NBC interviews ‘the leader of the Jewish people’: Benjamin Netanyahu

David Gregory, presenter of NBC’s Meet the Press, is Jewish. On today’s show which fell on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, Gregory addressed the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, as “the leader of the Jewish people.” No doubt many American Jewish viewers’ jaws dropped as they said/thought, say what?!

Gregory later tweeted for clarification, “This am I called Israeli PM the leader of the jewish ppl. Better to say he’s leader of jewish state.” And, “Didn’t mean to imply all jews believe he represents them.”

His clarifications are interesting. Had he just stuck with the first tweet, we’d have been left to assume that he simply misspoke. But his second tweet was perhaps more illuminating since it suggests that some American Jews do regard Netanyahu as their leader.

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In the interview, Netanyahu retreats from his hardline on red lines — the point that would trigger a U.S. attack on Iran. He’s now introduced a new metaphor and says that we’re already in a “red zone” and Iran mustn’t be allowed to make a “touch down.”

If we’re already in the red zone then apparently Iran has not crossed the red line. And if crossing that red line would mean they scored a touch down, it sounds an awful lot like Netanyahu has wiggled over to Obama’s position: that Iran can’t be allowed to produce nuclear weapons. I know it’s just a metaphor, but touch down sounds much more like weapons than capability.

Moreover, while Netanyahu continued employing his red-line line, note this ambiguity: he says that the Iranians respect red lines. They are rational actors. But they can’t be allowed to create nuclear weapons because they are suicidal maniacs.

Throughout the interview, Netanyahu attempts to tie “the fanatics” who have been attacking U.S. embassies across the region with “the fanatics” who rule Iran. Most observers acknowledge that Salafists have been a driving force in the protests — radicals who primarily draw their support from Saudi Arabia and have no connection at all with Iran. But that distinction matters little to the Israeli leader since his goal is to continue pressing on the same theme that he has hammered away at since 9/11: that Israelis and Americans are one people united against a common enemy. It’s less important that that enemy be clearly identified than that the illusion of our indivisible interests be perpetuated.

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