Gwen Ifill, USA Today question Israel’s influence in US politics– even as David Gregory beats Netanyahu’s drum

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Last night on PBS’s News Hour, in a report on Why the Iranian nuclear talks fell apart, host Gwen Ifill repeatedly raised issues about Netanyahu’s intervention in the American political process. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a mainstream journalist be so straightforward about the role of the Israel lobby in U.S. policy-making. Ifill expressed surprise at the number of politicians who were echoing Israel’s concerns, and suggested that Israel was interfering. Excerpt:

GWEN IFILL: Was the U.S. surprised that [the deal] felt apart?

MARGARET WARNER:  Yes…. And the U.S. was — it’s no surprise that France has always been the most hawkish in their private discussions, based on their long history of negotiating with Iran. They become very close to Israel and so on. But to be publicly blindsided by Foreign Minister Fabius, that did come, I’m told, as a surprise. And now the administration has to figure out how to not let that happen again.

GWEN IFILL: Well, it’s clear that Israel was not — Netanyahu wasn’t ever going to be on board. How much of this was changed because of his insistence that this was a bad deal, not only to his allies who were there in Geneva, but also here in the U.S. dealing with our domestic concerns about Israel?

MARGARET WARNER:  I think that Prime Minister Netanyahu’s objections and role cannot be overstated or underestimated, or shouldn’t be, here.

He’s had a drumbeat, as you said, of talking to people not only in the administration, but to people on the Hill. And he confirmed suspicions yesterday he called most of these European leaders. And he went from expressing — saying, well, don’t do a premature deal, which is one that would enable Iran to keep enriching, to yesterday saying he had been given the outlines of the deal by his American sources and that indeed was what the deal was going to do….

GWEN IFILL: I was interested to see U.S. senators coming out and saying and even governors coming out and saying this is a bad deal over the last two days, which suggested that someone was suggesting to them this was a bad deal who was not in the administration.


GWEN IFILL: So when John Kerry gets back to the United States from this trip, what’s his first goal, to win them over?

MARGARET WARNER:  He’s going — exactly. He’s going right to the Hill.

Contrast Ifill’s independence with David Gregory on Meet the Press Sunday, quizzing John Kerry about why the U.S. was considering such a deal with Iran. Gregory acted as a pipeline for Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, five or six times citing Israeli concerns and describing Iran as double-dealers.

Here are excerpts of David Gregory’s questions, in which I highlight his Israel-centric thrust:

QUESTION: The reporting is that the French thought it wasn’t tough enough on the Iranians. And you know the history – as the Israeli Prime Minister called Rouhani as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. That this is what they do. They double play; they play for time; while they keep producing, they try to win the confidence of the West, and they can play games….

QUESTION: Let me play you a comment that I think gets to the ultimate question of what does it mean to get it right. …The Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been outspoken about this this week. He was on this program late last month and this is what he said about the prospect of a deal with Iran. I want you to listen and I’ll get your reaction on the other side.

PRIME MINISTER NETANYAHU: I think the pressure has to be maintained on Iran, even increased on Iran, until it actually stops the nuclear program – that is, dismantles it. I think that any partial deal could end up in dissolving the sanctions. There are a lot of countries that are waiting for a signal – just waiting for a signal – to get rid of their sanctions regime.

QUESTION: So a couple of points there. You want them to stop their weapons program. Others, like the Israeli Prime Minister, are saying no, they’ve got to dismantle their infrastructure before they get the kind of economic relief that is part of this deal…

QUESTION: If the only reason they’re coming to the table now is because they feel the economic pain of sanctions– it’s not just the Israelis, it’s the Saudis, it’s Republicans in Congress who have said — if that’s the only reason they’re coming to the table, what’s the rush?…

QUESTION: There is a broader criticism that goes beyond this that no doubt you’ve confronted in your extensive travels throughout that region. And let me sum it up this way. It amounts to this criticism that the President appears reluctant to exercise power on the world stage. It’s not just Israel……

Update: USA Today is also reflecting Ifill’s concern. An editorial today.

Meanwhile, in the U.S. Senate, where Netanyahu enjoys more influence than any foreign leader should, key senators were threatening to move ahead with legislation that would tighten sanctions, an in-your-face response that almost certainly would kill the Iranian attempt at outreach before it can be explored.

Thanks to Scott McConnell.

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