By Andrew Perez and Lucy Dean Stockton
October 20, 2023 The Lever
Cable news networks are relying on defense industry consultants to explain Israel’s war in Gaza.
The world witnessed a modern high point of the American presidency when President Joe Biden visited and spoke in Israel on October 18 amid its brutal assault on the Gaza Strip. At least, that was the take offered by Jeremy Bash, national security analyst for the liberal cable news network MSNBC.
“It was absolutely the finest hour by any president I’ve seen in a long, long time,” Bash said Wednesday on the show, “Deadline: White House.”
Bash went on to defend Israel’s “emotional” reaction to the massacre of 1,400 Israeli civilians by Hamas terrorists — a reaction that has involved thousands of bombs, and cutting off food, water, fuel, and electricity to Gaza. Next, he suggested that Hamas may have “directly targeted” the Al-Ahli Arab Hospital in the Gaza Strip, where an explosion killed hundreds of Palestinians last week: “I wouldn’t put it past them, given what their record is, and their use of human shields,” he said.
As of now, experts are still trying to determine responsibility for the bombing.
At no point did MSNBC mention that Bash, who served as chief of staff at the Central Intelligence Agency and the Department of Defense in the Obama administration, leads a consulting firm that has reportedly worked for defense contracting giant Raytheon, which supplies missiles for Israel’s Iron Dome defense system.
The episode is part of a broader, recurring pattern in corporate TV news. In recent weeks, MSNBC, NBC, CNN, and Fox News, have regularly invited on former defense officials-turned-industry consultants to explain the conflict between Israel and Palestine without ever mentioning to viewers that these analysts may represent clients with a financial stake in the matters being discussed.
In the days after Hamas’ attack on Israel, MSNBC had for a moment “quietly taken three of its Muslim broadcasters out of the anchor’s chair since Hamas’s attack on Israel,” according to the online news outlet Semafor. By contrast, the network has repeatedly brought on Bash, whom Biden last year appointed to an intelligence advisory board, to contextualize the ongoing war to viewers — despite his longtime public support for Israel.
In one segment on October 15, the network had Bash stand before a map of the region to explain and rationalize Israel’s demand that more than a million people evacuate northern Gaza, well after the United Nations said it would be “impossible for such a movement to take place without devastating humanitarian consequences.”
When asked, Bash noted the one border crossing where some refugees may eventually be allowed to flee Gaza, at the southern border with Egypt, is “not very big — imagine the size of like an NFL stadium.” (The crossing is still closed.)
However, Bash stated: “Israel’s military objective is to try to isolate Gaza City, and not to bulldoze the entirety of the Gaza civilian areas. Rather, they’re going after specific targets… specific areas where Hamas is assessed to have their command and control, where they’re assessed to have their weapons caches, their rocket factories.”
Bash has close ties to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the powerful pro-Israel lobbying group. He was previously a staffer for the group, and emceed portions of its annual policy conference in 2019.
“This is my 29th AIPAC policy conference,” Bash said to cheers from the audience, before interviewing several lawmakers about their support for legislation designed to provide more security assistance for Israel and support states’ efforts to limit economic boycotts against Israel.
Speaking with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (Ind.-Ariz.) at the event, Bash said, “You and I first met at an AIPAC event in Arizona a couple years back. You know how important it is that AIPAC educate candidates who are running for Congress [or] running for office, because the minute they are sworn in, they may have a vote to take that impacts Israel.”
Bash isn’t the only defense industry consultant being invited on TV to explain the conflict between Israel and Palestine. The networks have also been calling on some of Bash’s colleagues at the Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm Beacon Global Strategies, where he is a managing director and partner.
Allen criticized the international press corps for “blame shifting onto Israel.” He added, “I heard all of these suggestions that the Israelis are going to commit war crimes because they need to go after terrorists in Gaza. I thought it was outrageous and just sort of speaks to this latent antisemitism which I believe is in all sorts of quarters across the globe.”
That same day, independent UN experts decried Israel’s attacks on Palestinian civilians, calling it “collective punishment” and “a war crime.” Human Rights Watch issued a statement accusing Israel of “using white phosphorus in populated areas,” noting that “white phosphorus can burn people, thermally and chemically, down to the bone,” and its use in densely populated areas is banned under international humanitarian law.
“I don’t think there’s any question that if there’s any invasion of Gaza, it’s going to be tough, it’s going to be building-to-building, door-to-door, a lot of casualties,” he said. “My hope is that Israel is thinking about exactly what are their goals here, what do they want to achieve… If the end result is occupancy of Gaza, that’s not going to be a pretty picture.”
Neither Fox nor CNN noted it was interviewing executives at Beacon, and chose only to identify them by their former government titles.
NBC’s Israel news coverage has also relied on executives at WestExec Advisors, a defense industry consulting firm that was founded by former Obama administration officials, including Antony Blinken, who now serves as Biden’s Secretary of State.
WestExec has advised the aerospace manufacturer Boeing, which provides GPS-guidance bomb kits to Israel. According to the American Prospect, WestExec has also represented the Israeli artificial intelligence company Windward, which provides surveillance on ships in real time.
On October 15, NBC’s “Meet the Press” invited Ambassador Dennis Ross, a former special assistant to Obama and senior advisor at WestExec, to discuss why Israel has shifted its approach to Hamas and has been preparing to launch a ground invasion in Gaza.
The news outlet did not note Ross’ affiliation with WestExec.
During the MSNBC interview, Brennan preemptively defended Biden’s trip to Israel, saying he was doing it to demonstrate both his “support for Israel” and his belief in “the importance of trying to protect civilian life, the life of innocents.”
The interview was conducted by MSNBC host and former Biden White House press secretary Jen Psaki, who previously worked as a senior advisor at WestExec and also handled crisis communications for the Israeli facial recognition company AnyVision. The latter firm’s technology has reportedly been used by Israel to surveil Palestinians in the West Bank, according to reporting by NBC News.
MSNBC did not mention any of these potentially relevant details.
Bash, for his part, told Psaki: “This is a highly complicated problem. It deserves the attention of the world. I’m so glad the president is going to Israel.”
A day after Biden’s visit to Israel, Bash said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that it was “a towering example of American global leadership and how we can have an impact.”