NBC's Guthrie to Israeli Ambassador: Is Israel 'Minting the Next Generation of Terrorists?'

In an interview with Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer on Thursday's NBC Today, co-host Savannah Guthrie noted how "anti-Israel protests around the world" "have taken a disturbing turn and become anti-Semitic in nature," but proceeded to blame Israel for the prejudice: "Do you ask yourselves, 'Okay, we may be winning militarily but are we losing the larger battle, the PR war?' And perhaps, as one headline put it yesterday, minting the next generation of terrorists?" [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]

The headline Guthrie cited was from the liberal Daily Beast website, which on Wednesday published an article by Jesse Rosenfeld, who ranted: "It is not Hamas propaganda, the school curriculum or even their parents that make these children see a future where continued resistance is the only option for survival. That was an education taught by the Israeli bombs that flattened their homes and by the bread lines across the street from the school."

On Tuesday, NBC chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell interviewed Dermer for her MSNBC show and wondered if "Israel may be losing its soul" in the Gaza conflict.

On Thursday's Today, Guthrie began her interrogation of Dermer by demanding: "Again and again Israel has said it doesn't target civilians, that in fact it goes above and beyond to minimize civilian casualties. And yet, we continue to see civilians die....How would you grade Israeli forces in terms of its stated mission of minimizing civilian casualties?"

Dermer pushed back: "Well, you have to put it in context. What do you think the United States would do if you had 200 million Americans in bomb shelters, you had 3,000 rockets fired at you from contiguous territory by a terror organization committed to your destruction who were using their own people as human shields?"

Guthrie followed up by holding Israel responsible for Hamas using human shields: "...why play into Hamas's hands? Israeli officials continually say this is a strategy by Hamas to rack up the civilian death toll and try to get the sympathy of the world. If that's working, why would Israel play into that strategy?"

Dermer completely eviscerated that argument:

Well, what would you have us do? You're sitting in New York right now. Would you have us just allow you, in this case, if you were the citizen of the country, just allow you to sit in a bomb shelter day after day for three or four weeks, or would you want your government and your military to defend you? So what would you have us do? They are firing rockets, a hundred rockets at our citizens every day. We're not going to live that way. No country should have to live that way.

In response to Guthrie's suggestion Israel was creating new Palestinian terrorists, Dermer responded: "Now you have anti-Semitism really coming to the surface again....The birth of the state of Israel did not end hatred towards the Jewish people, it just gave the Jews the ability to defend themselves against that hatred. That's what the state of Israel is doing right now."


Here is a full transcript of the July 31 exchange:

7:04 AM ET
 
SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: Let's turn to Ron Dermer, he's Israel's ambassador to the United States. Mr. Ambassador, good morning to you sir.

RON DERMER: Good morning.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: Israeli Ambassador Speaks Out; Addresses Growing Criticism of Gaza Bombardment]

GUTHRIE: Again and again Israel has said it doesn't target civilians, that in fact it goes above and beyond to minimize civilian casualties. And yet, we continue to see civilians die. The death toll is up to over a thousand now. We saw the strike on the U.N. school. How would you grade Israeli forces in terms of its stated mission of minimizing civilian casualties?

RON DERMER: Well, you have to put it in context. What do you think the United States would do if you had 200 million Americans in bomb shelters, you had 3,000 rockets fired at you from contiguous territory by a terror organization committed to your destruction who were using their own people as human shields? Who were using schools to store weapons – U.N. schools – who were using mosques to build tunnels to tunnel into Israel. Who were using hospitals as military command centers.

So given all of those facts, Israel has taken great care to avoid civilian casualties. But we're fighting an enemy that not only fires at our civilians, but hides behind their civilians. That's the problem.

GUTHRIE: And it is the problem from Israel's perspective. And I guess that raises the question, then why play into Hamas's hands? Israeli officials continually say this is a strategy by Hamas to rack up the civilian death toll and try to get the sympathy of the world. If that's working, why would Israel play into that strategy?

DERMER: Well, what would you have us do? You're sitting in New York right now. Would you have us just allow you, in this case, if you were the citizen of the country, just allow you to sit in a bomb shelter day after day for three or four weeks, or would you want your government and your military to defend you? So what would you have us do? They are firing rockets, a hundred rockets at our citizens every day. We're not going to live that way. No country should have to live that way.

GUTHRIE: We've seen some anti-war, anti-Israel protests around the world, but some of them have taken a disturbing turn and become anti-Semitic in nature. How concerned are you about that? And do you ask yourselves, "Okay, we may be winning militarily but are we losing the larger battle, the PR war?" And perhaps, as one headline put it yesterday, minting the next generation of terrorists?

DERMER: Look, I think anti-Semitism is a problem, it's been a problem for a few thousand years. There was hope that in the wake of the Holocaust that anti-Semitism would end and that the establishment of Israel would bring it to an end. And really what happened with historical perspective is that the brief period after the Holocaust made it politically incorrect to be anti-Semitic.

And now you have anti-Semitism really coming to the surface again. And that was what the case was before the Holocaust, now it's happening again. I think the world should be outraged by it, should take a stand against it. The birth of the state of Israel did not end hatred towards the Jewish people, it just gave the Jews the ability to defend themselves against that hatred. That's what the state of Israel is doing right now.  

GUTHRIE: Well, Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer. Sir, we appreciate your time this morning, thank you.

DERMER: Thank you.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC