Brian Williams Grills Netanyahu, Then Touts Hamas Calling Him A 'War Criminal'

In an interview with Benjamin Netanyahu aired on Monday's NBC Nightly News, anchor Brian Williams hyped how the Israeli Prime Minister was "under increasing fire for the civilian deaths we've seen in Gaza" and proceeded to hammer Netanyahu on the topic: "Last night our network aired scenes of the largest hospital in Gaza having to turn away dead bodies at the hospital morgue. There was no more room....How does it strike you as a father, as a human being?" [Listen to the audio or watch the video after the jump]

Following the tough questions to Netanyahu, Williams didn't bother to bring on a Palestinian official to equally grill, instead, he simply read a statement from Hamas terrorists: "Hamas tells NBC News in a statement tonight, quote, 'It is Netanyahu and his army of war criminals that have targeted and continue to target innocent and defenseless civilians. As for Hamas, every single Israeli killed by its fighters or its rockets except one have been soldiers in uniform, on duty, fully armed and on the battlefield.'"

In an extended version of the exchange posted on NBCNews.com, Williams lamented:

Mr. Prime Minister, we call this a cycle of violence for a reason. Even if there is quiet for quiet, as they call it, achieved, Gazans will go back to their neighborhoods, many of them slums that have now been further degraded, no power, water, basic medical care. That breeds discontent and anger over time, maybe very quickly. And thus we're back into a cycle of violence.

Netanyahu tore that argument apart:

It's not a cycle, it's a deliberate strategy of Hamas....They don't care a wit about the people of Gaza. You know, they're not only targeting our civilians, they're deliberately hiding among – behind their civilians and they're piling as many civilians as they can. When we go to clear out these rocketeers or these tunnels, they – we tell the people to leave and many of them do leave, so they're safe. But they tell the others, "Stay, stay so we can pile up bodies telegenically before the world cameras." This is grotesque. So yes, they want this.

I don't know if I'd call it a cycle of violence, I'd call it the deliberate campaign of violence against your own people. They want Palestinians dead. That's what they're doing. And I think they should be condemned, they should be excoriated to the extent that they don't get any PR benefit. To the extent that people say, "We get it and you guys can't get away with it." I think that'll limit the possibility that this cyclicality, as you say, will repeat itself.

Williams lectured on the uneven casualties in the conflict:

...this time the capacity of even your allies to watch this seems to differ a little bit. We heard our own secretary of state in an unguarded moment while wearing a microphone yesterday mocking the pinpoint operation aspect of the IDF attacks. That plus the rise of social media, are you more worried now about losing public opinion?...Perhaps it's people watching the success of Iron Dome against the volleys of rockets that lead people to view this as a lopsided conflict. Of course that plus the overwhelming superiority of the IDF, the Israeli Defense Forces. Is that fair?


Here is a full transcript of the July 21 Nightly News interview:

7:09 AM ET

BRIAN WILLIAMS: Earlier today we spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is under increasing fire for the civilian deaths we've seen in Gaza while insisting he must defend his country from relentless rocket attacks.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: You know, at a certain point you say, what choice have you got? What would you do? What would you do if American cities, where you are sitting now, Brian, would be rocketed, would absorb hundreds of rockets? You know what you'd say? You'd say to your leader, a man's got to do what a man's got to do and you'd say a country's got to do what a country's got to do. We have to defend ourselves. We try to do it with a minimum amount of force or with targeting military targets as best as we can. But we'll act to defend ourselves. No country can live like this.

WILLIAMS: Let's talk about these civilian deaths. Last night our network aired scenes of the largest hospital in Gaza having to turn away dead bodies at the hospital morgue. There was no more room. You've seen the widely chronicled story of the boys on the beach in Gaza who were killed. How does it strike you as a father, as a human being?

NETANYAHU: It's very saddening. To see any of these civilian deaths is terribly saddening. And we regret every one of them. And we don't seek to have even one civilian death. We're targeting Hamas terrorists.

I can tell you that we opened up a hospital, a field hospital, a humanitarian field hospital on the edge of Gaza. And Hamas doesn't let the people come there. They're hiding rockets in hospitals, they're hiding arms in hospitals, they're shooting from hospitals.

So they just don't care. I mean, they break every norm in the book. Every rule in the book. Committing triple war crimes, targeting civilians, hiding behind civilians, piling civilians in places where they'll be put in harm's way. I think to the extent there is any blame it should be laid squarely to Hamas' door because these are not symmetrical – symmetrical conditions.

WILLIAMS: It is the situation, Mr. Prime Minister, that civilians are dying in droves, that we've seen pictures of children wandering the streets of Gaza no longer with homes to return to. Our president just this morning called again for a cease-fire. Are you willing to talk to Hamas in any form? And what are you willing to agree to when Secretary Kerry gets to work there?

NETANYAHU: Well, we've agreed three times, as I said, to successive cease-fires. And I think the most important initiative, and really the only initiative, is the Egyptian initiative supported by the Arab League, supported by the Palestinian authorities, supported by Israel, supported by the U.N. If Hamas wants to end this, they could have supported it. I think Kerry – John Kerry, will come here, and I think he'll – he should stand behind this initiative. If people want to end it, it could end.

WILLIAMS: Part of our conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from earlier today.

In response to our conversation with the Prime Minister, Hamas tells NBC News in a statement tonight, quote, "It is Netanyahu and his army of war criminals that have targeted and continue to target innocent and defenseless civilians. As for Hamas, every single Israeli killed by its fighters or its rockets except one have been soldiers in uniform, on duty, fully armed and on the battlefield." End of quote from Hamas.

The full version of our interview is on our website tonight.

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