Wednesday's NBC Nightly News was the sole Big Three evening newscast to notice the criticism of the Obama administration banning U.S. airliners from traveling to Israel. Prominent politicians from both sides of the political spectrum, including Senator Ted Cruz and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, have denounced this move by the FAA. Senator Cruz accused the administration of using the "federal regulatory agency to launch an economic boycott on Israel."
Anchor Brian Williams zeroed in on Bloomberg's blunt critique of the travel ban, as he introduced a report from correspondent Richard Engel: [MP3 audio available here; video below]
BRIAN WILLIAMS: The FAA ban on U.S. airline flights to Israel has been extended another 24 hours because of the threat of incoming rockets at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport. There is talk in Israeli media and elsewhere about a possible political motive behind the FAA ban. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg flew to Tel Aviv from New York on the Israeli airline El Al to make a point about safety. When he was asked today if the FAA ban had a political motive – perhaps meant to bring Israel to peace talks by crippling tourism – he said – quote, 'It is true that the FAA ban gives Hamas a win.'
The left-of-center politician repeated his blast at the Obama administration's decision during a "combative" interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer on Wednesday's The Lead:
WOLF BLITZER: Here's the statement from Hamas today, and I want both of you to react to this. This is a statement from Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman: 'The resistance success in stopping the air traffic and isolating Israel from the world is a great victory for the resistance.' They're pleased.
MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK CITY: I probably don't agree with very many things Hamas says, but that is clearly true. Somebody who didn't come close to doing any damage at Ben Gurion Airport – didn't close – come close to doing any damage at any airline – has paralyzed air traffic, which is the only way we get around, this day and age, in and out of another country. If they were to say that about JFK [Airport], what would you expect us to do?
During his report, Engel twice emphasized that the apparent "prison-like conditions" for Palestinians in Gaza:
RICHARD ENGEL (voice-over): Israel is increasingly cut off. At Tel Aviv airport today, frustrated passengers waiting for flights that aren't coming. One American plane did land in Tel Aviv: Secretary of State John Kerry's official jet. Kerry met with Israel's prime minister and the Palestinian premier.
JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: We will continue to push for this cease-fire. We have, in the last 24 hours, made some progress in moving towards that goal.
ENGEL: But tonight, that goal seems as distant as ever. The fire in Gaza is relentless. And there's one less hospital in Gaza now. Israel today flattened Wafa hospital. The patients were evacuated, Israel said, after it gave staff an advance warning. Israel says this video, released today, shows militants firing from inside the hospital. But Israel isn't always that careful. According to the U.N., three-quarters of Palestinian casualties have been civilians.
ENGEL (on-camera): All day, Hamas has been firing rockets from Gaza – bringing on this costly war. But we are not hearing people here turning against Hamas. For years, Gazans have been living in prison-like conditions. They can't travel. Most are unemployed. To change that, they're willing to pay a very heavy price.
MAHMOUD JOSAID: It's like, you know what? I'm tired of living. I don't want even live anymore.
ENGEL: Mahmoud Josaid is a Palestinian-American. He came to Gaza to check on his mother. Now, he can't leave this bombed-out city.
JOSAID: I'd rather die than keep living the way I'm living. That's why – just, people are like, you know what? Fine, we have 600 people dead. Another thousand? Who cares? As long as we get something accomplished.
ENGEL: Palestinians say their choice is to die fighting Israel or live quietly in the jail Gaza has become.
ENGEL (live): It doesn't seem like a cease-fire is imminent. There's heavy fighting here in Gaza once again tonight. Israel feels it must do more to destroy Hamas's infrastructure. And Hamas wants something to show – at least some progress – for all the casualties.