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Deferring to Netanyahu

Last Saturday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” (the longest-running series on U.S. television, dating back to 1947) veteran journalist David Gregory interviewed Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu during “a special hour” on the theme of “Turmoil in the Middle East.”

The show was mostly devoted to the global outrage sparked by the deliberately incendiary “movie” produced by the Egyptian-American Islamophobe Nakoula Bassely Nakoula, in particular the torching of the U.S. consulate in Benghazi and death of four U.S. diplomats. But the segment featuring Netanyahu focused on the manifest difference between the Israeli leader and the U.S. president on the issue of Iran’s nuclear program.

We are constantly informed that that program presents the world with a “threat,” a “dilemma,” a “crisis” even though (it should be repeated endlessly, and shouted from the rooftops!) U.S., Israeli and other intelligence communities have repeatedly concluded that Iran does not HAVE a military nuclear program.

In 2007 and again in 2011,  the CIA, military intelligence agencies, Homeland Security, the Department of State, the Department of the Treasury, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, etc., collectively concluded—with a high degree of confidence—that Iran had abandoned any incipient research program towards a nuclear weapons program as of 2003. That was the year the Iranian leadership offered, in a letter passed to Washington through the Swiss ambassador in Tehran, to abandon support for Hamas and Hizbollah and endorse the Arab League’s endorsement of a two-state solution in Palestine/Israel in return for the restoration of normal diplomatic and trade relations with the U.S. (Dick Cheney threw the letter in his waste basket and even blasted the Swiss diplomat for passing it along.)

David Gregory either does not know that careful researchers armed with knowledge and a commitment to empirical reality have repeatedly concluded that Iran’s nuclear program is what the Iranians claim it is—a program like those in Brazil, Japan and many countries designed to produce cheap electricity and medical isotopes—or he does not care. He has to read from a script composed not through honest investigation but through deference to a fear-mongering agenda.

At the beginning of the program, before interviewing U.S. UN ambassador Susan Rice, Gregory informed the audience that Netanyahu would also appear and indicates the topic of discussion: “Have relations between his country and the U.S. hit a new low over the looming nuclear threat from Iran?” He used the phrase “nuclear threat from Iran” four times during the hour.

He segued from an interview with Rice to the Netanyahu segment with: “Now to this looming threat from Iran from the Israeli perspective.”

He begins his interview with the statement: “I want to talk specifically before we get to the questions of what’s happening more broadly in the Middle East and the turmoil there this week about the threat from Iran.”

Not, mind you, “the alleged threat.” Iran is guilty unless proved innocent. The threat, as a given. The threat he must validate and promote, as virtually an editorial decision.

What if Gregory had said:  “I want to talk specifically before we get to the questions of what’s happening more broadly in the Middle East and the turmoil there this week about what you, and some in this country (particularly the neoconservatives), consider the threat from Iran, although in all fairness we should note that neither your intelligence agencies nor ours really believe Iran has an active nuclear program”?

Would Bibi’s jaw have dropped in response to this unexpected injection of skepticism into the discussion? Would the “Meet the Press” editors and producers have freaked out at this breach of etiquette?

Gregory focused on the now famous comment Netanyahu made last week, and asked it if constituted interference in the U.S. election.

“The world tells Israel, wait,” the Israeli leader had said. “There’s still time.  And I say, wait for what?  Wait until when?  Those in the international community who refuse to put red lines before Iran don’t have a moral right to place a red light before Israel.”

(In other words, the Obama administration which refuses to set a deadline for a U.S. attack on Iran on behalf of Israel forfeits, by that refusal, a moral right to dissuade nuclear-armed Israel from bombing a country that has no nuclear weapons nor even a nuclear weapons program.)

The statement was widely seen as an unprecedented Israel criticism of a U.S. president, during a presidential election campaign in which the other candidate, Mitt Romney, has eagerly embraced the most extreme Israeli positions and advertized his intimate relationship with the Israeli prime minister.

Gregory aggressively sought to press Netanyahu to acknowledge his effort to assist Romney by depicting Obama as weak, or lacking the 100%, unquestioning, religious-like support for Israel required by what politicians’ staffers refer to as “political reality” in this country. Netanyahu naturally dodged the question, stressed U.S. bipartisan support for Israel, and the fact that Obama has assured Israel that Iran will never get a nuclear weapon. The difference is that Netanyahu wants the bombing now, and Obama sees no urgent need for it.

What if Gregory had asked the Israeli leader, “Sir, haven’t you been predicting Iran’s immanent acquisition of nuclear weapons since 1992? Didn’t you predict on the floor of the Knesset that Iran would have nukes by 1995? Don’t you do this every year? I mean, some people might actually think you’re fear-mongering…Sarkozy told Obama that you’re a liar. What do you say to that?”

Would the world of corporate television news have allowed the question?

Despite the aggressive questioning on the issue of “interference” in the U.S. election (as though this were more important that the issue of goading the U.S. into a criminal assault on a sovereign country that hasn’t attacked another in centuries) Gregory treated the liar with deference, even at one point declaring, “You are the leader of the Jewish people.”

I imagine a lot of Jews around the world shook their heads at that. His popularity level in Israel is currently around 30%, and one poll shows U.S. Jews prefer Obama to Netanyahu. He is not the leader of the Jewish people but the unpopular prime minister of a settler-state with a 75% Jewish population. Why the gratuitous flattery?

The low point in the interview was when Gregory raised the possibility that Iran, even were it to acquire nuclear weapons, could be “contained” as the Soviet Union and China had been during the Cold War.

“I think Iran is very different,” Netanyahu replied. “They put their zealotry above their survival. They have suicide bombers all over the place. I wouldn’t rely on their rationality, you know, you– since the advent of nuclear weapons, you had countries that had access to nuclear weapons who always made a careful calculation of cost and benefit.  But Iran is guided by a leadership with an unbelievable fanaticism.  It’s the same fanaticism that you see storming your embassies today.  You want these fanatics to have nuclear weapons?”

What if Gregory had interrupted, asking frankly, “Suicide bombers all over where? When was the last time you heard a truly credible report about an Iranian involved in such a bombing? Aren’t you confusing al-Qaeda type Salafist jihadis with Iranians? ”

Some Iranian mullahs have endorsed suicide attacks in certain circumstances, and the regime threatens to conduct such attacks in the event of an assault on Iran. But a simple Google search of “Iran suicide bombing” will produce more evidence for suicide attacks on mosques and persons in Iran by regime opponents than by forces aligned with the Iranian state.

“I mean,” Netanyahu continued, “I’ve heard some people suggest, David, I actually I read this in the American press.  They said, well, you know, if you take action, that’s– that’s a lot worse than having Iran with nuclear weapons.  Some have even said that Iran with nuclear weapons would stabilize the Middle East– stabilize the Middle East.  I– I think the people who say this have set a new standard for human stupidity. “

This is a clear reference to the Foreign Affairs piece by Kenneth N. Waltz last month, entitled “Why Iran Should Get the Bomb: Nuclear Balancing Would Mean Stability.” Waltz, an emeritus professor of political science at Berkeley and senior research scholar at Columbia, is one of the most prominent scholars in international relations in this country. Chicken Little Bibi—who has warned that the sky is falling for twenty years— thinks neorealist Waltz has set a “new standard for human stupidity”?

What if Gregory had asked innocently: “What in Professor Waltz’s analysis did you find stupid or inaccurate? Do you think it’s stupid to suggest that Israel’s monopoly of nuclear weapons in the Middle East allows it to act without any restraint against its neighbors, and that a nuclear Iran might force it to moderate its aggression?”

Of course, Israel officials sitting atop a stockpile of maybe 200 nuclear weapons refuse to talk about the subject, and mainstream journalists are trained to avoid the question.

“We have to stop them,” Netanyahu raged, hoping to draw all the viewers into that “we,” that false sense of collective, immediate threat. Nuclear holocaust. Mushroom clouds over both Jerusalem and New York City.

“Don’t rely on containment.  That is not the American policy.  It would be wrong.  It would be a grave, grave mistake.  Don’t let these fanatics have nuclear weapons.  It’s terrible for Israel and it’s terrible for America.  It’s terrible for the world.”

Gregory didn’t challenge the paranoia but changed the subject. He asked if Netanyahu thought, as Romney has charged, Obama has “thrown allies like Israel under the bus.”

Such is the quality of political discourse—discourse about anything, really—in the corporate media of this country today. Mandatory assumptions, focus upon political races between candidates who share these assumptions (yesterday it was “Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction,” now it’s “Iran’s nuclear weapons program” although both appear fiction).

Softball questions to known liars. (Is it not amazing that the likes of John Bolton and Elliott Abrams continue to appear on Fox News, posturing as an experts on foreign affairs?) Boasts of “fact-checking” and “keeping them honest” alongside abject ass-kissing and scrupulous avoidance of asking the important questions.

What evidence is there for an Iranian nuclear weapons program? Precious little in fact, but Netanyahu need not worry. Two-thirds of Americans think there’s one, thanks in part to him but no less to “journalists” like Gregory.

GARY LEUPP is Professor of History at Tufts University, and holds a secondary appointment in the Department of Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa JapanMale Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: gleupp@granite.tufts.edu

 

 

 

 

 

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Gary Leupp is Professor of History at Tufts University, and holds a secondary appointment in the Department of Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa JapanMale Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: gleupp@tufts.edu

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