A Lively Debate on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (with Robert Wright)
Feb 19 2024

Capture-300x296.png Journalist and author Robert Wright invited EconTalk's Russ Roberts to his podcast, NonZero, to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, knowing that there would be plenty to disagree about. The two then agreed to release their back-and-forth on their respective podcasts. The result is a lively but respectful discussion that is more debate than the usual EconTalk episode. We hope there will still be much to learn from this slightly more combative than usual episode.

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Explore audio transcript, further reading that will help you delve deeper into this week’s episode, and vigorous conversations in the form of our comments section below.


Arnold S Kling
Feb 19 2024 at 8:22am

I heard this a couple weeks ago when Bob posted it on his YouTube channel.  I think Bob disgraced himself with his random insinuations.  I wrote about it as Wright and Wrong ways to debate.

Bob Lynch
Feb 19 2024 at 9:57am

The very first comment he made, exact quote: “On October 7, um, ya know, Hamas attacked Israel and killed I guess uh more than 1,100 people.”  Killed, I guess?  That comment in the very beginning set up the bad faith by him.  Great episode Russ in that it exhibited how horrible the arguments from the “other sides” to this situation really are. 

Feb 19 2024 at 11:05am

I’m extremely proud of Russ. His handling of this interview was nothing but stellar. He is a great teacher of the craft of diplomacy.

I think Mr. Wright’s passion to support his positions came through so strongly, and several times so narrowly focused, that to me his blindspots clearly revealed themselves. Not to suggest he made no interesting points. He did. But if it weren’t for Russ’ calm capacity to bring back into focus time and time again, I could not have withstood Mr. Wright’s grating tone.

One learning I wish to underscore was how difficult it seems to criticise and indeed hold-focus on a precious few principal issues, namely,:

Hamas built, with the support of significant outside financing, a military infrastructure beneath residential, healthcare and religious facilities for strategic purposes that Hamas have obviously succeeded somewhat in reaching, of which creating a human shield of their citizenry was clearly one. (Wright suggested Hamas underestimated the Israeli response. How is that realistically feasible?)

And that, along with this fact, the Gaza Health Ministry has the bent ear of the international community and uses it to spread unabridged terrorist propaganda.

Nearly everything else is talking around the point.

Clearly in journalism there is yet a great deal of work to do….

One final point that was not mentioned: the fate of Gaza residents has largely been crafted by their Arab neighbours within the region. That Israel is somehow responsible to continually account for their economic, social, hearth and psychological conditions is painting a picture of the Middle East with a brush so wide you might as well call it a roller.

John H Wolfe
Feb 19 2024 at 11:21am

Hi Russ,

I commend you for having this session. I have no idea who Robert Wright is and why he might have been a good person to discuss this topic, but it seems to me that he is unable to present a concise and focused point.

Do try again.

While I have many concerns over the historic and current crisis, perhaps my biggest concern is that Israel has created hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who will never forget and who will be willing to take revenge for decades to come. Israel clearly can and should defend itself.

Perhaps the best part of this podcast was revisiting the mistakes of GW Bush’s foreign policy in strongly pushing for the election in Gaza. Further, if it is accurate that the US – Bush – provided weapons to one side in the ensuing political conflict in Gaza that is but another in a long line of US foreign policy mistakes.

Again, cheers Russ, carry on.

Feb 19 2024 at 5:20pm

It’s hard to take seriously someone who says something as self-discrediting as this: “People often say, ‘Where is the Palestinian Martin Luther King?’ Well, when you ask the Palestinians they say, ‘Well every time we see one, Israel puts him in jail.”

King didn’t write the “Letter from Birmingham Coffeeshop” or the “Letter from Birmingham Motel Six”.

Why do so many continue to treat Palestinian hatred and violence as a naturally-occurring phenomenon? Wright relates this:

“I saw a really good documentary that was made in 2003 called ‘Death in Gaza.’

“And one of the creepiest scenes I’ve ever seen anywhere was when they had a 14-year-old boy–who looked like he was 12–and they were kind of encouraging him…to embrace the idea that someday he might be a martyr.

“But, the other thing you saw in that was these people were under occupation, which they were no longer literally…but which some people in West Bank still are.

“And, you just saw, from the perspective of this kid, ‘Well, how could you grow up not hating Israelis?’ There’s just no way.”

Wright notably fails to draw the connection between what children are taught in Gaza and the West Bank and the attitudes of those children toward Israel when they reach adulthood. Why do we act as if it’s perfectly understandable for Palestinian adults to raise children this way?

The whole point of a “Palestinian MLK” (or Gandhi, or Mandela, or…) is that only such a righteous figure can break this depressing, life- and soul-destroying cycle whereby generation after generation is taught — literally taught — that the Jews are their mortal enemies and living alongside them in peace is impossible.

That person can never arise while the world continues to treat Palestinians in this infantile, “they-just-can’t-help-it” way instead of 1) assigning them the portion of responsibility for their plight that they deserve, and 2) demanding they accept that responsibility as well as the responsibility to change their behavior.

Instead, Palestinian adults have chosen hatred, resentment, violence, and murder as their children’s birthright and legacy. That’s not on Israel, it’s not on Netanyahu, or George W. Bush, or anyone else. That’s on the Palestinians.

Dr G
Feb 20 2024 at 4:11pm


Wright notably fails to draw the connection between what children are taught in Gaza and the West Bank and the attitudes of those children toward Israel when they reach adulthood. Why do we act as if it’s perfectly understandable for Palestinian adults to raise children this way?

I’m a bit confused by this. In the quote Peter cited, Robert is talking about how horrified he is by the indoctrination of children into terrorism. How do you conclude he “fails to draw the connection”? It seems to me he is explicitly drawing the connection in that quote. But he also says there’s a broader context, which is obviously true.

I think Robert’s quote below is important context:

I’m certainly not going to say, ‘Well, Hamas was justified in attacking.’ I want to emphasize, whenever I try to explain why something happened, I’m not excusing it. I try to understand, on both sides, why people have done things. This isn’t about justifying anything.

Terrorists are evil, and there are reasons why people turn to terrorism. Both things are true.

Feb 19 2024 at 8:34pm

Worth pointing out that the claims of “gas the Jews” chants in Sydney were not substantiated by the subsequent police investigation.

Feb 19 2024 at 10:38pm

Just a fact check regarding your discussion that “gas the Jews” was chanted at the Sydney Pro-Palestine rally. This was found not to be the case through forensic analysis of the event and footage by the State’s police department. 

They conclude the phrase being uttered was “Where’s the Jews?”. This doesn’t change your broader point around safety concerns and freedom of speech, but I think it’s important to note given how much publicity the initial claim got.

Shalom Freedman
Feb 20 2024 at 12:44am

Robert Wright is concerned that the Israeli military action in Gaza which causes many civilians to be injured and killed will be responsible for increased hatred of Israel by Palestinians. What he seems to not understand is that the education Hamas gives is already to complete hated of Israel and Jews everywhere. The first condition after all for any future hope of peace between Israelis and Palestinians is in the transformation of Palestinian educational systems.


Hamas hides behind its civilians and wants more civilian casualties as a way of gaining support in the world. It has proven a successful strategy. Israel does its best to limit civilian casualties and takes measures which often endanger its own soldiers to do that. Not understanding this indicates a total lack of understanding of the character of the Israeli Army and people.


It is as Russ often points out deeply regrettable that Israel’s actions cause civilian casualties. It is disturbing to think of this and perhaps some of us like myself are not eager to see the visual evidence of this. We have enough anguish to deal with from the grief at injury and loss of our own soldiers and thought of what the families of hostages and other Israelis who have known loss are going through.


Mr. Wright is very knowledgeable and intelligent, but he really like so many others knowledgeable and intelligent does not really understand who Hamas is and who Israel is.


Feb 22 2024 at 11:52am

I agree and happened to write a comment along the same lines.

The root cause of the conflict between Israel and Palestinians is a hatred of the state of Israel and Jews in general. These hatreds are taught and are inculcated into Palestinian society at all levels.

Until this is addressed, Israel will have to build walls, invest in anti-missile defense systems and be on a war footing. Everything else is noise and wishful thinking.

Feb 20 2024 at 1:22am

Russ, I can’t thank you enough for your continued efforts to provide real, thoughtful conversation on this and many other subjects. All of the other podcasts I listen to, even the ones I really like a lot, generally only have “sympathetic” guest interviews, where the host more or less pitches softballs to set up all of the guest’s main points, with resounding agreement and little cross-examination. I know why they do it that way. Real conversations with substantial disagreement are hard to have respectfully, and probably more uncomfortable and less popular amongst listeners anyway, who are probably not looking to challenge their priors. But your conversations on EconTalk are different, full of careful substantive consideration and self examination that are frankly a rare treasure in today’s media environment. I feel grateful to be able to listen in.

Peter R
Feb 20 2024 at 3:31am

Long time listener, first time commenter. I really appreciated this episode. It was a genuine attempt to have a challenging conversation, and your attitude throughout the discussion was considered and thoughtful, with evident goodwill. On such a topic, this must have been difficult, but was very refreshing. Quite understandably, this podcast had, prior to this, focused more on the Israeli point of view, and so this discussion, in an atmosphere of mutual respect, was welcome and informative. Thank you.

Peter R
Feb 20 2024 at 3:47am

Oh also, as a previous commenter said, the ‘gas the Jews’ chants in Sydney mentioned by Russ and shared throughout the world on social media, is probably not true: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2024-02-02/nsw-police-opera-house-protest-video-analysis/103418582. Police would have charged them had they been able to confirm such chants. This is not to defend the small group of protesters: it was an ugly angry protest at a very sensitive time for Jewish people.

Ben Service
Feb 20 2024 at 2:26pm

At the risk of repeating other comments bravo Russ for such a careful and considerate discussion it was a master class in listening and honesty on your part.

i am still struggling to work out what the solution is though, where are the moderate Gazans and how is it possible to develop their voice and power.  What happens when this war ends?  Do we hold elections again and hope the people choose someone more moderate?  How do we make the moderate choice more attractive?  Does Israel just build a bigger wall and leave them to it?

I think the answer must lie somewhere in the hearts and minds of Israeli arabs as the example.

I still don’t understand why a secular Israel (or any country for that matter) with both muslims and Jews (and christians Druze Hindus budists agnostics atheists etc) can’t exist with everyone just letting other people do and believe what ever they want as long as it doesn’t overly affect others.

Ron Spinner
Feb 23 2024 at 4:49am

Actually, the solution is not that complicated.
The Arab countries have tried to destroy Israel during many wars. After realizing this was not working, they have signed peace treaties with Israel. The Palestinians in Israel have also come to terms with Israel.
One day the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank will also realize they cannot destroy Israel and that they are being played for fools by the Iranians who exploit them as proxies.
If Israel destroys Hamas this will accelerate the process. As Russ mentioned, there are already demonstrations against Sinwar and you can also sometimes hear denunciations of Iran.
A major problem is that the Palestinians are raised to hate Jews with books taught by UNRWA teachers. For example in this document:
on page 108 there is a section on how Children are taught that dying is better than living. .
On the other hand, the Jew hatred in the educational books in some Arab countries is being reduced. See https://www.impact-se.org/reports-2/. Maybe the defunding of UNRWA is an opportunity to reduce the hate in the educational materials.
Most Arab nations realize the main problem is not Gaza. No Arab country cancelled their peace treaty with Israel during this war. Iran’s anti Americanism and anti-semitism is the main problem in the Middle East. Maybe one day Iran’s other proxies will realize this — just as some Gazan’s are starting to understand.

Ben Service
Feb 26 2024 at 9:12pm

I think you are correct that the root cause of the problem is Iran, Iran and the west used to get on ok with each other, there were disagreements but nothing that lead to full scale conflict, maybe because Iran would have lost any type of conflict like that.

Feb 20 2024 at 5:14pm

I have a grim outlook being a 20th century history scholar and having watched the Middle East for many decades.

One problem that is an impediment to peace is that we don’t have much self-awareness in the west. Western journalists like Robert Wright and many US academics are under the western delusion that they matter in these events. That they are the “good guys” and that they have a better grasp of world events than anyone you can name. To be fair, they do matter but not in the sense they think. They make events even worse in the Middle East. They don’t matter in the sense that they can make things better. And overall, they don’t matter to the combatants unless they can use them.

Journalism and information flow in Middle Eastern countries that are under authoritarian rule, which is all of them except Israel, is just part of a propaganda strategy. This creates an asymmetry between the western world and Middle Eastern countries that makes it virtually impossible to bring people together for an honest conversation. An honest conversation is a necessary prelude to establishing lasting peace. People are not even exposed to the same set of facts and a broad view of the world. In Gaza, raising children to believe that Israel is the enemy and will be wiped out creates an almost insurmountable barrier to peace. If this is not addressed, I am pessimistic that lasting peace will ever be established.

At an operational level, when western journalists and academics speak out against Israel, they provide propaganda points for groups like Hamas to leverage in their dream of wiping Israel off the map. And Hamas nurtures this dream and promotes it with all Palestinians as an impending event. So, the population continues to support Hamas and engage in a hopeless delusion and very costly struggle with Israel. In this way, western journalists and academics are the tools of Hamas and are exacerbating the conflict. Most of these journalists and academics are of the liberal left and where they like it or not, they are in bed with extreme right antisemitic activists and Islamic anti-Israel/Jewish extremists that are in the US and around the world.

Israel is not going anywhere. There is nowhere to go. Chanting for the eradication of Israel on western campuses and picking at Israeli mistakes is destructive noise. Unless of course one wants war. To ever find peace, the combatants need to have a meeting of the minds what peace could look like and how they could live together. And outside parties need to let them lead. In essence, the combatants need to take the side of peace. But celebrating war and death is a long way from that possibility. Hence I have a grim outlook.

Robert I Lerman
Feb 20 2024 at 5:28pm

Robert Wright seems to ignore the reality that Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran all threaten to destroy Israel and have taken steps to try to do so. He seems not to take them at their word or recognize their actions aimed at destroying the Jewish state. I believe Iran is the only member of the UN that has publicly threatened to destroy another member of the UN. Wright’s statement about hatred ignores the existing hatred that Palestinians are raised with, even when there was no war. The very times when Israel was most forthcoming in moving toward peace were the very times of the worst violence perpetrated by Hamas and other Palestinian groups. Israel is fighting not against an idea but the implementation of the idea through weapons. Were Israel not to destroy the Hamas infrastructure, Hamas would over time become increasingly well-armed, like Hezbollah, and have the capability to inflict mass casualties and destruction on Israel.

On casualties, war in urban areas usually leads to a 4:1 or higher ratio of civilian to military deaths. As the head of the West Point urban war studies points out, Israel’s efforts have led to a much lower ratio. See: https://www.newsweek.com/memo-experts-stop-comparing-israels-war-gaza-anything-it-has-no-precedent-opinion-1868891
The media ignore the reality that Israel has performed far better in averting civilian casualties than other armies and that no army has faced a terror group so entrenched in the civilian population and with such an extensive array of tunnels.

Finally, one only has to watch the former Saudi ambassador to the US recounting his conversation with Yasser Arafat when Arafat rejected the Clinton parameters for a state to realize that the US-brokered offer accepted by Israel was quite real and would have been supported by Egypt and Saudi Arabia and Jordan at a minimum. See the following: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9XTSrlONiDU

I advise Mr. Wright to watch some of the following to hear Hamas leaders in their own words and understand why Israel will rightly not tolerate Hamas control, certainly over the West Bank.

Feb 20 2024 at 8:47pm

So Russ, what’s your ideal outcome? Suppose you could get anything you wanted for the region, what would you make happen?

Harry Greenwell
Feb 20 2024 at 9:37pm

just a quick comment to say that, contrary to some comments above, i thought *both* Russ and Robert made considerable efforts to understand and engage in the other’s perspective and, more generally, to disagree in a constructive and thoughtful fashion. i’m surprised at other comments that see one (typically Russ) as the hero who patiently and valiantly responding to the feckless other. undoubtedly both made tendentious or inaccurate comments at times and both probably could’ve expressed themselves better on occasion. but man, i thought they both did an impressive job of engaging thoughtfully and sensitively on an incredibly vexed subject. we desperately need more conversations like this.

Feb 29 2024 at 5:01pm

I second this. Some of the very negative comments directed at Robert make me question whether I listened to the same podcast. By the end both Russ and Robert were finding more instances of common ground rather than disagreement – made for enriching conversation though rather tame for a “debate” 🙂

Alan Clift
Feb 21 2024 at 8:59am

I wonder if a moderator would have helped with this discussion?   I have listened to the first hour and the communication is not engaging, since both speakers are long winded.  And there have been many points brought up only to be put to the side.

Lauren Landsburg
Feb 21 2024 at 10:58am

Hi, Alan.

Having a moderator is a great idea which I don’t want to diminish. However, I think that having had a moderator for this discussion between Robert Wright and Russ Roberts–having a person who would intervene between two people talking directly with each other–is fundamentally opposed to the joy of actual conversation.

It is absolutely true that Russ Roberts and Robert Wright took a really long time to finally find a path to talk turkey with each other. To touch base with each other. To communicate.

But, I would argue that, when people disagree, it can take two hours of determined civil conversation, back-and-forth, to find even one path in which to communicate.

A moderator may, of course, make it all easier for an audience to understand. But that means finding an impartial moderator in advance.

Conversation–civil discourse–between two people probably shouldn’t require a moderator. Perhaps this podcast episode was a moment to listen to an actual conversation between two knowledgeable people.

Feb 21 2024 at 9:46am

Open air prison? able to leave without permission from Israel.

Blind or willful dismissal of the dynamics of the Gaza Strip and focus of Palestinians last 50years.
Robert Wright tries to argue that Palestinians are reacting to Israel response.
Suggest that Palestinians are simple children, just trying to scratch out a living.
Missing the 50years of continuous hostile posture against anyone Jewish.

I would be more sympathetic if Palestinians were actually trying to thrive, not trying to genocide(a declared purpose).

Richard Boltuck
Feb 21 2024 at 11:44am

Excellent and respectful discussion — a rarity these days, particular regarding this topic.

Two statements caught my attention and didn’t entirely track what I thought I knew:

 From Russ:  “First, I want to make say one thing very clearly. There’s not a lot of bloodlust here that I sense either from the soldiers or their parents. And, I speak to a lot of parents of soldiers.”

I can’t of course question Russ’s report on his own experience, and I’m sure any generalizations with respect to “bloodlust” among IDF soldiers is wrong in the sense that whatever is dominant, there are important exceptions.

At the same time, I was struck by this report on CNN about a good number of remarkably bloodlust-y posts with videos:


And, of course, while not sentiments of soldiers, within Israeli society, there have been many disturbing statements that are not easily ignored since they were made by ministers (though not war-cabinet ministers, apparently) within the current government.

From Robert, questioning the design of the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza:  “‘Well, we tried withdrawing from Gaza; we’ve seen withdrawal doesn’t work.’ Leaving aside the question, whether you call that a good faith withdrawal–in other words, was designed to work–you know, there was no–there’s a lot of things you could say about that, and about what the motivation was.”

From an earlier episode of Econtalk, I learned that in the wake of the withdrawal, a new major airport opened in Gaza, plainly with Israeli approval.  That certainly reflected commitment to Gaza’s success and nascent engagement with the rest of the world on its own terms.  Things only reversed after Hamas fired rockets at Israel.  This is, I think, fairly persuasive evidence that the fault here with the failure of the withdrawal doesn’t lie principally with Israel.

So, two points above, cutting in opposite directions.


Ranney Ramsey
Feb 21 2024 at 12:48pm

Excellent dialogue: that means that people explore where they agree and disagree – the facts, the reasons, as well as the qualifiers and reservations to their conclusions.  I thing this podcast was a good starting point. It was what you might call a procedure for communication between different tribes differing on fundamental values.  Hopefully the parties will see that finding a history of the conflict where there is a clear winner and a clear loser to the arguments may not be to the point but finding a basis for finding another procedure that will lead them forward toward genuine problem solving is the point.  This includes finding common moral grounds.

I cite a precedent for this in the Commission that created standards for treatment of persons who are participants in scientific research.  The commission was composed of persons with radically different religious, philosophical and occupational backgrounds- yet found common ground in addressing practical problems that arose about who, when and how ‘subjects’ should be treated without great difficulty- as related by the late Stephen Toulmin.

Ajit Kirpekar
Feb 21 2024 at 4:21pm

I guess I am in a the minority, but this discussion felt like a prolonged airing of grievances and a long winded back and forth about who is more “in the right morally” given the past. I applaud both Russ and Robert for being polite given this topic, but it felt like a long beaten dead horse. At this point, even casual observes are probably aware that there is literal bloody hands on both sides of this.

The saddest part of this, of course, is that thousands of lives have/are being lost on both sides. Innocent victims making up the majority.

The second saddest part, especially gleamed from this discussion, is there appears to be no solution in sight. Asking Israel to turn the other cheek is not something realistic and then in the aftermath, another round of fresh Hamas supporters are born.

Someone raised the above question – where is the Martin Luther King/Gandhi of Palestine? I refuse to believe the Palestinians by nature are so blood thirsty that they prefer the appeal of Hamas as if it were an involuntary reaction. There has to be a better reason that that.

William Hope
Feb 21 2024 at 7:13pm

I don’t think you are the minority, maybe vocal minority. Could’ve edited most of the material out and got the point across.


Feb 21 2024 at 4:46pm

As usual for Econtalk, an excellent discussion.

I would have liked, however, for Mr. Wright to have addressed what I feel to be the central point in this ongoing conflict.  This is the Palestinian Arab refusal to accept the existence of a Jewish State.  

Contra Mr. Wright, the stoking of Arab “hatred” — which occurs with or without armed conflict — is merely a tool for achieving this goal.  The primary conflict source is a combination of religious conviction and the perceived injustice of the land’s missappropriation.

As for Mr. Wright’s points, I found them generally unpersuasive.  His primary concern seemed to be civilian deaths.  No thoughtful person would disagree, but it seems beyond obvious that Hamas is squarely to blame, first, by starting this war and, second, by shamefully (and illegally) taking cover behind a civilian populace.  When asked about civilian deaths in one Arabic television news interview I have seen, the Hamas representatives claimed that the citizens of Gaza are happy to become martyrs for the cause.  Hamas has also made clear its intent to repeat attacks like October 7 for as long as it takes.  Thus, blaming Israel for the destruction in Gaza, when its aim is only to defend against such barbarism, strikes me as poor reasoning.  I don’t think anyone seriously doubts that all of this would come to an end immediately if the Israeli hostages were released and Hamas surrendered.

Feb 22 2024 at 3:15am

I was eagerly anticipating this episode, hoping to delve into the insights and perspectives of two highly respected individuals.

Initially, the discussion seemed promising, but as it progressed, it became evident that it would not unfold as the balanced and enlightening dialogue I had hoped for.

I concur with Russ’s view that critiquing Israel does not equate to antisemitism. However, Bob’s presentation appeared extremely biased, showing an inability to acknowledge any shortcomings within the Palestinian leadership or community. This leads me to believe that his views might be influenced by a deep-seated bias against Jews, particularly those who do not share his political stance.

Russ, the concept behind this conversation was brilliant. I’m not entirely sure about the readiness of your audience for a repeat, but it would be wonderful if you could orchestrate a similar discussion with a guest capable of contributing a more thoughtful perspective.

Feb 22 2024 at 3:48pm

If Roberts represented Israel and Wright represented the Palestinians, they could negotiate a 2-state solution within a couple of weeks.  But Wright does not represent the Palestinians.  You have to listen to what the Palestinians themselves say about the conflict, not what Western liberal pundits insist on believing. Russ mentioned a few episodes ago, as an aside, that he was having trouble booking a Palestinian guest.  It doesn’t surprise me, but I encourage him to keep trying.  While the experience of listening to both “average” Palestinians and their spokespeople has always left me deeply depressed, I think it’s important to take them seriously.

Feb 23 2024 at 8:51am

Intelligent discussion but misses the hard questions by disappearing down rabbit holes.

Basically both sides have 1000s-year-old books which say God told them the land near Jerusalem is theirs. That’s a pretty intransigent self-agrandising mentality to be taught from childhood!

People that are so different need to live on opposite sides of the world. If the only reason the Jews were given a country was for their safety, dropping a tiny nation in the middle of the Muslim world was mad.

If we stopped to think about Jewish children to be born in 2200 onwards they need to have a country elsewhere. Give them a tiny safe slice of America. Both sides are growing nuclear arsenals and that war could kill Billions of us. I don’t think the wise men who wrote books 2000 years ago had nuclear armageddon in mind. They herded sheep and died of irradicated diseases.

We need to recognise ancient texts never envisaged that we would build bombs that could kill ALL of us and become the destroyer of worlds. Our world. They imagined only God could do that or the worst nightmares of Hell could in an evil afterlife. It’s an imminent risk, now. We need to move on.

John H Wolfe
Feb 24 2024 at 2:23pm

There is much in your post that I might take issue with, however, you had me at the start by saying that two people believe they were given certain land/rights by God. Once this fable is ingrained, along with being God’s chosen people, it is not surprising that turmoil, hatred, violence, and self-righteousness follow.


Feb 27 2024 at 7:15pm

You do not understand the jihadist position if you believe this is just an issue with Jews or a Jewish state.

Donald Falk
Feb 23 2024 at 3:12pm

Well done, Russ.  What I noticed most about the Hamas apologist was his failure to acknowledge the existence of the hostages or the years-long and continuing barrage of rockets.  He did mention rockets in the context of the Hamas-Fatah internecine conflict, but I believe only then.  Omitting those items from consciousness does make a difference.

Feb 26 2024 at 7:39am

Hamas starting point for peace is the total destruction of Israel and the elimination of all Jews world wide and lets be honest here, it is hard to tell Hamas and the lefts positions apart as both seem determined to achieve the same goals together.

There absolutely COULD be peace tomorrow but for that to happen Palestinians must chose to stop trying to kill Jews at every opportunity. Its really that simple. Stop trying to kill Jews and the Palestinians will receive everything they could ever desire for their children, peace, stability and wealth.

Except thats not what the Palestinians, and the left want. Hamas and the left wants Palestinians to keep trying to kill Jews so they can use Israels attempts at keeping Jews alive to further incite more attempts at killing Jews. Its a vicious, racist merry go round of murder based solely on the hatred of Jews.

Feb 26 2024 at 11:07am

How many times in this conversation did Russ Roberts say something like “OK, I take your point…”? A few. How many times did Robert Wright? Zero. He claims he sees every possible side as a “disinterested” bystander and yet here he proclaims Israel at fault for everything that’s gone wrong. Would have been nice to have him share his wisdom as to how he thinks the Palestinians could have done things differently in order to achieve peace… if the thought has crossed his mind at all.

J Mann
Feb 27 2024 at 12:19pm

It took me a while to finish, so I’m not sure if anyone will see this post, but wanted to put down my thoughts.

First, thanks to Robert and Russ for having a civil, productive conversation. I agree with some other listeners that Robert’s style is a little more debate oriented than Russ’s, but Robert listened to Russ, conceded the points where he agreed, and had a civil discussion. Although I don’t agree with Robert on most points and I prefer Russ’s style, it’s very valuable to challenge my own preconceptions and to understand people who disagree with me, so I really appreciate both parties’ contributions to the discussion.

On the merits, I think they covered a few main topics, which I’ll talk about in sub-posts:

(1) Why do Israelis think the war is in their interest? Have they lost their minds?  (And to a lesser extent, is the war in fact in their interest?)

(2) Is the media biased on Israel-Palestine, and if so, in which direction?

J Mann
Feb 27 2024 at 1:02pm

(1) Why do Israelis think the war is in their interest? Have they lost their minds?  (And to a lesser extent, is the war in fact in their interest?)

If I understand correctly, Robert argues that it’s highly likely that the current war is worse for Israeli Jews than the alternatives, because even if Israel can capture or kill most Hamas figures, it can’t end Palestinian extremism, and the scope of the damage is likely, in Wright’s opinion, to increase Palestinian extremism. Robert frames this partially as a question of Israeli Jewish opinion (i.e., how could Israeli Jews believe otherwise) and partially as a question of fact (is Robert in fact correct.)

Russ responded first on the opinion issue. It’s essential to Israelis that Israel protect Jews from pogroms. With Hamas promising a thousand 10/7’s unless Israeli Jews either flee or submit to Arab rule, and with Hamas holding hundreds of hostages, Israelis won’t accept anything but the destruction of Hamas. Israelis don’t like the civilian deaths at all, but they appreciate that Hamas is the party that chose to build their military infrastructure under their civilian population, and if the alternative is giving Hamas what they want, that’s unacceptable.

IMHO, neither Russ not Robert really came to grips on the factual question of whether Israel has better alternatives. I don’t think Robert really spelled out what alternative he has in mind, but steelmanning his argument, I assume it would be something like a stronger border, targeted assassinations of Hamas officials, and a clear path for peace for any moderate Palestinian leaders who emerge.

To some degree, Robert also second guesses some past decisions. In hindsight, Netanyahu shouldn’t have provided some support for Hamas, he should have been more open to peace, maybe the Bush admin should have supported a coalition government once Hamas won elections, etc. I think those are valuable questions, but they I don’t think they tell us a lot about what Israel’s best alternative is today.

At the end of the day, I don’t see a better alternative for Israel than their current course. It would be nice to change some past mistakes, but that’s not on the table. And the government of Gaza, such as it is, is holding hundreds of Israeli hostages, has promised thousands of 10/7 and is intentionally hiding behind and among civilians. If Robert has one, that might be a good subject for a follow up conversation.

J Mann
Feb 27 2024 at 1:31pm

(2) Is the media biased on Israel-Palestine, and if so, in which direction?

Robert thinks Matti Friedman is wrong. Russ points out that Matti made a good point, which is that the news reports out of the Palestinian territories are biased because the native reporters there are under pressure from the local mobs to suppress news that would make Palestine look bad, and that the international media does not typically report this fact, and to the contrary reports news out of the territories as if it were generated by the normal process.

Robert responds that when not using Palestinian journalists or stringers, Western media tends to use a framework that is more generous to Israeli constraints and points of view.

I don’t have the expertise to have a strong opinion here, but I’d note: (a) there’s no reason both of these arguments couldn’t be true simultaneously, and (b) to some degree, determining whether the media is biased requires you to have a confident ability of what the true state of affairs is.

Mar 6 2024 at 6:37am

This was full of insight and I really appreciated the calmness and respect both participants showed one another. There are a few subjects I wish could have been spoken about or touched on:

The situation in the West Bank – from both the Palestinian side (ie many people call it an occupation and apartheid) and the Israel side (why they took that land in 1967 and what is the purpose/vision)?
Robert Wright and so so many people are critical of Israel’s response to 7 October, especially seeing the casualties rise. I would really like to know what he believes Israel should have done instead? Criticism is rampant, but I haven’t seen much in the way of alternative  solutions. Given the barbarity of the attacks, rape, torture, kidnappings – given the threat that Hamas has publicly stated numerous times they will repeat 7 October again and again and that they have only ever called for the complete destruction of Israel – and given that they built and operate their military infrastructure within civilian locations in a densely population area. I truly cannot expect that Israel (any nation on this planet that this happened to) would not respond by trying to eliminate Hamas and rescue its hostages. I would also like to hear what Russ Roberts thinks  Israel has done correctly or incorrectly with regards to its response.
I wish there had been more spoken about Hamas’ institutional indoctrination of hatred and Jihadi martyrdom in all aspects of Gazan society – from the kindergardens, schools, TV shows, streets named after martyrs, posters of the ‘shahid’ heroes etc.
I really appreciated Russ Roberts’ point about people protesting never seem to care about the hostages or rape victims. Why don’t they chant “Free Palestinian” and condemn Hamas as well? This gives the impression that the hundreds of Pro Palestinian protests are in support of Hamas, since they never call it out. I would like to  add that I wish people calling for ceasefire could just say “Ceasefire now from both sides. Hamas must release the hostages and Israel must stop bombing.” But the international calls for ceasefire are so one-sided.

Comments are closed.


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TimePodcast Episode Highlights

Intro. [Recording date: January 24, 2024.]

Russ Roberts: Today is January 24th, 2024. My guest is journalist and author Robert Wright. He's the founder and chief correspondent of the Nonzero Newsletter and Nonzero Podcast, available on Substack.

He was last here on EconTalk in October 2017, discussing meditation and Buddhism, but we have a very different topic today and an unusual setup. Bob had invited me to his podcast to discuss the Gaza War and the Arab-Israeli conflict more generally. And, he invited me because he knows that we do not agree on these topics, and he thought, and I agreed, it would be wonderful to have a thoughtful conversation on a controversial topic. And in particular to try to understand ideally why two thoughtful--we think--smart--maybe--people could have different perspectives.

This conversation will air on both of our platforms.

Bob, welcome back to EconTalk.

Robert Wright: Thanks. Good to be here.


Robert Wright: So, Russ, I'm really looking forward to this conversation because we do have, I think, different perspectives on the subject. For starters, you're Jewish, you're Israeli, you're in Israel. I'm none of the above. I think we also have ideological differences that may become apparent in the course of this. I should say you're also an American citizen. In fact, you spent most of your life in America, but you've been in Israel a few years now.

And, we've agreed that this is going to be a departure from both our formats in the sense that we'll be kind of interviewing each other. That's also known as a conversation, I guess.

You suggested I ask the first question, so I'm going to do that. And, it has to do with a question some Americans are asking about what's going on in the mind of Israelis. I actually heard an extreme version of this last night in talking to a young Progressive, and I do think this is a question that's more on the mind of people Left of center in America. What he said was, 'I think the Israelis have lost their minds.'

Let me put that--before I ask you to respond, let me put it in slightly less confrontational terms and also set the context with some numbers.

So, as a lot of people know by now, on October 7th, Hamas attacked Israel; killed, I guess, more than 1100 people, nearly 800 of those civilians.

President Biden early on, putting that in context, noted Israel is a smaller country than America, and if you correct for population--which of course, it's a crude exercise, but a kind of useful one--that would be like more than 40,000 Americans being killed. The civilians alone, I guess would be like 30,000. So, again, to put it in crude terms, like ten 9/11s or something--leaving aside the qualitative difference in the nature of the attack.

So, since then, of course, Israel has launched an attack or counter-attack on Gaza. And the numbers we have--I've heard you express some doubt about these numbers--I've heard that American intelligence in the State Department thinks they're solid. I haven't heard Israeli intelligence--reports of Israeli intelligence--disputing them, but if you want to talk about this later, we can. But, anyway, the official numbers are: 25,000 Gazans dead. Israel says 9,000 of those are militants. Now, historically, militaries have always erred on the high side in assessing enemy casualties. But, even if we accept those, that leaves 16,000 dead civilians in Gaza.

If you do the same crude-but-useful kind of conversion correcting for population, you get the equivalent of 3.6 million Americans dying, 2.3 million civilians.

So, if you look at civilians alone in Gaza, you would say that that's like 770 9/11s or something--eight 9/11s every day since October 7th, or nine, or whatever the number turns out to be.

So, again, in both cases, I think you can only go so far with this kind of comparison. I would say in both cases, if you look at the qualitative dimension, it is worse than 9/11. So, people should add that to that.

But anyway, so the question that a lot of people on the Left are asking--there's actually two questions, I would say, about the way Israelis are processing this. There's surprise expressed by some people that we're not hearing more Israelis saying, 'Wait a second, my moral qualms about what we're doing to civilians in Gaza have gotten to a point where I just think we should stop.' My sense is that there's still overwhelming support for the military operation in Gaza.

And then, there's a different version of the question--it's actually more like the one I asked--which is about the wisdom of it. Like: You're creating a situation where, if you do the math, hundreds of thousands of Gazans will now be able to say, 'A member of my immediate family--or my best friend, or something--was either killed or maimed as a result of this.' And, that's--out of a population of 2 million people, that's a lot of intense hatred. And, I'm certainly not saying there wasn't hatred already, but the question I ask is, even if you somehow magically eliminated Hamas, killed everyone in Hamas, wouldn't you expect that with that much hatred, that many people, I would say in many cases, willing to die to kill an Israeli in retaliation? Given that kind of trauma. Don't you think you're just planting the seeds for the next Hamas, even if you somehow kind of extinguish the Hamas brand, so to speak?

So, there's a lot there. Take your time. There's a lot of context for you to establish, as well.

Russ Roberts: Yeah. So, the two things that at the heart of your opening question are the moral issue and the strategic issue. And, I'm sure in answering this, I'll get lost and I'll forget one of the two and you'll bring me back. It's 4:30 in the afternoon here. It's 9:30 in the morning where you are. It's been a long day for me. I'm old, Bob--

Robert Wright: We're both old, Russ--

Russ Roberts: I lose my train of thought more than I used to. I'll do the best--

Robert Wright: I'm sorry. I'm not going to let you have that one. But yes, it is later there.

Russ Roberts: I'll do the best I can.

Robert Wright: Later in the day, not later in your life necessarily. But go ahead.

Russ Roberts: What?

Robert Wright: I said, 'Later in the day, not so much later in your life,' I think.

Russ Roberts: Yeah. Fair enough.

Robert Wright: Go ahead.

Russ Roberts: So, it's interesting. One of the things that has fascinated me since October 7th--it has fascinated me for a long time, and my listeners will be familiar with it, and we did a recent episode with Hillel Cohen on the historical events of 1929 which has not aired yet; you haven't heard it. But, that conversation focused a great deal on the fact that, inevitably, we all have our narratives; and in having our narratives, we build them from evidence. And, that requires pretty much accepting some things as true and some things as not true. And a thoughtful person should be aware that some of the things that I think are true, for example, are not. And, some of the things I think are not true might be. So, I think that's an important background to this conversation.

One of the reasons that we might differ in our viewpoints is simply because we have different facts. Literally, you've chosen a set to think about. I've chosen a set to think about. And of course, some of my facts aren't facts, and vice versa, probably. And so, I hope in this conversation we'll explore some of the things that we believe that you and I might disagree on whether they're true or not, even. Forget about how we weight them or value them.

So, it's interesting, just from your opening remarks: when I talk about October 7th, I say 1200 people were killed.

I don't make the distinction between civilians and soldiers--which I should. I usually just say 1200 people were killed. I think it's important to make that distinction. The soldiers who were killed on that day were mainly Israeli soldiers who, in a very disorganized, chaotic way, responded to what they realized was happening in the southern part of the country near the Gazan border and fought back. And many of them got killed. And that was more like a war. And so, those casualties are different compared to, say, people who were in their house and Hamas broke in and murdered them.

Two other things you did not mention--very interesting--were the sexual violence. A lot of women, it appears, pretty conclusively, were raped on October 7th. And of course, 250 or so Israelis, 240, were taken hostage; 136 of those are still unaccounted for in Gaza. We don't know if they're alive or dead. Some of them are alive, we think. Maybe most of them or all of them, but we don't know.

No international agency has visited those folks. The ones who aren't there anymore were released. Those were mostly women and children, but there are still women and children in Gaza at least who were abducted.


Russ Roberts: And so, the first question is the moral question. And proceeding it, I should say, is your question about the mood of Israel, which I think is very accurate. Most Israelis that I know--and I swim of course in my particular circles--most Israelis I know are not happy. We are unhappy that civilians are being killed, but we still are resolved to press forward. There is some, I think, underlying anxiety here in Israel that the two goals that the Unity Coalition has set for itself--eliminating Hamas and rescuing the hostages--are not just not compatible, but actually at odds with one another.

And, many of us also worry--as you do, and I'll come back to this--the strategic question: You can't really eliminate Hamas. It's an idea. You could eliminate people who currently espouse the values of Hamas; certainly they are likely to be replaced by other people, and so on.

As a backdrop for all of this discussion, I want to add one more thing, and then I'll turn to the explicit question. One of the most jarring things about moving to Israel, which I did two and a half years ago, as you say, after six decades plus in the United States, is that the Middle East is not like the Beltway outside Washington, D.C. where I lived most recently. Nor is it like Silicon Valley and the Palo Alto area where I've summered and lived for a couple of years of my life. Nothing like the Midwest where I lived for over a decade in St. Louis, Missouri.

It's a very different set of expectations here as a resident in terms of what the culture is. Even though I've known a lot of Jews in my life, Israel's culture is distinctive. And, the military culture here in the Middle East is also very different. The rules of the game--the so-called expectations and what's fair play--are really different, and I think that's very hard for people to accept.

A lot of the people I do talk to are either one-time former Americans, what we call Anglos here--people who speak in English because they grew up in the United States or England.

But, I know a number of native-born folks, and you're absolutely right. I have met a couple of people who think that the military response to October 7th is both a immoral response and a strategic failure, but that's a very, very small view. It's a minority view. I'd say the biggest variation is how relatively horrified they are about the civilian casualties; and I'll turn to those.

I would just say one more thing before I continue, which is: I tried to write the case for the military action in an essay. You can find that on my substack, which is Listening to the Sirens. And that essay is called, I think, "Can a Nation Turn the Other Cheek," or "Should a Nation Turn the Other Cheek?" Because some people said--not many--but some people said because they think this is immoral and because they think it's a tactical or strategic mistake, Israel should have simply in response to October 7th sealed off its border more effectively than it had, used different kinds of technology more effectively than it had, and so on.


Russ Roberts: So, now let's turn to the issue of casualties, and I'll try to both talk about what I think the general attitude is here and my own personal attitude, which are not always the same, but often are.

First, I want to make say one thing very clearly. There's not a lot of bloodlust here that I sense either from the soldiers or their parents. And, I speak to a lot of parents of soldiers. They're my colleagues. There's a lot of resolve to do something about what happened on October 7th. There's a lot of misgiving about whether we're being effective, and we will talk about that in the strategic part because there are different components to that.

But, there's not a lot of vengeance, literally. It's more like, 'This cannot stand. We cannot live in a country that was designed to be a haven for Jews from Jew-hatred in the aftermath of the Holocaust, and allow our citizens to be slaughtered as Jews and our daughters and sisters to be raped and our children to be abducted from a Jewish state.' So, the strongest impulse--there are two impulses that people have here. The first is to get the hostages back. We've had some success--not much--some.

And, the second is to remove the threat of a second or a future October 7th. In doing that, we have leveled much of Gaza, maybe half of the buildings. And, in Northern Gaza it's much more than half. It's rubble. It has been flattened to a large extent. Many of the people who lived in those buildings are not in them--weren't in them when the bombing occurred--but some of them were. And, those are the civilian casualties. I have expressed some uncertainty about their number, but it kind of doesn't matter in a way, right? The idea that, 'It's not 16,000 civilians, it's only 10.' Is that okay? Is that proportionate? I mean, the whole idea of 'proportion,' I think is a very strange concept in this context.

So, the first thought that I have in answer to the moral question is simply: This cannot stand. And so, when people ask me--and I'll ask you, Bob, when I'm done with this long monologue; I apologize. When people say to me it's disproportionate or it's immoral, or Israel is committing genocide in Gaza or mass murder--which I disagree with both those claims, but we are killing a lot of civilians, and it's horrifying, and I hate it. The Israeli response overwhelmingly is twofold: We didn't start this. We were attacked first. We are defending ourselves. And, second: We are acting in a way either because of our own moral code or pressure from the outside world--could be both--to minimize civilian casualties consistent with making progress in our goals.

So, yesterday, 21 Israelis died because two buildings collapsed that we had not flattened. There's a lot of anger here about that and a feeling that we are protecting civilians in Gaza with our own children's lives--and I call them children--some of them are 18 to 20, our soldiers--but a lot of them are grownups. They're people with kids. They're in the Reserves. Many, many of the people who've died are not conscripts of 18 to 20. They're people in the ages of 25 to 40 who have wives and children. Most of the dead are men, almost all I think, in the war part.

So, the moral case for most Israelis--and I'm keeping it short, we will talk more about it--is: We didn't start this. Hamas could end this anytime they want. They could lay down their arms, surrender. The leadership could surrender and evacuate or leave and release the 136 people or whatever number is still alive, and we would stop. We don't like it. We have no desire to kill civilians or innocents in Gaza, and we have even less desire to see our own people killed.

So, on the moral case, that's the standard argument you hear; and I'll let you respond to it.

On the strategic case, I think the idea is that, while it's true that many people will hate us who are currently there, who will lose loved ones, and I understand that. Don't blame them. They're also very mad at Hamas, by the way. Today for the first time that I have seen anywhere in the world, there were pro-Palestinian people, who--this was within Gaza--rallying--not a big group, looked like about a hundred--saying, 'Hamas, this is your fault. You need to give up and release the hostages.' As opposed to what the rest of the world is demanding, which is a ceasefire on Israel's part because of the horrific losses of Gazan civilians.

So, my view on the strategic side is that you might be right: people here have skin in the game, and it's true that in after times of violence, you might overreact and in a moment of emotion or passion, do something that could make things worse in the future.

We waited three weeks to invade Gaza. I don't think it was such a hotheaded response. We may have been unrealistic. We may have been overly optimistic about what might be achieved and what it would take. But, I think strategically, the idea here is to force the people who perpetrated October 7th to pay a horrific price.

Not the civilians. I don't believe that they are to blame. I don't like this argument that says they voted for Hamas in 2006. I hate that argument. I think that's grotesque. I don't think you deserve a death sentence because of a vote you cast that may not have--you had no idea what was coming. It would be absurd to hold[?call?] those people morally culpable. Yes, when bodies of probably dead, semi-naked women were taken into the streets of Gaza City, large groups of people cheered and enjoyed it. But so what? That's a few hundred people. It's not 25,000. I don't find that morally compelling at all, that argument that says they've lost the right to life because they were celebrating it. It wasn't The People. Some people. I hate that, that argument.

So, that's a rough idea of what I would say in response. There's a lot more to say on both pieces of it; but, why don't you respond to what I've said so far?

Robert Wright: Okay. Starting with just relatively small-scale characterizations of the situation you made that some people might contest.

You said--well, there's a little thing where you--in terms of this, the death of these 20 or so Israeli soldiers yesterday. This is a minor thing, but I think you said it's because we hadn't flattened the buildings, that the buildings collapsed. Well, no, but they were preparing to flatten the buildings with explosives because they want to create a buffer zone inside of Gaza. Now, some people have suggested that's a war crime. Gaza is not a big place. So, you create a half-a-mile buffer zone the whole way around, you've cut into 10% of Gaza.

You said that you waited three weeks to invade. That's true. But, the bombing began earlier. And, I know it was before that--

Russ Roberts: Fair enough--

Robert Wright: that I looked at the numbers, and I saw that in the last week, they had dropped 6,000 bombs on a place that's slightly larger than Queens, New York. And, that's when I--that was probably the first time I tweeted critically about the assault itself.

And, I think--you know, you mentioned the Rules of Engagement. I have read, even in the Israeli Press, that the Rules of Engagement are actually looser this time around than in past incursions. Certainly looser than Americans use. If you look at the way Americans have gone through cities, number of airstrikes, number of civilians lost--all those indicators suggest that when Americans went through cities in Iraq, they were more willing to take casualties themselves to avoid civilian casualties than seems to be the case here.

Now, these are all things--we probably shouldn't--let's stipulate that you probably don't agree with any of that, and if you want to get back to it, you can. These are relatively--relatively--minor things.

To get back to--well, I want to say one more thing.

I think one thing you could say in defense of the Israeli people in the context of the question I ask, but which also can be deployed on behalf of the Gazans, is: Everyone is operating in a different information environment. These days everyone is operating in a different information environment. And I don't think that Israelis have seen as much in mainstream media of the carnage in Gaza as Americans have in at least many mainstream media. It varies in America, but that's my suspicion.

By the same token, you can rest assured that people in Gaza were not hearing, 'Hey, our guys are beheading babies. Our guys are putting babies into ovens.'

Now of course, those things turned out not to be true, even though Bibi Netanyahu assured President Biden personally that some of them were. And, I think, not--perhaps consequentially--those unfounded claims were still in play during the formative phase of Israel's psychological reaction.

And, but in any event, even the atrocities that did happen, those were not--I don't think those were being spread far and wide in Gaza by Hamas' communications media. So, people are operating in very different information environments. You know, in terms of, you said, 'Well, they started it.' Well, of course, that's not the view in Gaza, right?--

Russ Roberts: Correct. Fair enough--

Robert Wright: And if you--and they will say they can cite horrible things that have been done to them by Israelis.

Now, Israelis can reply, 'Okay, but let's go back another year in history. And let's go back another year.' As you know, you eventually get to the late 19th century--literally, right?--with these claims and counterclaims. And, this is probably easier for me to see because I don't have a strong tribal affiliation with either side by virtue of my heritage.

But, I'm constantly struck by the fact that on both sides, people are convinced that they have the original grievance. And, I'll just say that, as an observation: I would encourage both sides to try to, you know, transcend their perspective.

But it's, of course, very hard, if you're in either position. Via--I would say--you said something like, 'Well, yes, they're going to hate us.' I guess, maybe in closing, I'd say: I'm not just saying they're going to hate you. I'm saying they're going to hate you way more than before. And there's going to be a lot of people who are literally willing to die. Like, those Hamas soldiers who went into Israel, a lot of them probably knew there was a real chance they weren't coming back. And, whatever you want to say about the religion and martyrdom: You know, I have been, I was brought up Southern Baptist. I have been in a religion where people think they're going to heaven when they die. Believe me, they still don't want to die. Okay? And they--of course--they have the sense of that they're serving their people and everything, and that drives them as well.

But, if you want to mobilize a lot of people to join a movement like Hamas and become militants, it really helps if, like, their sister is growing up without legs because of an Israeli bomb. That is a huge recruiting asset for Hamas, or the next Hamas, or whatever.

And I think one difference between the way I view this, and the way a lot of people in Israel view it, is, like, I view the hatred, in general, in extremist movements, as being closer to the prime mover than things like the infrastructure that the leaders of the movement set up to channel the hatred into violence.

I saw a really good documentary that was made in 2003 called "Death in Gaza." What's good about it is that--this is during the occupation phase of Gaza--and what's good about it is it actually sustained, in a way, both of the theories of the case. In other words, it showed the infrastructure. There are these young Hamas militants.

And one of the creepiest scenes I've ever seen anywhere was when they had a 14-year-old boy--who looked like he was 12--and they were kind of encouraging him, you know, their, to--not to go out and get killed right now, but to embrace the idea that someday he might be a martyr. It was really creepy, and the interviewer challenged them on it.

And so there is that infrastructure for channeling hatred into violence.

But, the other thing you saw in that was these people were under occupation, which they were no longer literally--after, whenever, 2005, under occupation--but which some people in West Bank still are.

And, you just saw, from the perspective of this kid, 'Well, how could you grow up not hating Israelis?' There's just no way. You never have a conversation. You only see them with guns. They've killed people you know.

So, this is--my theory of the case is that the hatred is fundamental; and of course it's going to take patience. It's a long-term gain to try to pursue policies that let the hatred subside, and try to build on the less unfavorable sentiment. That's a very hard thing. But I personally think it's maybe the only thing that works, unless you want to do actual ethnic cleansing. And I worry that that may be what happens here.

Russ Roberts: Oh, God forbid.

Robert Wright: Yeah, I know. I know, I know.


Robert Wright: I want to say one more thing, is--and then I'll turn it over to you. I worry that I think the Israeli--it isn't just that most Israelis don't buy my theory of the case. It isn't just that they say: 'It's this institution of Hamas that's implanting the hatred: if we could just get rid of this institution of Hamas.' I think a lot of them do think that, but I think it goes beyond that, which I think there's this idea in Israel that, and has been for some time, 'Look, they'--and I think they almost mean the world, but a lot of people in the world--'They are going to hate us no matter what we do.' Right? Whether it's anti-Israel sentiment, antisemitism, whatever. I think they think of it as like a universal constant, almost. And so: We might as well play hardball, because they're going to hate us no matter what.

I will say--

Russ Roberts: Well, let me--

Robert Wright: Yeah. Okay. Yeah, yeah. I'll--

Russ Roberts: There's so, many--

Robert Wright: Sure.

Russ Roberts: so, many things I want to say, and I'd love to comment briefly so you could react, but it's going to be hard, because there's so many great things that you said that I feel differently about, so I want to be clear.

Let's start with the point that--I'm going to try to go in reverse order. Yes, Jew-hatred goes back a long way. Yes, there is a feeling here that they're going to hate us anyway, especially because part of their religion seems to believe that Jews should be killed. That's not good. And we do feel it. And, certainly on October 7th we felt it. So that's part of it.

It's not quite true that the only thing they see are Israelis with guns. Many of the people, unfortunately, who were killed on October 7th were people on the left who were working to encourage cooperation interaction between Israelis and Gazans. Many of them had had Gazans working in their villages and towns; and they had had permits to cross the border. There is a belief--it could be true--that that helped them chart out where they attacked.

Many of these people drove Palestinians to hospitals in Israel for medical treatment that was not available in Gaza. There are a whole lot of hospitals at Gaza, we've discovered. Real hospitals, not just sham covering up of, say, terrorist command centers, but there are real hospitals there. They have real doctors--quite a few, actually. A lot of people are shocked how many there are, and how many doctors there are. But, a lot of people drove those folks when there was a treatment they needed that they couldn't get in Gaza. There were[?] are people, and were people, and will be people, I hope, in Gaza, who don't just see airplanes, bombs, and soldiers.

But, your basic point is correct. And I think a thoughtful person has to confront the reality that if I lived there, I might feel the same way as they do: hatred, desire to kill, [?], and so on.

We might come back--I think, I hope we do come back and talk about, 'What do you do with that? How do you break that?' The point you made a minute ago, which I'll say something about it, about where you start.

I want to make a meta-point first, which is: it's interesting how much we want the moral high ground. I talked about this recently in this episode that hasn't aired yet, with Hillel Cohen and others, made the point before. See, I actually believe that Israel has been less destructive than the United States in its war against civilian populations, say, in Mosul and elsewhere in its war against the Islamic State.

But, here's what's weird. Why is that the moral exemplar? A lot of people would say what America did in there was horrible. In fact, Israel is a little bit better. It would be interesting--we're not going to do it--but it would be interesting for you and I to sit down and just look at why I actually think Israel has done a better job in keeping civilian casualties down. But, in a way, again, it's interesting that I want to believe that, and people who don't like Israel's reaction don't want to believe it. I think it's just interesting: as human beings, we want to believe that our cause is just.

But, the only point I would make is that if Israel could do whatever it wanted, and had no moral scruples, and didn't care about an international opinion, it could have flattened Gaza without losing a single soldier. We have total control of the airspace. We have a lot more bombs. We didn't have to warn people to leave town. We didn't have to warn people to move to the south.

So: It is horrible, yes, those buildings that the 21 soldiers died in yesterday, were flattened anyway. We could have flattened them from the air though, and we didn't because there's collateral destruction.

So, again, I'm not sure how important that is, but I think it's interesting that it feels important. And it feels important to you, too, I think, which is just a human response.

Let me try to say something about ending this so-called cycle. You made the point of, 'What year do you start?' I said they started it. They did start it on October 7th, but of course, you're right. There was a mistreatment of Gazans before that. Israelis and defenders of Israel like to point out Israel withdrew in 2005. You could then debate whether they stayed. They did have some presence there. They did have still military response. They did have a blockade. I wasn't here, but we had a blockade.

It wasn't an open air prison. That is, I think, a propaganda line. There are many, many parts of Gaza, we have learned--I didn't know this; I thought it was something like an open air prison--there are many parts of Gaza that, on October 6th, were beautiful parks, and villas, and beachfront, and restaurants, and car dealerships. I thought it was all a giant slum. It's not. Much of it is, but I blame Hamas for that. We know now that they took enormous amounts of money and used it to build tunnels. An extraordinary achievement, by the way, engineering achievement. Did it somehow, without Israel knowing. Despite the so-called relentless surveillance, Israel did not do a good job. They didn't do a good job blockading them, because Gazans got access to lots of weapons--either they built them, or they somehow smuggled them in. So, if Israel was preventing Gaza from flourishing, even after we withdrew, it certainly was overcome, at least for military purposes.

But, I think the deeper question is--and we could spend the whole rest of time just on this; I don't know if we want to--but, how do you move forward? Israelis, there are some who hate Arabs, who would like to take vengeance; but the average Israeli just wants to live here. Now, I understand that that phrase, 'just wants to live here,' is a little bit misleading. In the course of doing so, we have a military presence in the West Bank. You called it occupation. It certainly--I think that's the right term, militarily. Although, over the years, we have given increasing control to the Palestinian Authority, just as we have left Gaza--which was a real military occupation. We had, again, men in the streets--mostly men, probably some women, too--with military equipment. We tried pulling out. It didn't help. Could argue it was too tough on the Gazans.

But, I think the problem is, is that they do seem to have a serious number of people who are hateful to the point of--as you say, and this is the key point--willing to sacrifice themselves to kill the enemy. And, why do they only feel that about Israel and the Jews? There are many, many people who are abused in the Arab world. Palestinians have been abused--and many, many times--by the Jordanians, by the Lebanese, by many others. But, they don't harbor a deep, hateful feeling toward those folks. They don't sacrifice their lives. They put that down and moved on. We're different--'we' meaning Israel and the Jews.

Now, when you say, 'How far back do you want to start?' You said you could go back to the 19th century. I think we should at least go back to 1948. We should at least talk about that, as to how some of these entities populated and got created.

But, I think if we say, 'What about going forward?' The optimism I have--and it is limited--is I would say a couple of places to be optimistic. One is: I like to believe, perhaps not true, that most human beings simply want to have better lives for themselves and their children. I understand overlaying that sometimes is religious beliefs, including fanatical, extremist religious beliefs on all sides, in all religions, at various times in history. But, I like the idea that perhaps, if Gazans had more autonomy as citizens, they would be less hateful, or more willing to not sacrifice their life because they have something else to live for. It certainly seems to be the case for Arab-Israelis. Two million Arabs live with full rights here in Israel, not Palestinians; and they're very supportive--I think the number is 70%--of the Jewish state and the right of Israel to defend itself. They don't want to live under Hamas. Hamas is a tough, corrupt, hateful, dead end, unless you want to be a martyr. It's really good at that.

So, my hope is that the people who do want a good life for their children and themselves would have the opportunity to voice that belief. They don't now, particularly because they could be killed. It's not a tolerant regime either; nor is it in the West Bank. So that's one source of optimism.

I do like an idea that if we could talk about our different narratives, perhaps we could understand why we hate each other, and maybe if we respected each other's narratives, we could understand that this problem is not easily resolved. And we'd[?] have to make some sacrifices.

Part of me just says--and this maybe is unattractive to hear--but, we live here. We've made our lives here. More than that: We have built a country that has a very nice standard of living. It could do a better job with some of its populations, but we can work on that. But, we built a good country that is a haven for Jews in a world that is often hostile to Jews, and we're going to fight to preserve it. We understand that if our neighbors don't like it, we're in a bad neighborhood, but we're going to fight to keep it. And, it doesn't excuse immorality. It doesn't justify immorality, but we will defend ourselves, and we see this in Gaza's defense. Again, maybe it's too harsh, and maybe it's not proportionate enough, or it could be better. But we see a lot of the moral shortcomings on the Hamas side, so it's hard for us to see the other narrative.

So, I invite you, as a non-tribalist--and it's beautiful that we're having this conversation--I invite you to make that case, and respond to anything else I said. Again, sorry I went so long: just you said so many interesting things.


Robert Wright: Okay. The case is--what case is it that you're inviting me to make, just so I'm clear?

Russ Roberts: Well, I think on October 6th, most Gazans lived unpleasant lives. Some of that was due to Israel, but a lot of it was due to Hamas.

On October 8th, and after, or the 9th, 10th, whenever the bombing did start--and it's a great point you made: the ground invasion was three weeks later; but we did start bombing long before that. That's a great point, an example of my tribal bias. I think life in Gaza has gotten worse, and I blame Hamas, and so do some Gazans. It's like, 'Didn't you think this was going to happen? Did you really think that Israel was going to just do a token response to having 1,100 people killed, dozens raped, and their people kidnapped?' You think they were just going to say, 'Well, that's not good.'

We spent five years--five years--with a single soldier in captivity, Gilad Shalit. That was a remarkably unforgotten, just relentlessly-remembered tragedy, until finally the government gave up Gilad Shalit for 1,000--one soldier who had been captured and kidnapped--a thousand Palestinian prisoners. Including Sinwar, whose life we saved from a brain tumor when he was a prisoner in Israel, in an Israeli hospital, and who is the architect and mastermind of the October 7th attack. So, we kind of lost a lot of our patience. Maybe we should be better, but we'd kind of had it. So, there is a resolve here that we have the right to defend ourselves.

Robert Wright: I actually think that Gilad Shalit may be one of the reasons that Hamas thought the response would not be this strong--

Russ Roberts: Correct--

Robert Wright: I think they thought, 'Oh, you'll give us 1,000 prisoners for one guy? Well, what if we have a couple of hundred people?' I honestly think, I thought at the time, when I heard that they were trading 1,000 prisoners for one guy, I thought, 'This is crazy.' I mean, look at the precedent you're setting. But whatever. Leave that aside--

Russ Roberts: It was insane. That was a bad strategic--

Robert Wright: Well, just game-theoretically, yeah.

So, okay. As for--I'm certainly not going to say, 'Well, Hamas was justified in attacking.' I want to emphasize, whenever I try to explain why something happened, I'm not excusing it. I try to understand, on both sides, why people have done things. This isn't about justifying anything. But, with that said, let me start, again, with some relatively--

Russ Roberts: Can I interrupt for one sec?

Robert Wright: Yeah.

Russ Roberts: You're unusual. I agree with you. I'm certainly capable--I like to think I'm capable of understanding something without justifying it. But, you're rare in the loud echo chambers of social media and on the streets. A lot of people have not just tried to understand October 7th, they've justified it. Right? So, that's--I just want to say that. I think that's important. For our conversation, I accept your point, but it's not the common view. A lot of people think it was just, what was done. Part of it, by the way, is what you said.

Robert Wright: Right, but--

Russ Roberts: A lot of people don't.

Robert Wright: It works both ways. I mean, I understand that it's human nature for Israel, given what happened on October 7th, to do what they did. As I've often said, I've long been a critic of Israel's behavior, for starters in the sense that I don't think it's wise; but I've always said they're not reacting any more crazily than America reacted to 9/11. But, I was arguing against that, too. People could Google a piece I wrote in September of 2001, a week and a half after 9/11, about why it doesn't make sense to obey your retributive impulse uncritically. The piece is called "Feels So Good," in Slate.

I've tried to be consistent about this now. On the broader point of conflating, explaining with justifying--which again, I think applies to both sides--it's human. It's literally human nature do that. We all do that. It takes effort to try to listen to someone explain why your adversary did something without screaming at them, 'Oh, so you're justifying it?' So you're absolving them of blame. That takes--but I think if we want to understand why these things happen, we have to work to do that. I've already endured one round of this over Ukraine whenever I try to explain why I think Russia invaded, and how, in some respects, if American foreign policy had been better, it might not have happened.

Let me, again, take some of the, maybe not more critical points you made, but quickly, when you said, 'Well, I had said all the Gazan kids see is Israelis with guns.' You said, 'Well, it isn't Israelis with guns, and just Israelis with gun.' It's true. You can point to Israelis doing very laudable work, and you can point to kinds of interactions that happen. I'm just saying, for the average kid in Gaza, they didn't see any of that. By the time you're 15 or 16, your worldview is starting to crystallize.

Russ Roberts: Fair enough.

Robert Wright: All you've seen is that they're enemies, and you can name a cousin that died or was maimed. And now, again: now it's a brother or sister this time around.

You mentioned open air prison. I think one thing people mean by that, it's not that there are no nice places in Gaza, or were, it's that they can't leave. Now, they can get special permission to go to a hospital, blah, blah, blah. But, it's a very small area.

Russ Roberts: True.

Robert Wright: And it seems, to all of us, it's pretty strange to grow up in a city--again, slightly larger than Queens, New York--you can't leave for your whole life. Okay? If you don't like it there, tough luck.

And again, the other part of the open air prison metaphor is that Israel does control the flow of materials in the Gaza. Israelis say, 'Well, but it's all about keeping weapons out.' Yeah, but it's not just weapons per se. It gets complicated. There are limits on how far the fishing boats can go. I don't want to get in it, but open air prison doesn't just mean they all live in cells and have concrete floors.

Yeah. On the West Bank, have they ceded more control of the Palestinian Authority? They did, as part of the Oslo process. Still, Israel has the right to go into any place in the West Bank, and they have on some occasions. Once they go in, they're in charge. They can do what they want. Palestinians, the West Bank, do not have due process of law. They go to a military court, with an exceedingly high conviction rate. Whatever the soldier who brings them in says is taken as the decisive evidence, by and large, as I understand the way this courts work. Of course, they're not allowed to vote.

Now I'm inching toward kind of big issues that it would take you a long time to respond to. I don't mean to. Before I get back to something larger--you can write this down if you want--but it's often said, 'Well, Israel, it's a beacon of democracy.' And, I don't know. I would just say, 'Look, you are ruling the West Bank,' and the rule in West Bank is, 'If you're Jewish, you get to vote. If you're Palestinian, you don't.' Of course, the indignities inflicted on Palestinians by the occupation go well beyond that.

Russ Roberts: Absolutely. I agree with you, Bob.

Robert Wright: Again, I hate to do these kind of drive-by shootings, bringing up these, like, major issues that you should, in theory, have a Ph.D. dissertation to respond to. But, I do want to, just now, before throwing it back to you, get back to this--the whole thing about, 'Well, we tried withdrawing from Gaza; we've seen withdrawal doesn't work.' Leaving aside the question, whether you call that a good faith withdrawal--in other words, was designed to work--you know, there was no--there's a lot of things you could say about that, and about what the motivation was. Was the motivation--I think part of the motivation was just to change the demographic equation. To say, 'Hey, we're not responsible for these guys. So if worst comes to worst, and the world somehow forces us to let all Palestinians vote, or something, we still got a huge majority.' I think it was partly about that.


Robert Wright: But the main thing I want to bring up is about the rarely-told in the media story about what happened after the election that brought Hamas to power. I listened to your podcast with Matti Friedman, who is at AP [Associated Press], and he was saying, on balance--well, I think his view is that on balance, Western media coverage is biased against Israel. I disagree.

As part of that, he was talking about his own experience within Associated Press. That I can't speak to. Maybe AP is biased; I haven't kept track. But he did say one thing that seems to me to illustrate actually a bias that you find in favor of Israel in U.S. media, and here's what he said. I wrote it down. He said,

In 2006, the Palestinians have an election in Gaza and the West Bank, and that election is won by Hamas. In 2007, Hamas, in a kind of violent coup, gets rid of the remnants of the Palestinian Authority in Gaza and takes over Gaza. And in the following year, 2008, there's a real war, which involves rockets fired.... [time mark 40:30--Econlib Ed.]

Now, one might ask, 'If they won the election, why would they have to stage a coup?' And that's an excellent question, and I would encourage people to read a piece I wrote for the Nonzero Newsletter called 'The truth about Hamas.' Let me summarize what happened.

So, the Bush Administration insisted on letting Hamas run in the elections. I don't think the Israeli government was so enthusiastic about that, but it happened. The Bush Administration said, 'Sure, Hamas can run.' Hamas won. They didn't get a majority of the vote, but they did win control of the Legislative Council, which at that point, had control of finance and national security. So, it was quasi-parliamentary in its implications, if you will. If you control the legislature, you largely control the government for both Gaza and the West Bank. Bush Administration said, 'That's unacceptable,' so they encouraged Fatah to stage a coup, even to the point of, apparently--and people can read the piece, some of this stuff is a little fuzzy, but--funneling weapons to Fatah through Egypt.

So, the Bush Administration basically started that civil war. I don't think Fatah was chomping at the bit, honestly, but the Bush Administration wanted it to happen. It happened. So, there was a civil war. And, in the middle of it, Saudi Arabia said, 'Wait a second. Can we work something out?' They convened, officials from the Palestinian Authority, from Hamas, from everybody, and they worked out a deal that Hamas signed on to, Abbas signed on to; and the deal was going to be unified government for the West Bank and Gaza.

Let me quote Khalid Mishal [also spelled Khaled Mashaal, Mashal--Econlib Ed.], who was the leader of Hamas. First of all, they agreed--Hamas agreed, on paper--they would abide by the Oslo Accords and other existing treaties between the PLO [Palestine Liberation Organization] and Israel. They would support negotiations over a two-state solution. Meshaal said, quote: "Hamas is adopting a new political language. The Mecca agreement is a new political language... and honoring the agreements is a new language because there is a national need and we must speak a language appropriate to the time."

The Bush Administration and Israel further demanded that they recognize the state of Israel.

Now, at that point, most of the Arab nations hadn't done that. That was asking for, like, a 180-degree, exceedingly politically difficult thing for Hamas, let's just say. And, I think it was designed to kill the deal. And, we will never know what would have happened if we had followed up on that. You don't know.

And again, it gets back to the theories of the case about whether Hamas is this thing with essence of evil implanted in it and it can never be erased. Or you think, well, these are people. They like things like social status. And, suddenly, Khalid Mishal is a globally significant figure. Maybe you can steer him toward a particular channel to further elevate his status. Who knows?

My point is: Time and again, it seems to me we have not picked up on--we have not explored the hypothesis that moderation is possible, not just with Hamas, but I would say more broadly. People often say, 'Where is the Palestinian Martin Luther King?' Well, when you ask the Palestinians, they say, 'Well, every time that we see one, Israel puts him in jail.' And look, given what we know about Bibi Netanyahu, I don't doubt that a bit. By his own account, he has spent his political career trying to sabotage a two-state solution. He is totally upfront about it, and he has been the Prime Minister for the last two years.

I'm trying to make two points with this. First of all, I want to push back on the claim made in your podcast with Matti Friedman that by and large Western media is biased against Israel, because his--Matti Friedman, he's a journalist. His account of things is the standard account that's prevailed. And, I just think it's flat out wrong.

In fact, David Wurmser a NeoCon [Neoconservative] who--in the Bush Administration--who opposed the fomenting the coup--bless his heart--is a NeoCon who actually abides by the professed principle of democracy promotion. He was against the coup, and he said, 'Look, it was the opposite.' He said, 'We tried to start a coup and it failed.' That's what happened.

And, I could explore this thesis of pro-Israel media bias by reference to the common claim that the Palestinians rejected a state that was offered them: which, I don't think a true state was ever offered them.

And, I actually happened upon--I'd forgotten about--a piece I wrote in 2002 for Slate called "Was Arafat the Problem?" Which lays out my view of that.

But, I strongly contest the views that by and large American media is biased in favor of Israel. And, I mean, I think it is biased in favor of Israel.

And, I want to say that I think time and time again, we have really not truly explored the possibility of moderation. I don't know if it would have worked, but in my view, we keep failing to find out.

So, there's a lot there. I doubt I ever got around to answering your actual question, but--

Russ Roberts: That's all right. That was really interesting.


Russ Roberts: Let me respond to a few of the points. My understanding, which might be wrong--again I think it's useful for listeners who are not as deeply immersed in these issues, they do often get a soundbite summary like, 'Well, Israel withdrew in 2005.' But they don't hear what we did after that. So, to be fair, you need the full picture. I'm trying to share that with you--my listeners on EconTalk--as much as possible.

I take the points about it's hard to be a Gazan. Most of them--you're right--don't leave. Some do. They get out through Egypt and they can travel the world and they come back and they certainly can get out for medical treatment. But it doesn't matter: it's still hard to live there. I don't disagree with any of that.

But I think, just to say something historical about 2005: In 2005, there were Israeli Jewish settlements in Gaza and they were a thorn in the side of Gazans. Whether they should have been or not is irrelevant. They were not accepted. And, it was very hard for the people who lived in those settlements to enjoy a normal life. And, to some extent, the only way they were able to do that was by the presence of the Israeli army.

And, at some point in 2005--this is again my narrative; I don't know if it's accurate or not--but my understanding is: the reason we pulled out is because our soldiers were getting rocks thrown at them and occasionally getting killed. And, the people who lived there were occasionally getting killed. And, we said, 'This is a price not worth paying.' And, we said, 'We're withdrawing.'

And, we didn't just withdraw. It's really important for people to understand this. We forcibly ethnically cleansed Gaza of Jews--to say it the most provocative way. We dragged Jewish 'settlers'--they're called in a disparaging way, but people who are living in places in Gaza, which historically has been places where Jews have lived in the past--we said, 'You can't live here anymore. We're taking you out.' And, the Army forcibly evicted people from their homes.

And this was an enormously painful moment for Israel to have the Israeli Army forcing Jews to leave. For both reasons that there were people here who thought we should be allowed to live in Gaza; but, I think more than anything else, the symbolism of it was extremely painful for many Israelis and many Jews around the world, that military force--a Jewish army--was being used against Jews.

But we did that. We withdrew all the people from those settlements and we didn't allow them to go back in. There's a standard narrative that says: 'And we left all these nice greenhouses that we had built there, and the Gazans destroyed them.' I don't know if that's true. I have a feeling that that story has some untruth to it, but I don't know. But, that's the way Israelis often--and certainly Jews that I know--have talked about this withdrawal.

And, I think the coup part--I'm not going to defend Matti Friedman on this because I'll let him defend himself. I'll send him a link to this and he can respond to the comments if he wants. But, the point about what--it would not surprise me that the Bush Administration armed Fatah to try to beat Hamas because the Bush Administration encouraged an election. They didn't get the outcome they wanted. Huh. Well, that didn't turn out so well. And then, they were probably--it wouldn't surprise me if they tried other ways to overcome that election.

And, the bottom line is: Yeah, it is probably not exactly a coup by Hamas. But, I think probably what Matti was referring to is the fact that there was a lot of brutality after those moments. Maybe is understandable. It doesn't matter. I think Hamas and Fatah, the two rival political and military and civil organizations that are active in both the Gaza and the West Bank on the other side, they don't get along. And Gaza took some revenge. I don't think it was merely a military struggle. I think they did some unpleasant things.

But, put that to the side. I want to comment on some other things you said.

It's true that people in the West Bank--when people make the claim that Israel is an apartheid state, Israelis and defenders of Israel point out, 'Ah, but in Israel, Arabs have full rights. They get to vote. They can go to college. They get healthcare.' They can serve in the army, but they usually choose not to. And, that's all true. Many Druze serve in the army in Israel proudly. Bedouins do. But Muslims generally don't. Very few.

So, when critics of Israel call it an apartheid state, they say, 'Well, we didn't mean in Israel. We meant in the West Bank.'

And it's true: the West Bank is very unfair. It's not equal treatment. The Israeli settlers, which is now I think around 500,000--I've seen 700,000 is the number. But, there's hundreds of thousands of Israelis--of Jews--who live in the West Bank. They do vote in Israel. They do have access to Israeli services. And, yes, the Israeli Army will protect them.

And, yes: The military courts that are often used against Palestinians in the West Bank are probably not due process. Of course, the Palestinian Authority is not a beacon of democracy there, either. If Israel pulled out, I don't think they'd live in a democratic heaven. But at least it would be theirs. And I understand the human impulse for tribal autonomy and a feeling that it's your people and your place. I totally understand that.


Russ Roberts: But let's talk about this issue about bias. I think it's really interesting because--it's a perfect example where you can share[?] it. But, I pointed out on EconTalk that if you write for the New York Times or you broadcast for National Public Radio [NPR], you get hate mail from both sides. The supporters of Israel say that the New York Times hates Israel, is anti-Israel. And, the supporters of the Palestinians will say that the New York Times is pro-Israelis and anti-Palestinian.

So, I'm sure it's easy to cherry-pick examples.

But I think--I think for most Jews and certainly Israelis in the aftermath of October 7th, the mainstream media response has been shockingly unsympathetic to the Israeli side. At least that was the way I read it. I'm going to make a little bit of the case and let you respond.

Most--a couple of dramatic examples: There's a bombing of a hospital early in the war, very early. Reports from the Washington Post, the New York Times--the two most respected American newspapers, along with maybe the Wall Street Journal--those two papers immediately said that 500 people had been killed. And, there were quotes. The Times had a video up for awhile--I can't find it anymore--but it showed a doctor saying, 'I've never seen a scene like this, the bodies.'

And, it was not true.

First of all, it wasn't Israel. It was almost certainly a Palestinian Islamic Jihad rocket that had done the damage. It didn't kill 500. It didn't hit the hospital: it landed in the parking lot. The New York Times ran a picture of the destroyed hospital. It wasn't actually the hospital. It was a different building.

All done overnight without--now, there's pressure, wartime coverage. You could maybe say it was they were trying to get to press. But it really soured a lot of people here on that.

Matti Friedman worked for the Associated Press for five years between 2006, 2011. Most of his comments in my episode with him were about that experience, where basically Hamas in those years controlled coverage. There are no real journalists in Gaza. If you report something that's embarrassing to the regime, you're not going to be allowed to keep reporting. They'll either kill you or threaten you or stop you.

And, his examples were things like they wouldn't let you film certain casualties coming into the hospital.

But, more importantly, he was working out of the Jerusalem office of the Associated Press, the Jerusalem Bureau. Stories that were sympathetic to Hamas got ran. Stories that were critical, they wouldn't run. That's his take. Maybe he's wrong. There's a nice back-and-forth. We posted links to it. You can follow that and read the people who disagreed with Matti and tried to defend the AP. And, whether you agree with that or not, you can take a look.

You think about how the world has responded--both the Press and others--to the accusations of rape against Hamas on October 7th and any other Gazans who came in on that day. I mean, we have videos of a lot of this. By the way, they did behead some people; I don't know if they beheaded babies.

Robert Wright: Of the rapes themselves? I'm just curious because I've heard that contested, but of the rapes themselves?

Russ Roberts: Say that again?

Robert Wright: Are there videos of the rapes themselves?

Russ Roberts: I don't know about that. There's a 47 minute--here's what we have video that I've seen, and I'm just a casual consumer of this on X, on Twitter. You know, there's a woman dragged out of a--it's a horrific photo--a woman being dragged out of a jeep or car. Her Achilles tendon has been cut, so she can't run away. Her sweatpants are bloody around her inner midsection. It's grotesque. Maybe she wasn't violated. I don't know.

But, the 47-minute video that was put together that has not been shown publicly out of respect for the victims, I think is more graphic. But certainly there are many, many, many women who either saw rape or reported rape and have not been believed by lots of people.

Robert Wright: I don't mean to contest this claim. I'm just curious because I've been vaguely aware of arguments about how direct the evidence is. I haven't had the time to look into [inaudible 01:07:53].

Russ Roberts: It's a fair point. It's a fair point. I don't mean to suggest you're a skeptic. But I do think that's a fair point.

I do think, however, that what has been publicly available since October 7th about the brutality of what happened that day, including beheadings, maybe not of children or the burning of children--I'm not sure those are refuted by the way; it's a perfect example of where our own biases are in play here. But, there was quite a bit broadcast by the perpetrators. By the people who did these acts, in pride and delight and joy. It's a heartbreaking betrayal of humanity, in my view.

But, many of those things are simply not believed. Or were treated with a level of skepticism. And, the idea that you could have--even now--136 people who have been in hostage for I think 109 days without a visit from the Red Cross, any international pressure.

And, I'm just going to throw this in, because it infuriates me--and certainly not from the UN [United Nations]--there was no condemnation of October 7th from the Palestinian Authority. I don't think there still has been one. I don't think there has been one yet. I think the UN Women's Organizations made a very lukewarm condemnation months after the sexual violence of October 7th.

One of the strangest things about this crisis is the role of Qatar. Qatar houses and hosts much of the leadership of Hamas. They have been the sort of good-faith mediator and the first ceasefire--maybe the last; we'll see. But, certainly the first ceasefire that allowed 100 or so hostages to get out and hundreds of Palestinian prisoners to be released from prison.

But, Qatar is treated like a normal country. There's no pressure on Qatar. There's no pressure on Qatar to say, 'You have given shelter to some of this wickedness.' Qatar has donated I think $3 billion to American universities over the last--I don't know what the time period is--10, 20 or 30 years. It doesn't matter. It's a lot of money.

No American university has said, 'Boy, these are not nice people. We shouldn't take their money and we should return it.' Or, 'We will never take money from them again until they turn over the masterminds of this project.' Or, 'Since they seem to have a lot of say in this now, could they at least get the Red Cross, at least see if these people are alive and should be getting medication?' Nope, not a word.

So, that's kind of the reason I think that this sequence of the media coverage, the UN, the Red Cross, Qatar and how they're treated, all of these create in Israelis and in many Jews of feeling that we're kind of not getting the fairest treatment.

I agree with you: historically there's been plenty of bias against the Palestinian cause. There's a certain natural connection between Americans and the Jewish story, partly because they're more Jews in American than there are Palestinians, partly because there is a democratic underpinning of it and there's a certain connection. But, lately we don't feel like it's been so even-handed.


Robert Wright: Okay. Well, I certainly agree, first of all, that post-October 7th--I mean, the first thing I witnessed was an outpouring of support and sympathy for Israel. That did not last very long, at least not without being diluted by a reaction of a very different kind, which I think to some extent was, you know, due to how rapidly massive bombing began. I'm not trying to justify it. I'm just saying I think that's the causal sequence of events.

And, world opinion is now turned very much against Israel. There was a Morning Consult poll--they periodically poll, like, forty-something countries. And, Israel's net favorability overall in these countries, the average, has dropped by something like 18 points in between late September and now. So, there's no doubt about that. And, I think that is largely a response to how the assault on Gaza now is being covered, rightly or wrongly.

Again, I think it is a devastating assault. I'm not happy about the fact that my tax dollars are going to pay for it, at all. But, leave all that aside. There's no doubt that there's been that shift, kind of opinion.

And, the other thing is that I think October 7th revealed something that has been happening slowly in American politics, which is that younger liberals, including younger Jews, have a very different view of the Israel thing than their parents did. And, that's something which will[?] follow. And is, I don't know how politically consequential it is yet. It hasn't swayed Joe Biden particularly. But it's there. And it's interesting.

Quickly on just Qatar: I think there is--some people would say there--well, first of all, Bibi Netanyahu, right?, has, again, has supported in the past apparently the transfer of money from Qatar to Hamas because he wants to sabotage a two-state solution. He has said as much himself.

Now, I personally think, separate from that, there is value--however loathsome you find the leader of the enemy--I think there is value in having a place where conversation can take place to resolve situations like the one we have now, which may lead to the hostages released among other things. So there's that.

It's true that that hospital strike, which turned out to be apparently an errant Palestinian missile that didn't hit the hospital per se, although it killed some people because people had congregated around hospitals for safety. Yeah. The media coverage was rapid. I think if you look at it, they attributed it to whoever was making the claim.

I would say similar, same thing with the beheaded babies. That circulated rapidly, was accepted uncritically in America. If you look at the fine print, they were probably attributing it to the Israelis who made the claim so they didn't--in both cases, the journalism was technically sound. You report what important people are saying. But, I think that works both ways.

Now, in terms of media bias, I would emphasize how subtle I think it could be. And, I'd like to draw attention to at least one subtle cognitive bias that I think you see at play sometimes. So, back whenever--12, 13 years ago, 14 years ago, whatever--I was writing an online column for the New York Times. And, there was some reception in the Times building or something that I went to.

And, I got to talking to an editor on the foreign desk. And, I said, 'You know, I've noticed something. Your Jerusalem Bureau Chief, when he reports, like, bad things that Bibi Netanyahu does, kind of things that aren't going to play that well in the American media, he seems to take pains within a few paragraphs to describe the political constraints that seem to make it hard for him to do otherwise.' I said, 'When the Palestinian leadership does bad things, there's no reference to the political constraints on them.' And he said, 'Yeah, yeah, we've noticed that.' And I said, 'Well, so wait, this is okay? Like, a systematic bias?' And, he said, 'Look, I don't run this paper.'

So, the New York Times was aware of this.

And I want to talk about the cognitive bias, because it is so underplayed. It's called attribution error. And, the way it works in its full form is when your friends or allies do something bad, you explain it away with circumstantial situational factors--

Russ Roberts: Incentives--

Robert Wright: 'My daughter didn't get a nap.' Right? Whereas 'The kid who hit her on the playground is just a bully.' When it's your enemy or your adversary, you explain it in essentialist terms, in terms of their basic character, their basic disposition. Okay? And, when they do good things, it's the opposite. When your enemies do something good, 'Well, it seems to be good, but there's actually a reason. It is not reflective of them.' And, it works the other way with your--I don't know if I said that right. When your enemies do something good, it is not taken as reflective of their character.

I think if you pay attention, this is everywhere. It drives conflict everywhere. And I think it was on display in that case. And, I doubt that the Bureau Chief was even thinking about it. Okay? He wasn't doing it on purpose. You just naturally--he was identifying more with the Israeli government than with the Palestinians.


Robert Wright: Now, there's a second--it's kind of a cognitive bias--but are you familiar with the term security dilemma in political science? Okay. So, it refers to a tendency to, when the enemy or adversary does something for defensive purposes--some deployment of military force, development of a weapons system, whatever--they may have defensive in mind and you interpret it as offensive. Now, that may be a misreading of intent--

Russ Roberts: It doesn't matter--

Robert Wright: You may think they're going to attack, or it may just be that you understand it's defensive for now. But, you just say, 'Well, yeah, but if they develop that capability.' I mean, Russia's Foreign Minister said to Bill Burns, I think in 2008, said, 'Look, we understand you don't plan to use Ukraine to attack, but we can't let NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] in Ukraine because we don't know what the next administration will be.'

So, that is also--that's not a misreading of intent, but that's also an example of a security dilemma.

And, you get these spirals of, 'Oh, that's offensive or has offensive potential, so we have to do something defensive'; then that is misread as offensive; and so on.

So, anyway, this is backdrop for the fact that I wrote a piece for the Intercept some years ago called 'How the New York Times Is Making War with Iran More Likely.' I argued that they view things that Iran may well see as defensive, as offensive. The Times just reports them that way, the way Israel would see them. And, they don't report Israel's attacks on Iranian proxies, or assassination of nuclear scientists, whatever, in the same terms. They depict that as defense. That was my argument, at least.

And, I want to say just one quick thing about something we don't have time to get into today, but it has become relevant with this whole Harvard controversy, which is the policing of speech around the Israel issue. Okay. So, that piece that I did in the Intercept, it wasn't about Jews. It wasn't about Zionism, even. It wasn't anti-Zionist; it wasn't anything. You would think I would not get blowback from the Anti-Defamation League [ADL]. Right? The way I've described the argument, you wouldn't think.

But, no, Jonathan Greenblatt, President of the ADL, called my piece--on Twitter--'illogical at best, biased at worst.' And, let's see, there are many--oh, blaming--yeah, whatever. So, that's not--he's not saying I'm anti-Semitic. I get it. But somebody might ask, 'Wait a second, the head of the ADL is casting aspersions on--suggesting this guy is biased. What does that mean?'

And, look, the ADL has done much more direct accusation by way of trying to discredit people who criticize Israel, direct accusation of anti-Semitism. And, I don't know how you view this, but on the Left, it's just taken for granted that the ADL is effectively part of the Israel lobby: One of their goals is to police speech around Israel in the guise of policing speech around anti-Semitism.

And, I throw that in there because I could give you other examples where I think that's relevant to what I see as what has historically been, on balance, a pro-Israel bias in mainstream media, though I grant you that October 7th--well, and the Israeli reaction to October 7th--have collectively revealed something that's changing significantly in America, and we'll see how it plays out.


Russ Roberts: So, a lot there. Let me try to respond to it.

I think the security dilemma is a deep insight. There's a piece of that insight that I think is often missed. You didn't mention it. Maybe you've thought about it. But, intent on the part of a nation is kind of a meaningless idea. It's a way that we attribute things to our enemies and our friends that make us feel good. Leaders can have intent. Individual politicians, kind of. It gets back to your point about political constraints. We don't know when someone says their reason for why they're doing it, whether it's the actual reason, whether it's what they want the public to believe. So, I think that whole thing is a way that we exploit information and PR [public relations] and communication and media to advance our causes.

I mean, I'll give you an example that I'll be honest about. If I were Iran, I would work on a nuclear weapon for purely defensive reasons. Israel's got one. The United States has one. More than one. There's lots of them. As long as that's the case, Iran is vulnerable to pressure, and I understand why they're working on a nuclear weapon. Of course, I also understand why people who are afraid of it treat it as if it's only offensive: it's only being created to destroy Israel. Which I am worried about. It is, I think, a legitimate concern. But, I also understand that there's a defensive reason there, too.

The attribution bias is a fantastic point: that we often attribute the worst motives to--how would you describe it again?

Robert Wright: It's that you describe things that are seen as bad, maybe broadly. Everyone agrees they did something bad. If it's your enemy, you describe it as a reflection of their character, their basic disposition--

Russ Roberts: Their essence--

Robert Wright: They're not going to change. They're going to keep doing that. If it's an ally or friend, you emphasize the constraints that we're operating under, the behavior--

Russ Roberts: The incentives--

Robert Wright: The situational versus dispositional is the technical terminology.

Russ Roberts: It's a great insight. And I think it's true. The case you're talking about--of course, Netanyahu does face really interesting political constraints.

I would just say, for listeners, it is an overwhelming consensus here in Israel that he not be in office in the future. We understand--everybody here understands that that creates a very unhealthy incentive system for him with respect to this war. And there may come a point where, even though we are at war, he will be forced to step down. That can happen through the democratic process--not a coup. If only a few members of his own party decide to leave the coalition, that will trigger elections.

And I think Bibi is also very aware of that. So, he's between a rock and a hard place. It's a rock and a hard place overwhelmingly of his own making. He will be judged by history, at least within this country, as having failed unimaginably badly on October 7th. Most of the blame will fall on him; and, in my view, correctly so. He had one job. He failed. More than that, it was his overwhelming political essence. His whole political popularity was built on the fact that he would make Israel secure, and he failed. I think he knows that. So, it's going to be very interesting to see how that turns out. But, that's a side issue.

So, your point about whether the New York Times reporting his decisions would report political constraints--of course, there are some. Now, does it mean they were decisive, as you point out? I think that's really a fantastic insight. And, similarly, the fact that Hamas--or the PA [Palestinian Authority]--doesn't operate in a democratic environment, I think, that would be the natural reason that people wouldn't invoke political constraints. But, they still have them.

Every--you know, one of my favorite lines that came from my--I read it from political scientist John Mueller--he said, 'Mexico is a democracy 364 days a year.' This was written 25 years ago, say 30 years ago. What's the one day it's not a democracy? Election Day, because the PRI [Partido Revolucionario Institucional] wins every time. But, the rest of the year, when there are no elections, the PRI is still subject to political forces and democratic influences from the people, even though it's not the normal route of an election. A deep insight, I think.

Robert Wright: Yeah. There's a line I heard from Tom Friedman, which is, 'Nobody does more public opinion polling than authoritarian leaders.' They live in fear--

Russ Roberts: Sure--

Robert Wright: because they know they're not legitimate. But, anyway, go ahead.


Russ Roberts: So, I agree with you very much that speech on campuses and in the streets of America and England and elsewhere in the West is complicated. And, we've moved very much toward an unhealthy attitude towards speech. Unfortunately, how students and faculty talk about Israel is only the latest chapter of that. The response to it has been somewhat repressive, agreed. But, of course, it was repressive before that in different directions.

So, I wrote a piece, "The Dilemma of the West"--we'll put a link up to it--where I tried to argue that the challenge is, if you believe in free speech, what do you do about the fact that on October 8th in Sydney, Australia--which is a lovely, tolerant place, as is most of the country--there was a large crowd of people chanting 'Gas the Jews' near the Sydney Opera House. And Jews were told, 'Don't go near there. It's not healthy.' So, how does the West--and it's happened in America many times. There'll be a pro-Palestinian rally. And the police or the government will say--the mayor will say--'Don't go over there. It's not safe. We can't protect you.' That's awkward.

But my general view, by the way, is that people should be allowed to say, 'Free Palestine.' They should be allowed to say, 'From the river to the sea.' What they shouldn't be allowed to do is chant it in large, angry mobs and end up barricading people in buildings who are afraid for their lives.

Now, maybe we should deal with that in a different way. But, I personally make a distinction between having an opinion, for example, that there should not be a Jewish state--that's a legitimate opinion. Having an opinion certainly that--you can certainly argue in a classroom. You should be able to argue in a classroom that Israel is immoral or has acted horribly in Gaza. That's not anti-Semitic. I don't think you're anti-Semitic, Bob. I think it's important for Jews--very important for Jews--that people do not squelch speech.

At the same time, Jews often report--perhaps untruthfully, but I think it's true--they're uncomfortable saying things in support of Israel in classrooms in certain universities.

So, I think there is--the dilemma is that speech should be open, I think, on campuses on all sides for all views. But, speech and the threat of violence or mob behavior is--I would make a distinction. That's my view.

I'm an American taxpayer, like you are. I agree. I do not think American taxes should go towards supporting Israel. Right now, Israel gets, I think, before the war, $3 to $4 billion dollars a year. It's all with strings. It has to be spent on American military equipment. Americans say, 'Yeah. It's good for America. It creates jobs.' I think it's bad for America. I think it's bad for Israel. I think that should end. That started decades ago when Israel was a relatively poor country. We're a relatively rich country now. We should not be relying on the United States. And I think that's a mistake.

I agree that Bibi bears some of the burden of Qatar's strengthening of Hamas. I think he has said so. I'm not 100% sure, but I think that's true.

And--I think that's all for now.

Robert Wright: Okay. On 'The river to the sea'--I mean, first of all, the way I would--I would just say angry mobs that trap people are bad, whether they're saying any given thing or not saying anything. I think--

Russ Roberts: Most of the people who chant 'From the river to the sea' don't know what it means.

Robert Wright: That's important. That's important. Well, I wouldn't say it's that they don't know what it means. It's that meaning is not a fixed thing. They have a different conception of what it means.

Russ Roberts: I agree. Much better said.

Robert Wright: And--but, I want to emphasize that. I mean, my daughters have been to some pro-ceasefire demonstrations--by the way, they go with friends who are mainly Jewish. That matters. Again, it reflects something that's going on here. And, you know, I asked them, 'What do you think? What do other people think?' It means a variety of things to these people. Almost none of them are thinking, 'Kill all the Jews' or 'Kill all the Jews in Israel.' And many of them aren't thinking, 'Eliminate Israel. Eliminate the Jewish State.' Some of them mean, 'Look, let all Palestinians vote.' Okay? Would that lead to a Palestinian state? Maybe. It depends on how it's set up. Blah, blah, blah. Wouldn't necessarily lead to an Islamist state. Who knows?

I mean, I'm just saying this is the way they think of it. When they hear Bibi Netanyahu say 'From the river to the sea,' a phrase, which, by the way, is in the original Likud Charter, they say, 'Well, why should Palestinians find it any less threatening for Israeli Jews to talk about a Jewish state from the river to the sea than Jews should find it for Palestinians to say about a Palestinian state.' Of course, you would bring in history and say, 'Well, the original Hamas Charter, granted it's been superseded by some other document--the original Hamas Charter was flagrantly anti-Semitic,' and so on.

There's a lot you can say. I'm just saying a lot of them don't know that much about the history. I'm just trying to keep people from freaking out. I understand how given phrases come to be almost traumatic for some people to listen to through history. But, I'd encourage people to bear in mind different people mean different things by this.

Also, of course, we are in a social media environment where, depending on how your feed works, you are going to be shown the most provocative stuff. You'll naturally start thinking it's everywhere. You can find somebody at one of these demonstrations with a Hamas flag. I have seen somebody from The Foundation for Defense of Democracies--this ardently pro-Israel and anti-Iran think tank--tweet that and even assert that it's typical. Which is just flat-out not true.

Russ Roberts: Yeah, I agree.

Robert Wright: But, I would encourage people to keep all of this in mind. It's funny. My view about supporting Israel--it's not so much an in-principle thing about ever sending any money to Israel. It's in the context of this thing that's going on right now. I just can't bear to see what's happening in Gaza and think that, literally, my tax dollars are paying for it. As an American, I'm going to be held accountable for it. That becomes a little bit of a national security threat.

I mean, you know, if you look at what homegrown terrorism there was after 911, and when they asked people why they did it, it was almost invariably: 'What you are doing to Muslims in other countries. Bombing and so on.' This can come back to haunt us on our soil. It can lead to terrorism against American targets.

And again, I think it's bad for Israel. I am not somebody who has to say, 'Well, screw Israel. America has got to pursue its interests.' In this case, I don't think what Israel is doing is particularly in its interest.

There's one more point I could make. But, if you want to jump in?


Russ Roberts: I just want to say one thing about 'From the River to the Sea' and 'Free Palestine.' What's sad to me, and somewhat scary, is that--so, here's what we agree on. There are many, many phrases that have both general--go back to a favorite EconTalk concept from Marvin Minsky--they are 'suitcase words.' They are things you could stuff lots of different things into.

I'll take intifada, for one. The intifada--people chant about the intifada now at many of these rallies.

For Israelis, the intifada is when people blew up buses and pizza parlors and coffee shops, and killed dozens of people. Innocents. It's a threat of violence.

I don't think every person who chants on a college campus 'intifada' has the vaguest idea of that association or is advocating for that. So I agree with you.

I'm also aware that there are many young progressive Jews who are sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. I'm sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, as I try to make clear. I think the life that young people and old people live in Palestine and the West Bank--in 'Palestine and the West Bank,' in Gaza and the West Bank--is very unpleasant and cruel. And, they bear terrible costs from both their leadership and the role Israel plays in their lives. We can debate, as we have, whether Israel should play that role, is entitled to play that role.

In many ways, it does not matter. They don't like that feeling. And I get it.

So, I understand that those rallies have lots of emotions going under the surface. For every single participant, they're probably a little bit different. We understand that.

What I think is sad and a little bit scary, as I started to say, is that those rallies have three themes that--two themes--that I hear over and over again that I don't think are like the Hamas flag. I think they're broadly represented in the crowd and in the themes. One is 'Free Palestine/Free Palestine and From the river to the sea.' The second is 'ceasefire.'

No one has marched--and this breaks my heart--as far as I know, and I'd love to be wrong about this: Many, many, many people--individuals in Arab countries that have some comfort in speaking; most can't--have condemned October 7th. But, there's never been a rally that I know of, of pro-Palestinian people who, on October 8th, said, 'Not in our name. That was not done in our name. We advocate for the Palestinian cause. We advocate for anything they want: Free Palestine, From the river to the sea, Two-state solution, One-state solution--but not that way. Not what happened on October 7th.' I don't think there's been a rally that's said that.

And, no rally for a ceasefire or 'From the river to the sea,' the two themes, says: Free the hostages.

In fact, the world has mostly defaced--maybe not the world; it's a small group of people, obviously--defaced the posters of hostages, the kidnapped people, put swastikas on them in some situations, torn them down in others. I don't understand that. It's hard for me to understand that.

And so, what--the theme of 'Free Palestine from the river of the sea'--we could debate how many people--stupid to debate it--but, I'm sure there's a range of emotions in the people who say those things. But, I wish they'd say something else alongside it. And certainly, many of them do believe it should be an end to the Jewish state and an ethnic cleansing of the country.

And I think when somebody like Bibi Netanyahu says, 'We're going to keep it, from the river to the sea,' that's for domestic--we call this attribution bias. I think they--he's playing to the home crowd. He knows that people like me are tired of hearing other people say, 'We're going to throw you out of there.' And he's saying, 'No, no, no, we're going to keep it.'

In fact, I think a lot of--some of--the challenge of Israeli politics, and Israeli culture, and Israeli life are that we have a swagger about us. We don't care what the world thinks. We do what we think we need to do to defend ourselves.

And at the same time, we really want the world to love us and to embrace us. And sometimes, we need that support.

So, there is a strange, paradoxical, cultural aspect to that.

But, my only point is--and we can stop here, maybe. We've been talking now for an hour and 40 minutes. I don't know how much more we want to talk about this.

Robert Wright: We've brought world peace. That's the good news.

Russ Roberts: Yeah, we've done that. We've solved it.


Russ Roberts: So, what I was just going to close is that I wish they'd chant some other things. I understood that they mean different things by those phrases. Not everybody can name the river, and not everybody can name the sea. Certainly, 'Free Palestine' is a nice sentiment. It sounds good. It sounds like a liberation thing.

But, some of them do mean it. Some of them do mean that there should not be a Jewish state and that the people who live here should not be allowed to live.

So, we're going to always err on the side of caution, I think, and it would be nice if some of those rallies showed some sympathy for what happened on October 7th. 'Gas the Jews' is not so sympathetic, in Sydney on October 8th. So, that's, I think, why we're a little bit paranoid. Sometimes when you're paranoid, it's because people are chasing you. It's part of the problem.

Robert Wright: Yeah. I mean, again, I'd say--so, too, with the tearing down of the posters, is, like, we live in a world where if one person does that, it's going everywhere. It's going to reach almost everyone who it drives crazy. Same thing with Trump. The craziest thing any Trump supporter does is trot it out as typical--look, I mean, I remember when my daughters had been in these demonstrations. They were chanting 'From the river to the sea.' One of my daughters said, 'Some people are starting to chant global intifada.' I said, like, 'Don't do that. Tell your friends,' like--

Russ Roberts: What it means. Yeah.

Robert Wright: Yeah. Of course, they can say, 'Well, it means uprising.' They can point to the first intifada as mainly kids throwing rocks. I was actually in Israel for two weeks during the First Intifada. But, well, of course, what Israelis remember is the Second Intifada, which is a traumatic memory, naturally.

But again, kids chanting 'Global Intifada'--I mean, they mean something that goes beyond Israel, I think. It's about imperialism and all kinds of things.

Let's see. Is there anything--I don't think I got around saying: I wish Joe Biden would use the current flow of weapons as leverage. Not just because it could lead to terrorism against America but because there's danger of a regional conflagration. Be nice to--

Russ Roberts: We, by the way--here, Israelis feel very strongly that while there's a great deal of appreciation for American support of Israel militarily; and certainly Joe Biden, in the aftermath of October 7th, gave a full-throated condemnation of it, as has his spokespeople. There's not a lot of what-about-isms or even-handedness. It's been pretty pro-Israel overwhelmingly. We didn't talk about this. We're talking about the media. But, certainly, the American government, with the exception of some dissatisfaction in the State Department that got reported, it's unparalleled how much the United States government has supported Israel.

Having said that, in recent days, the Biden Administration has, I think, affected at least--I'll just say it this way. Israelis believe that the Biden Administration has had an impact to reduce civilian casualties. It has changed some of the tactics. And there's a lot of resentment here for it. And my view of that is if we don't like it here in Israel, we should stop taking the money. Which means they don't--and we might lose those aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean, which deter Hezbollah and deter Iran. It's really complicated. And lot of Israelis have started to realize that not only do we need American ammunition--and munitions generally, bombs, and so on--we need American firepower, at least the threat of it.

If I were just an American and if I did not care about Israel, and if I did not see ties between Israel as an ally, like you, I would understand that this is--we're close to World War III right now. Very, very close. It's Russia and Iran versus the United States. You can throw in Syria, Israel--you can throw in China if you want. We're on a precipice.

And it's bizarre to me that we are recording this on January, I think--what did I say, 24th? We're about to lock in two very elderly people into the Presidency in one of the most risky and threatening times in recent history in America. Forget everything else. That these are the two candidates of the two major parties is something we might want to think about as Americans.

Robert Wright: We could have a whole new conversation about that. I mean, I don't remember a time when I felt less encouraged about both the national situation and the world situation.


Russ Roberts: Maybe we should stop here, Bob? We could maybe revisit these topics. I want to invite you to come back to Israel for two weeks at your convenience, maybe when this war is over.

Robert Wright: How big a budget does your university have?

Russ Roberts: Not very big.

Robert Wright: I'll tell you the first time I went there, it was under the auspices of Marty Peretz, the owner of the New Republic. I was about to be acting editor of the New Republic for seven months. Marty felt--of course, he was a pretty ardent Zionist and very well-connected in Israel. And when you go there on Marty's dime--I mean, the hotels were nice enough. But, the main thing was the connections. First of all, Teddy Kollek, the mayor of Jerusalem, came by my hotel. We had drinks. I had a one-hour conversation with Bibi Netanyahu on a park bench. Now, he was just a member of the Knesset. He was not Prime Minister. But, my advice to anybody is get Marty Peretz to make some calls before you go to Israel.

Russ Roberts: It's a small country.

Robert Wright: It is.

Russ Roberts: Everybody is at most two degrees of separation from anybody you'd want to talk to here. So, I don't know everybody. But, I know enough people who know everybody.

Robert Wright: All right. Well, let's do it. In reciprocation, should you ever be in New Jersey, I'll drive you down the turnpike. Show you the whole thing. You'll see all the high spots of New Jersey.

Russ Roberts: My guest today has been Robert Wright. Bob, thanks for being part of EconTalk.

Robert Wright: Thank you, Russ. And thanks for being part of the Nonzero Podcast.