NBC’s Chuck Todd goes easy on Netanyahu

A man speaks on NBC News

A still from NBC’s Meet the Press, where incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to Chuck Todd.

NBC’s Chuck Todd interviewed incoming Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu for more than 16 minutes on Sunday without the word Palestinian coming up a single time.

There was no discussion of Israeli apartheid.

The closest Todd got to the subject of Palestinians was when he commented: “I want to ask you a few questions that are of concern to many American Jews about the formation of your government. Two people in particular have gotten people upset: [Itamar] Ben-Gvir, who was on a terrorist list at one time, is on a security ministry that you’re going to be giving him and then Avi Maoz on an education ministry that he’s going to have.”

There was not a single word said during the Meet the Press interview about this being of profound concern to Palestinian Americans and supporters of equal rights. They don’t count.

Yes, some – even many – American Jews are concerned about the cabinet positions as Todd indicated. But they’re by no means the only ones.

And other American Jews, such as Donald Trump’s anti-Palestinian ambassador to Israel, are not concerned in the least. Former ambassador David Friedman tweeted last month that “Ben-Gvir has disavowed past troublesome statements.”

Ben-Gvir has walked back some troubling statements – a “trick” according to Almog Cohen, a colleague in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset – but has stood by others. Plus, he’s issuing new violent statements – such as his determination to give Israeli soldiers immunity.

Todd described Ben-Gvir and Maoz as “very far right” and “anti-democratic leaning” before asking, “How much leeway are they going to get to pursue their own fringe ideology versus what you would like to see done?”

Whataboutism

Remarkably, Netanyahu – perhaps surprised they weren’t called racists, bigots or fascists – did not vehemently disagree with the characterization of his cabinet colleagues as anti-democratic. Instead, he merely said, “I’m not sure I’d characterize them the way you do.”

He added, “On Ben-Gvir, the [Israeli] supreme court looked into the matter of his eligibility; they decided categorically that he could [run in the election].”

Then Netanyahu pivoted to classic whataboutism with a reference to the small party of Mansour Abbas.

“Remember that we just had a government with a party that’s beholden to the Muslim Brotherhood who don’t believe in any democratic values, LGBT rights, women’s rights and so on.”

Todd did not push back by raising reports that Netanyahu had also sought to include Abbas in a coalition government of his own.

Nor did Todd raise the fact that many Palestinians rejected Abbas’ decision to be used by anti-Palestinian Israeli political parties. Furthermore, many Palestinians strongly disagree with Mansour Abbas’ claim earlier this year to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a think tank affiliated with AIPAC, about the accuracy of Amnesty International’s report on Israeli apartheid.

There, speaking virtually, he declared: “I would not call it apartheid.”

Netanyahu then insisted he is not a “warmonger” and had “brought four historic peace treaties in ways that defied everybody else’s prognostications,” apparently referencing here the Abraham Accords signed with Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Sudan and Morocco – four US client regimes not at war with Israel, but willing to normalize relations with a country practicing apartheid.

The incoming prime minister also argued that he would “safeguard Israeli democracy.”

He added, “I’m going to bring peace categorically. I think I can get another breakthrough for peace, and I’m going to stop Iran.” Presumably, he meant he thought he could strike a deal with Saudi Arabia rather than with the Palestinian Authority.

Todd wrapped up the interview with a question about the Law of Return. I momentarily started, thinking he may have asked about the right of return for Palestinians before quickly processing that equal rights and justice for Palestinian refugees were not part of this discussion.

The NBC host may simply have been picking up on concerns voiced days before by Abe Foxman, the former national director of the Anti-Defamation League, about the Law of Return, which allows Jews around the world to emigrate to Israel and automatically be conferred with citizenship.

Foxman had stated, “If they change the Law of Return and Israel’s world-class judiciary system, all these things will impact [the relationship with American Jews] dramatically.” Foxman also asserted, “If Israel ceases to be an open democracy, I won’t be able to support it.”

The suggestion here is that the apartheid state of Israel is currently a democracy and wouldn’t be in jeopardy of losing its democratic status were it not for men like Ben-Gvir. The framing from both Foxman and Todd points to a very limited view of Israel and its longstanding undemocratic practices.

Todd didn’t even get to Bezalel Smotrich, though he is a notorious anti-Palestinian racist whose Religious Zionism Party is central to Netanyahu’s coalition and is determined to worsen the situation for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.

Trump’s anti-Semitism

While the overall interview was lacking, I am all for pressing Netanyahu, as Todd did, on Trump’s anti-Semitism and association with right-wing activists who like Nazis and Adolf Hitler.

Netanyahu said he doesn’t know why Trump has difficulty denouncing this sort of thing.

From there, however, he immediately switched gears, citing the “great things” Trump did for Israel.

“He recognized Jerusalem as our capital, long overdue since King David proclaimed it as such 3,000 years ago. He moved the American embassy there. He recognized our sovereignty in the Golan Heights. He got out of what I believe is the disastrous Iran deal that would’ve paved Iran’s path with gold, hundreds of billions of dollars of sanctions relief towards a nuclear arsenal. So he’s done all these great things, and I appreciate it. And I remain appreciative.”

Only then did he get around to saying of Kanye West – known now as Ye – and Nick Fuentes: “I think it’s not merely unacceptable, it’s just wrong. And I hope he [Trump] sees his way to staying out of it and condemning it.”

This is an important, though long overdue fuller reckoning with Trump’s anti-Semitism. This has been obvious about Trump for years.

Yet only now that he’s out of office and seen as hurting Republicans in the recent midterms are some of his conservative allies moving to oppose this aspect of his bigoted views.

This is a positive development, but an interview of the incoming Israeli prime minister that doesn’t also explicitly discuss anti-Palestinian racism speaks volumes about entrenched anti-Palestinianism in the mainstream American media.

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Michael F. Brown

Michael F. Brown is an independent journalist. His work and views have appeared in The International Herald Tribune, TheNation.com, The San Diego Union-Tribune, The News & Observer, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Washington Post and elsewhere.