Thomas' comments, he tried to keep calm at the time. "I kept my composure and was polite and was cordial and then thanked her," he said.

As for his first stint as a reporter, he says it was memorable. "My reporting became famous," he said, "and hers became infamous."

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