From the Second Intifada to October 7th (with Daniel Gordis)
Jan 1 2024

information-war-300x218.jpgOver the 25 years he's lived in Israel, author Daniel Gordis of Shalem College has seen many chapters of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, beginning with the Second Intifada that followed the Oslo Accords. Listen as he and EconTalk's Russ Roberts discuss why Hamas's massacre of October 7th is different and is an existential threat to Israel. They also speak about why Israelis are demanding a different response to Hamas than they have in the past, and how and why this war will change Israel and the Jewish people.

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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.


Krishnan Chittur
Jan 1 2024 at 11:07am

The fight is indeed to save liberal democracies … and Israel (and the Jews) are canaries in the coal mine (as we heard, towards the end of the podcast).

The question is – does the world understand the nature of the threat OR does it dismiss these threats because after all the “Jews are under attack” – that is, I worry that the world may be ignoring the real threat because the Jews were attacked and so perhaps many countries feel they are safe.

The US still does not see Iran as the threat it is – even as we are watching our ships and other assets being attacked in the middle east.

I hope we wake up before it is too late.

Richard Stern
Jan 1 2024 at 12:10pm

Thank you Russ for a very interesting episode. It’s so helpful to get the perspective of ordinary but well informed residents of Israel in this terrible time.


I’ve been listening to your show for at least ten years and always appreciate it. Even if I disagree and sometimes throw my phone across the room. Keep up the good work.

Jan 1 2024 at 5:34pm

A great podcast. Mr. Gordis did an excellent job summarizing some of the troubles facing Israel. Many abroad are completely ignorant of such difficulties, so it was good to hear explicit descriptions. It was also nice to hear about realistic solutions, like is the PLA even a possibility?

I would quibble with the “good vs. evil” rhetoric near the end of the podcast. The Iranian/Russian/Chinese “axis” vs. the West is a lot different than the Cold War and WW II original axis. The USSR, Imperial Japan, and NAZI Germany literally killed millions upon millions of people in death camps and mass executions.

While Iran, Russia, and China are not the most ethical actors (Hamas support, Ukrainian invasion, and the Uyghur camps being respective evidences), they are hardly as evil as some of the West’s earlier nemeses.

In these conflicts, things can get carried away, and it is important to keep one’s head. We don’t want another WW I, an avoidable war amongst flawed states that needlessly costs millions of lives.

With that said, given Mr. Gordis’ current situation in Israel, I completely understand his perspective and attitude. If our places were traded, I would be in the same headspace.

Weshah Razzak
Jan 1 2024 at 7:10pm

I think it would be (might be) informative to have another interview with a Palestinian fellow to give us her/his take. I just read Steven Simon’s book Grand Delusion. He was involved in all these issues as a (Jewish) American official. His record seems very different form this. This conflict is very complex. There are number of Jewish American scholars who have been involved first hand with Israel and Palestine and their stories are also different, e.g. Jeff Sachs, John Mearsheimer, Steven Cohen…

dave b
Jan 4 2024 at 1:20pm

think it would be (might be) informative to have another interview with a Palestinian fellow to give us her/his take

I have serious doubts about how trustworthy anything from the Palestinian side can be given the dire consequences that can ensue for not sticking with the official party line

Jan 2 2024 at 12:08am

I definitely appreciate these episodes because the historical experience that drives Israeli thinking isn’t talked about much in the media (ie, the refugees with nowhere to go after the end of WWII).

It does need to be acknowledged that this was a conversation between two people on one side of a war and as such they understandably left some bits out of their narrative:

1) It’s completely understandable that the promise of their own country drew so many Jews to Mandatory Palestine (especially since many literally had nowhere else to go). It’s also understandable that the Arab population would fight back, a different ethnoreligious group creating a new country in an already populated region creates conflict every time.

2) Netanyahu was ensuring the funding of Hamas, partially since they were seemingly controllable, but also because it meant there was no pressure to negotiate making it easier to expands Settlements, this expansion was a factor in diverting security forces before the attack.

3) The continual expansion of West Bank Settlements and displacement of Palestinians there is very hard to justify.

That’s not to say any of these factors make the situation less intractable, but it’s important to see the Palestinians also have a narrative with legitimate grievances. I understand this interview wasn’t the place for that narrative, but it’s important to remember it’s not an impartial account.

Jan 2 2024 at 1:53pm

Building off this point, I think there have been 4 recent podcasts where Russ has interview a Israeli (or pro-Israel) Jew about the current situation in Israel. These have all been interesting, but there has been almost no discussion of what life for a typical Palestinian was like on or prior to October 6th. We’ve heard more about the challenges Jewish people faced in Poland in 1900, and the challenges Jewish students faced at Harvard after October 7th. Of course, these are important, but the modern Palestinian perspective is conspicuously absent. I know Russ has mentioned looking to book a guest who can speak to this, so I’m looking forward to that.

I think it’s also notable that these conversations tend focus on history. Obviously this is at least partially because of the expertise of the guests, but I think this historical framework explains some of the disconnect we see with this view and what’s happening in college campuses in the US. These episodes have gone into events from 150 years ago up to the 1990s… but then the last 20 years (prior to October 7th) seem to be glossed over. Obviously, if you are an undergrad right now, that period that is getting glossed over is actually your whole life. It’s two very different timeframes. To one group this is a sweeping historical story where the last 20 years is a tiny portion, but to the other group the last 20 years is the main thing, while Clinton and Arafat are figures from ancient history.

So if you are a 20 year old gentile at Harvard, what does that 20 history look like before October 7th? For your whole life Israel has been powerful militarily and wealthy economically. You haven’t heard much about terrorism is Israel, but you’ve heard several stories from your friends about the awesome vacations they went on in Israel. And for basically your whole life Palestinians have been in refugee camps with very little political power, economic opportunity or hope of it getting better. Given the difference in historical frame, I don’t think it’s too surprising that 20-somethings are coming to very different conclusions.

Adam Lippiatt
Jan 2 2024 at 8:35am

Be interesting to see the report where the Mayor of Paris (France) said as stated by your guest that “[it is] hard for me to see Jews living in France in the next few years”.


Lucas Bertrand
Jan 3 2024 at 2:15pm

I also tried to find this remark across three search engines (Google, Bing and DuckDuckGo) in both English and French (my native language). I also went on the CRIF website (the group representing the interest of jews in France). I couldn’t find it.

Instead, I learned she has revoked Mahmoud Abbas’ honorary medal in September 2023 for denying the Holocaust (not sure why he had this honorary medal in the first place, though).


Shalom Freedman
Jan 2 2024 at 9:27am

Even after the war of Independence there was no peace. Israel has been unfortunately at war for its existence as long as it has been a state.

I well remember the bus bombings of twenty-five years ago Gordis speaks about. I was not at the time as confident as him that we would survive. There was a sense when two Jerusalem number eighteen busses blew up in a very short time that we were falling apart.

And in truth in my nearly fifty years in Jerusalem there have been many times of existential crisis. The understanding has always been that we could defeat the enemy many times and they would survive but we could only afford to lose once.

October 7 was in one important sense unlike the Shoah. There was a great deal of heroic fighting back by soldiers and policemen who were trained to fight and who saved many lives. But the large number of civilian deaths and the horrifying way this was done have shaken Israeli society completely. Both Gordis and Roberts speak correctly about the great solidarity that has emerged, and how the judicial review crisis tearing Israel apart was put aside by those pilots soldiers policemen who rushed immediately to fight to save Israel.

Gordis is at one point pessimistic about the Israeli Army prevailing against Hamas- He later contradicts this with his optimistic vision about Israel revived in a few years from now. It seems to me that Israel has already shown that it will defeat Hamas militarily however long this may take.

Russ Roberts raises an interesting idea of a Palestinian Sadat. The problem is that in all the long years of the conflict there has not been even one Palestinian leader who would broach the idea of real peace with Israel.

Gordis in his closing point hits a central truth about our situation. Israel’s fight for its existence is too a fight for the continued existence of the free world.


Jan 2 2024 at 12:34pm

I’ll echo other commenters: on the one hand I truly appreciate these episodes for offering me a strong Israeli case; and on the other I’d be intrigued to hear an episode where you steel man the point of view of a Palestinian teenager. I cling to the hope that there is more grey space than the black/white “if I don’t (collaterally) kill their babies then they’ll kill mine” which seemed to be the conclusion.

I wonder if in the show notes you could help fill out a couple of sources too. Biden was praised in the episode, but my feeds have uproar over him saying that without Israel, Jews have no safe place on earth, ie US president says no jew is safe in the US. Can you square that? Also Paris Mayor (Anne Hidalgo) was referenced as saying no Jew is safe in France, but all I find when googling ‘Hidalgo Juif’ is support and a September story about condemnation of Abbas.

John H Wolfe
Jan 2 2024 at 2:24pm

I also cannot find anything that indicates Anne Hidalgo has speculated that Jews would not be able to live in Paris.

Adam Lippiatt
Jan 2 2024 at 6:54pm

The point as I understood it being made is that Jews are being driven out of France, Spain and the US. I find this claim …. incredible.

In Australia, there is a claimed rise in anti-semitism, but I see no evidence of it.  Rather we have a strong reaction to what we see happening in Gaza.

Like others, I am finding Russ Roberts’ podcasts on the Israeli perspective of this war very helpful.

Richard Watkins
Jan 2 2024 at 4:22pm

Another terrific episode on the history of modern Israel and the current conflict. I went back and listened to the April 2023 interview with Daniel as well.

The pro-Palestinian movement in countries like mine (the UK) is just so badly informed. It never crosses their minds that Jews lost homes in the 1940s as well as Palestinians. I simply cannot understand why the protestors feel so strongly about an issue on which they lack all curiosity, as well as any skin in the game (usually).

It’s an absolute priority to ensure the Jewish diaspora in the UK and elsewhere does not suffer because of this ignorance. The Jewish people and Israelis in general are admirable, and for all the troubles that you have in your neighbourhood, you have qualities as a nation that are the envy of the world and should be a model to us all.

Ronald Spinner
Jan 2 2024 at 11:12pm

Very informative podcast. I would add:
Danie Gordis compared the lack of security for Jews in Israel and abroad. There is one important difference. In the past 2000 years the Jews did not have an army to defend themselves.  To put it in economic terms: The cost of spilling Jewish blood has gone up.
This war will probably cause more Jews to move to Israel. Besides the increase in population, the war has also strengthened Israel civil society in many ways. It looks like Israel is an anti-fragile nation.

Jan 3 2024 at 8:58am

If I understand correctly, Gordis said that this fight was existential for Israel in a way the Second Intifada was not, because it involved invasion by what was effectively a terrorist army, capable of taking territory and making civilian life impossible in a way that sporadic bus bombings never could.

However, in both cases it’s existential in the sense that if the IDF disbanded and Israel stopped defending itself, it would have been overrun and destroyed.

But in both cases Israel, if properly organised, would be more than capable of repelling the threat, so there ought not be any real prospect of Israel’s existence being ended.

Around 3,000 fighters in the Hamas army entered Israel and went on a murder spree. But the IDF has 170,000 active personnel and 465,000 reserve personnel. A fairly small fraction of the army, if properly deployed to the border, and set up to respond more quickly, would be able to prevent a repeat of 7th October. Even more so if the relevant intelligence services were more on the ball.

If Israel is going to face a plausible existential threat it would have to be by a different mechanism than the invasion we saw on 7 October — a more serious military such as that of Iran would need to get directly involved to provide the necessary numbers and equipment. Or Israeli citizens would need to lose the will to defend themselves and move elsewhere in significant numbers.

Roger McKinney
Jan 3 2024 at 11:34am

Jews are welcome in Oklahoma. If you can go nowhere else, come here and we’ll protect you from antisemitism.

Lucas Bertrand
Jan 3 2024 at 4:34pm

I’d like to offer my perspective noting that I generally lean towards being pro-Israel, though my support is not unconditional.

The recent “Israel-Hamas” series episode, while informative, didn’t resonate with me as strongly as the previous ones (I struggled with the one with Niall Ferguson as well, though). I observed what seemed to be a strong undercurrent of tribalism and some assertions that I found to be questionable.

For instance:

The false choice fallacy: the dichotomy presented of (a) defending ourselves versus (b) accepting large civilian casualties implies very few civilian deaths are avoidable. Yet, recent reports highlighting IDF’s extensive use of unguided bombs in densely populated areas put pressure on this assumption.
Representation of casualties: the language used to describe casualties (“terrible losses on their side, significant losses on our side”) could be perceived as skewing the reality of the actual numbers involved in the various conflicts over time. One side is close to a magnitude higher than the other.
The appeal to pathos: the way the IDF soldiers are described (“husbands and fathers”) seems intended to create empathy. As a husband and father myself, it works. The other side, however, is left as this undefined mass of people. The lack of similarly humanizing details for the other side could lead to an imbalanced perception.
Questionable statements: As previously commented, I couldn’t find the alleged remark the Mayor of Paris made. The question asked on the difficulty of raising a child as a Jew in the U.S. or in other parts of the Western World seems exaggerated to me. Are we witnessing the typical salience bias after a terrorist attack?

Regarding the broader argument that the conflict is existential, I don’t find Gordis’ logic compelling.

Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons, air supremacy and U.S. support suggests a significant level of security and capability. After listening to this episode, the source of the existential threat is still unclear to me.

dave b
Jan 4 2024 at 1:29pm

recent reports highlighting IDF’s extensive use of unguided bombs in densely populated areas put pressure on this assumption

Recent reports created by what organization and from what sources?

Lucas Bertrand
Jan 7 2024 at 7:47am
dave b
Jan 10 2024 at 2:58pm

you cite three sources, but they all rely on the same original report: some anonymous and mysterious “US intelligence assessment”.  If you want to know how I feel about this reporting, listen to the most recent episode of EconTalks with Matti Friedman.

Amit Jain
Jan 3 2024 at 8:58pm

Russ, thanks for illuminating how many in Israel view the current situation. It is one-sided but in my opinion, that is OK, since several others sources provide a Palestinian perspective.

Among post-war scenarios, are some in Israel considering the option of annexing Gaza and offering full Israeli citizenship to Gazans? If Israel offered Gazans the same life as Arab-Israeli’s enjoy, and all the benefits of living in a prosperous, liberal, pro-western democracy, wouldn’t they prefer it to living under Hamas and the severe restrictions that Israel has imposed on Gaza since 2007.

dave b
Jan 4 2024 at 1:40pm

are some in Israel considering the option of annexing Gaza and offering full Israeli citizenship to Gazans

given the historical record of Palestinians in other countries that had accepted them (Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon,etc.), not likely.


Todd Ramsey
Jan 4 2024 at 1:10pm

Another terrific episode. Please keep the episodes about Israel-Palestine coming.

Two honest questions, not trolling.

First: Does Gordis’ assertion that this is a war on liberal democracy contradict your previous guest Gur’s assertion that this is just the latest episode of a centuries-long war against Jews?

Second: If, as Gordis asserts, the Israel-Palestine conflict will never end; and separate assertion that the Jews are looking for a place to safely live, would the State of Israel consider relocating to the Falkland Islands? (Assume for the sake of the question that the UK would give away the Falklands to atone for their sins in promising Palestine to both Arabs and Jews, and that trillions in relocation assistance would come from the U.S., Europe, and the oil states.)

I hope these questions are taken in the spirit of free inquiry they are meant to be, not as a comment upon any religious or ethnic group or taking sides in any way. Please?

Jan 4 2024 at 6:10pm

I am a great fan of Gordis’s work and loved the podcast. However, once again, he shows a blind spot regarding judicial reform, as well as a lack of cognitive empathy for those who support it. The August 14 Law and Liberty podcast with Yonatan Green, Executive Director of Israel Law and Liberty Forum, gives good coverage of the issue. He would make an excellent interview. Right now people are focused on the war, but this very divisive issue is just bubbling underneath the surface and threatens unity due to refusal of the Israeli elites to acknowledge that there is any problem, their ad hominem attacks on reform supporters, and their false characterization of reform efforts as undemocratic.

Russ Roberts
Jan 5 2024 at 6:39am

My view on this is very simple. We need judicial reform. The one that was proposed, particularly the part allowing a 50.1% vote in the Knesset to overturn a decision, was not the reform we need.

Scott Gibb
Jan 4 2024 at 7:40pm

I’ve just finished reading Gordis’s Israel: A Concise History of a National Reborn and his Divided We Stand: The Rift Between American Jews and Israel.  Both are excellent.  Thanks for introducing us to Daniel, and encouraging us to read his books and Substack.  Extremely valuable with the rise of antisemitism on American college campuses.  I feel much better now being educated on these topics.


Robert Ferrell
Jan 8 2024 at 10:38am

Another very interesting episode, although in this case interesting, in part, because Gordis misses the obvious.

It seems clear that neither Gaza nor the West Bank have the size, historical cultural unity, nor the resources to be nation states. (From afar it seems the only culture those regions have in common is some sort of “erase Israel” culture. Hate is not enough.) Didn’t the Oct 7 attacks demonstrate definitively that a 2-state solution will never give Israel peace and security? Why is anybody even still talking about “the right political authority for Gaza”, when obviously the only right political authority is Israel?

Israel is a thriving, wealthy nation. There is no wall that will keep out unwanted neighbors. Either invite the neighbors to join, or they will attack when you least expect them. No matter what political structure exists in Gaza and the West Bank, residents there who see the prosperity in Israel will want some of that. Deny those residents, and they will continue to be easy marks for organizations such as the old PLO and the contemporary Hamas. Those organizations take normal human longing (for the prosperity and liberty they see in Israel) and turn it into hate filled passion using divisive words and murderous actions.

Gordis misses that the lack of security for Israel is the walls they built. If Israel would fully annex both Gaza and the West Bank, and encourage Israeli jews (and arabs) to move into those regions, fully integrated, unfettered by byzantine, antiquated rules, then the threats would come from within rather than without. That’s security.

Viewed another way, can any nation which defines itself according to a particular religion ever know peace and security? Doesn’t the divisiveness built into such a culture ensure continued attacks? There is much to be learned by doing the hard job of setting aside the “Jewish question” and examining the situation as a violent conflict between humans.

Also, Russ’s notion that there could be a future Palestine similar to post-WW2 Japan or Germany misses the very different geographic and historical realities. Germany and Japan had long cultural histories (politically united Germany not so long, but culturally quite long). And both are large enough to have significant industry. “Palestine” has neither of those attributes. Possibly a better comparison for Palestine is Singapore, but that doesn’t look likely. Maybe Switzerland or Luxembourg.


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TimePodcast Episode Highlights

Intro. [Recording date: December 3, 2023.]

Russ Roberts: Today is December 3rd, 2023, and my guest is Daniel Gordis of Shalem College. Daniel is the Koret Distinguished Fellow here at Shalem. His Substack, Israel from the Inside, is an extraordinary window into what is happening here. I encourage you to subscribe.

Daniel was last here in April of 2023 discussing his latest book, Impossible Takes Longer. That conversation began with a 40-minute overview of Israeli history, which I strongly recommend.

Today, we're going to talk about two things: how the events of October 7th and the war that followed have changed you, Danny, and your perspective on this country; and then we'll turn to the question of how the country has changed in response to the war and maybe where it's headed. Danny, welcome to EconTalk.

Daniel Gordis: Thanks for having me, Russ. Great to be back.


Russ Roberts: Now, you've been living here for 25 years. You moved here in 1998 from Los Angeles, and you published a remarkable book, a very powerful book, titled If A Place Can Make You Cry: Dispatches from an Anxious State. I strongly recommend it.

You moved your family from Los Angeles to what shortly after you arrived here became a war zone, the middle of what is often called the Second Intifada. So, you've seen a lot of chapters of this conflict, you've written about them, you've lived through them, and I want to talk about how this one is different, if at all, and to do that, I want to start with the Intifada. What was that about and how did you experience it?

Daniel Gordis: Well, as you said, we got here in 1998. We came with three kids. They were 12, 9, and 5 at the time. We got here in 1998. 1999, it's hard to believe, but this guy named Ehud Barak won an election and beat a guy named Bibi Netanyahu, who was kind of amazing; and everybody assumed Barak made three promises. He was going to get Du Bois out of Lebanon, as he put it, he was going to make peace with Syria, and he was going to make peace with the Palestinians.

The peace with Syria went nowhere. The Syrians had no interest in negotiating back then. He did actually pull people out of Lebanon. He got the army out of Lebanon after about 18 years. It's actually very telling that the young men who actually were the last ones to come out of Lebanon in the north and locked the gate--they literally got off their APCs [Armoured personnel carriers] and they closed the gate and they put a chain on it and they put a lock--they were actually born the year that Israel went into Lebanon in 1982. And that seemed unbelievably positive.

What we didn't understand then was that every Israeli pullback, whether it's from Gaza in 2005, whether it's from Lebanon in 2000, wherever, it's always interpreted as weakness. And we didn't know this then, but that was going to be interpreted as weakness.

So, he pulls out in the summer of 2005 [2000--Econlib Ed.], and by the fall of 2005--sorry, 2000--and by the fall of 2000, Israel is involved in what at first seems to be a kind of series of terrorist events. Just like this year, by the way, Russ, it starts on a Jewish holiday. The Yom Kippur War starts on Yom Kippur--obviously--in 1973.

The Intifada, which is an Arabic word which means popular uprising or spontaneous uprising--which is, by the way, why it's a complete misnomer. There was nothing spontaneous or popular about the Intifada. It was very clearly choreographed by Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority. When Israeli troops went into Jenin and other places--Ramallah eventually--they were able to uncover troves of documents that proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that those was orchestrated to look a bit like a popular spontaneous uprising in response to some Israeli provocation or another. It was nothing of the sort. It was a very clearly planned attempt to basically end Oslo or to create a new reality in the Middle East. Now, at the risk--

Russ Roberts: Back up for a second and explain. For listeners who don't know what Oslo is, go back a few more years.

Daniel Gordis: So, Oslo is in the 1980s, and it's an agreement. It starts in the 1980s, goes into the 1990s. It is an agreement in which Israel, theoretically, reaches an agreement which creates the Palestinian Authority. Until that point, there was only the PLO--the Palestinian Liberation Organization. And as a result of a whole series of negotiations which are very complicated--which we won't go into right now: they started in Madrid and they go on to Oslo--Israel, at first through intermediaries and then directly, negotiates with the PLO and agrees to a series of steps that would eventually lead to a Palestinian state.

The area called the West Bank--many Israelis call it Judea and Samaria, its Biblical name, but the Western World calls it the West Bank--is divided into three areas: A, B, and C. Area A is an area that's going to be controlled by the Arabs, by the Palestinians. They would be responsible for the day-to-day life, taxes, traffic, the whole shebang. C, on the other extent, would be those areas likely to stay in Israeli possession and, therefore, they would remain essentially under Israeli controlled. And B was sort of a mix. They were areas that would be negotiated down the road.

And the thought was that Oslo would lead over the course of time to Israel pulling out of all sorts of areas--Jericho and Hebron and so on and so forth--and it would eventually lead to the creation of a Palestinian state.

Now, one of the things that I think our listeners ought to understand--because we're going to come back to the current conflict later on in our conversation--is to understand the Israeli mindset then and the Israeli mindset now. Because, in the late 1980s/early 1990s as this whole thing is unfolding, remember, Yitzhak Rabin, the Prime Minister who oversaw this whole thing, is assassinated in 1995; and that really is the end of the Oslo Accords.

It's not really because of his assassination, by the way. He's on record in a book by Bogie Ya'alon [Moshe "Bogie" Ya'alon], who was also at Shalem College--or Shalem Center--back then. Bogie writes in his book, A Long Short Road [also translated as A Longer Shorter Path--Econlib Ed.] that he had an indication that Rabin was actually already preparing before he was killed to pull out of Oslo because he thought it was such a disaster and he himself had made a mistake, because the Palestinian terror, in response to this idea of peace with Israel, had gotten so out of control that Rabin--according to some--believed that he'd made a mistake.

But anyway, to come back to our story: The only reason I mention all of that now is because there's a lot of going on in Israel in which the Right Wing--which objected to pulling out of Gaza in 2005--saying, 'I told you so. We told you 18 years ago this was going to be a disaster.'

And by the way, Russ, if you go back to old videos which were taken in 2005, in the summer of 2005 when the Israeli army went into the Jewish towns and settlements--whatever you want to call them--in Gaza, and literally pulled people out of their houses and then bulldozed them a few days later, you see people unwilling to walk but also unwilling to use violence against the soldiers. They just sort of lay there limp, and the soldiers--with tears in their eyes--carry these people out, and the people are screaming at the cameras, 'You don't understand what you're doing. There are going to be rockets on Sderot, and there are going to be RPGs [rocket-propelled grenades--anti-armor weapons such as the shoulder-fired Soviet RPG-7] coming on this kibbutz and that kibbutz, and one day they're actually going to come in here and they're going to kidnap people.'

It's unbelievable to go back and look at those old videos, which I've unfortunately had occasion to do in the last eight weeks or so, to watch these people--who were totally right. There's a lot of 'I told you so' going on in the Right Wing in Israel, and there was a lot of 'I told you so' going on in 2000 with the Second Intifada about Oslo. They said, 'Every time we give back territory, it's perceived as weakness and it results in Palestinian aggression.'

It's very hard to argue with that claim, even though those of us who still hold out--or held out, I think is more appropriate--some hope for peace thought, 'Well, we should probably take this chance or that chance. Maybe it'll be different this time.'

So, we're here in 1998, come with three kids. This one breaks out on Rosh Hashanah, first day of the Jewish year. Rosh Hashanah, there is actually a very strange incident at Joseph's tomb way up in the Galilee; and some Palestinians come and shoot some Israeli soldiers. One Israeli soldier actually bleeds to death because they're unable to get him out, which seemed ridiculous at the time. Again, military unpreparedness just like we've seen unfortunately in the last two months here.

That, of course, quickly escalates into what is a full-fledged terror war, and Israelis tend not to call it so much the Second Intifada. They call it the War of Palestinian Terror, between 2000 and 2004.

Now, what was it and what was it not? It was a terrible time in Israel. You know where we live because you've been to our home a bunch of times. We live not far from the main drag in Jerusalem called Emek Refaim. On Emek Refaim, there were a number of terrorist attacks. There was a very famous, horrible one, at a place called Cafe Hillel--which is no longer in existence--but, our house shook. I mean, our house literally shook; and our kids were in bed clutching their stuffed animals and wondering what was going on. You heard all the sirens.

So, our daughter started high school that year. She was in ninth grade, and she picked her high school because it was known to be a very open place where the girls could come and go however they wanted. They were really treated like young adults. And she got exactly the opposite of that. They had to come in in the morning and it was locked down until they left at the end of the day because the school couldn't be responsible. Our boys were in school at a wonderful school in the Old City of Jerusalem where they did training for what to do if terrorists came into the school and how to stay below the level of the windows. This is a kid in fourth grade. It's just ridiculous.

So, it was a very scary time. It was a very sad time. Lots of buses blew up because of suicide bombers. It was really a war of suicide bombings in buses, and restaurants, and so on and so forth.

But here's what we need to understand: It was not an existential war on Israel's part. Nobody ever said: 'You blow up enough buses and you destroy enough cafes, you can bring down a country.' You can make a country miserable. You can make a country angry. You can create a generation of young children who are going to have PTSD [Post-traumatic stress disorder] and vote very differently. By the way, the people who came of age back then are the Right Wing of Israel now, and that's not incidental. But we never thought for a moment that Israel's existence was on the line. Israel's happiness was on the line. Israel's day-to-day life was on the line. It was a terrible, terrible time. But it was not existential. And when we come back to what's going on now, we'll explain what's going on now actually is existential.


Russ Roberts: When that ended in 2004, why did it end? So, we had--the First Intifada was the Palestinian response to the beginnings of Oslo. The Second was the continuing of this process. It was considered unacceptable to certain factions within the Palestinians. Why did it end in 2004? What changed?

Daniel Gordis: We destroyed the Palestinian terrorist infrastructure. We went into their villages. We went into Jenin, for example, a very major Arab city in the West Bank where the IDF [Israel Defense Forces, the combined Israeli military: ground, air, naval] has actually in recent weeks also been very active. There was a horrible case when 14 Reservists--when we say Reservists, people--they need to understand--they are fathers, they are husbands--they are fathers. We, of course, as you well know, we've lost a student at Shalem College who was a soldier. And people don't understand this, but this guy was a father of two small daughters. When we talk--this is a People's Army. This is an army when there is a problem like we have now, everybody is called up. And back then, not everybody was called up. Now, we have about 350,000 people called up, apparently. Just an unbelievable number.

Back then, it wasn't the same numbers, but we called people up. And in Jenin one time, 14 reservists, who were men in their 30s--again, married, fathers, lives, not young men in the army--were killed in a battle in Jenin.

But the Intifada ended fundamentally because we won the war. We destroyed the terrorist infrastructure. We started building the very famous separation barrier between Israel and the West Bank--made it much more difficult for Palestinians to cross. We never quite finished it, but we built enormous portions of it. And by the way, you can go online and see: The more kilometers of the wall that were completed, the less terrorist attacks there were. It's just very simple math. If they can't get in, they can't detonate bombs.

So, unfortunately, Israelis learned a lesson that that separation barrier--even though it was very problematic in many, many ways and an international public relations fiasco for Israel--stopped the war. We destroyed the terrorist infrastructure and we went back to our lives.

Russ Roberts: So, just reminding listeners: About two million Arabs--Arab-Israelis--live within the current borders of Israel. Not in the West Bank. Not in Gaza. They are not the suicide bombers. They work alongside us. They go to our colleges. They participate in our healthcare system.

Daniel Gordis: They're as Israeli as you and I are. They are Israelis in every sense of the word.

Russ Roberts: Although they serve less often, they can serve in the Israeli army, but they don't have to. They are an exception. Many do. But I think--again, it's a little confusing. We had an episode with Haviv Rettig Gur: I want to make sure listeners understand. When we use the term Arab-Israeli, we usually are referring to Muslims--and some Christians who are of Arab origin--who are not Jewish: who live within the borders of Israel on our side of that wall that you're talking about. There are also a lot of Israelis who came from Arab countries in 1948, 1949, and they are Arab in culture, but they're Jewish. So, they're also sometimes called Arab-Israelis, which is confusing. So, I just want to make that clear.


Russ Roberts: Okay. So, it ends in 2004. As you say, it was a horrible time. Your book chronicles it very movingly. It was a horrible time for Israel. It was a horrible time for the Palestinians. Of course, our efforts, just like today, Israeli efforts to dismantle that infrastructure, of course, had many innocent victims. And so it was a terrible, terrible time.

Daniel Gordis: Right. But it ends in 2004. Their infrastructure is fundamentally dismantled. Arafat is going to die shortly thereafter, and the West Bank stays more or less quiet. There's lots of terrorist attacks during the course of the years. Many people are killed, but it's a shooting of two people here, it's a bombing of four people there. It's unfortunately just what life is like here. The vast majority of Israelis went around their lives and were not affected by it. It rarely affected Tel Aviv. It rarely affected Jerusalem. It didn't affect Haifa or Be'er Sheva in any way. It was what happened in the West Bank--or as I said before, what many Israelis called Judea and Samaria. And life went on.

Where the spotlight moved was to the other side of Israel, not from the east where the West Bank is, but to the west and the south where the Gaza Strip is. Starting not long after the Second Intifada, Hamas--well, Israel pulls out in 2005, and relatively quickly thereafter, they hold elections in the West Bank. Many people assumed that the Palestinian Authority, which was fairly well-entrenched in the West Bank, would also more or less win in Gaza.

That is not what happened.

The actual machinations of the election are far too complex to get into right now, but the long and the short of it is, is that Hamas wins the election. In certain areas, they did/they didn't. But they emerged from this whole election cycle--which, by the way, the United States had pressured Israel to allow. The United States said, 'In order for this to move forward in a democratic way, you, Israelis, need to allow the Gazans to have a free election.' Which Israel did. And Hamas wins.

Now, what we know now in 2023, is that Israel mishandled that Hamas win entirely. Because, what we assumed for a very long time was although we went to war with Hamas time and time again in 2012 and 2014--time and time again, and some of them were very massive bombings of Gaza with terrible civilian casualties on their side, but also significant casualties on our side as well--the fundamental Israeli assumption was: We can contain Hamas. We might have to batter them periodically--and we did and we do. But fundamentally, there's a lot of Palestinians there, including the Palestinian leadership, who just want a better life for their people. And as long as we allow foreign money through Qatar or other organizations, countries to flow in, and we keep a military presence that's significant along the border, occasionally we're going to have to go to war and destroy some of their rocket launchers, but fundamentally, we can live with Hamas at our side.

That was what we call now the Conceptia--the Conception. And that's a word that became very central in Israeli life after 1973. Because in 1973, the presumption was: 'Well, we beat three Arab armies, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt in 1967. We tripled our size in six days at the six-day war, and nobody's going to mess with us.' And, 'We built the Bar-Lev line along the Suez Canal,' which was considered to be impregnable. And Israelis were kind of sitting back quietly, not worried too much about an Egyptian attack, not worried too much about a Syrian attack. There were overtures by Egypt--we know this to the effect--there were some overtures by Egypt in the years prior to the 1973 war. The Israel just dismissed it, 'Why will we negotiate with you? What are you going to do?'


Russ Roberts: And most of that tripling was the acquisition of the Sinai--

Daniel Gordis: Correct--

Russ Roberts: the Sinai Peninsula after the 1967 War.

Which, of course--carry on--gets given back in the aftermath of the 1973 War.

Daniel Gordis: Right. So, Israel captures three areas. One of them--let's go north to south. The area in the north, which is the Golan Heights, which is still a very strategically military important place because it's very high up and it overlooks the Galilee in Israel. Israel annexed that: just: 'So, that's ours. We're never negotiating that.' Some people leave never as not never, but Israel has said, 'That's ours. It's Israel,' and so on and so forth.

The West Bank, which was the stuff that we discussed about before with Oslo, is going to probably be split: some Israelis, some Arab, some whatever.

We captured East Jerusalem and the Old City--parts of the Old City are clearly never going back. But of course, it's also a Holy Site to Christians and it's a Holy Site to Muslims.

And it was Bill Clinton who came up with a very kind of ingenious but impossible-to-understand arrangement where Israelis would have the bottom part of the Temple Mount and then Muslims would have the top part of the Temple Mount. Way too complicated to actually be enacted, even though on paper it looked great. But that never happened.

Then going south, Israel captured the Sinai Peninsula.

Now, in 1973, Israel claws its way back to the original borders. Henry Kissinger, who passed away recently, is the one who basically negotiated that ceasefire. Some Israelis think to Israel's benefit; many Israelis think not to Israel's benefit. But that ends in 1973.

It's very clear now, by the way, Russ, that Anwar Sadat, who was the President of Egypt back then, was not looking to destroy Israel in 1973. He was looking to batter Israel badly enough that the Israelis would wake up from this Conceptia, from this, like, 'We don't have to negotiate with you,' and say, 'Oh, actually, maybe we should negotiate with you.' And in that regard, he won the war.

In other words, he did not win any territory; and he lost huge portions of his army and thousands and thousands of Egyptian soldiers were killed, but in 1977, Menachem Begin, a Right-Winger is elected. The world is, as we say in Yiddish, [? 00:20:38] gevalt. They're going, 'Oh, my God. Israel elected a former terrorist as a Prime Minister. Now the Middle East is really going to be in trouble.' But Anwar Sadat goes to his Parliament and says, 'I'm willing to go to Jerusalem and negotiate right now about a peace with Israel in exchange for the Sinai,' and so on and so forth.

To make a very long, complicated story short, that's what happens. And by 1979, the Sinai Peninsula is back in Egyptian hands. Arafat and Begin share the Nobel Peace Prize--sorry, not Arafat. Anwar Sadat and Begin share the Nobel Peace Prize. Arafat will get it later--undeservedly, but nonetheless, that's another story. And shortly thereafter, of course, Sadat will be killed by his own army for having committed the treasonous act of making peace with Israel.

But that peace, by the way, has held. It's been a very long time since 1979. Amazingly enough, that peace has held for almost half a century--not quite, but almost half a century. Egypt has played a critically important role helping Israel contain Hamas on the Gaza Strip, both in this current war and in previous wars.

Now, let's just come back to, now, what's different now and then. So, we said 2000 and 2004 is a terror war. It makes Israelis miserable, nervous. There's thousands of casualties on both sides. But again, as I said before, you can't destroy a country by blowing up cafes and buses. You just can't. You can't win the Second World War that way, and you couldn't win this war that way either.

What we now know is that what started in 2005, 2006 with Hamas's taking over the Gaza Strip was the beginning of a situation in which there was actually not a terrorist organization in Gaza, but an army. Israel did not realize that until October 7th. We always had the sense, 'Yeah, they have rockets. What are they going to do with rockets? They're going to kill some people. But they're not going to be able to take over our country.' But what happened on the morning of October 7th, of course, was that somewhere around 3,000, some of them fairly well-trained--not terrorists--soldiers: they're terrorists, but they were soldiers. They were trained. They had equipment. They came by land, by sea, and by air. And people might say, 'By air? They don't have an air force.' Well, they came by hang gliders, and it was pretty ingenious.

And just this weekend--I'm sure you've seen on the news, Russ--Israel started to release the videos of them coming on land by sea in these little inflatable dinghies outside the kibbutz of Holit. And completely unopposed. There's no Israeli response. These guys just get out with their submachine guns, and they exit just like Normandy, sort of. They come onto the beach and they run into the kibbutzim, and we know what happened. They killed 1400 Israelis. They raped, gang raped, mutilated, did all sorts of just unspeakable things to apparently dozens, maybe hundreds of women. For Israel, a very, very sore point here is that international women's organizations have been entirely silent about the sexual violence that was committed against Israeli women--which, of course, would not be the case had that been committed against any other population anywhere in the world.

And for several days, certainly October 7th and 8th--and some of them survived the 9th and the 10th--Israel was actually taken over. Parts of Israel were taken over by Hamas terrorists. The army had to go back and recapture army bases. It did, but not until many, many soldiers were dead. Hundreds of soldiers were killed before the war even started, hundreds of soldiers and policemen together--it was 200-something--were killed before the actual army response opened the war.

And so, this is an existential battle. Why is this as an existential battle? Because we now have somewhere between 150,- and 200,000 Israelis who are not living in their homes. And I don't mean they moved next door. They moved to an entirely different part of the country. They have moved by the thousands and thousands to the Dead Sea area and been put up in hotels. They have moved to Eilat, which is the southernmost tip of Israel these days, where they're being put up in hotels. They've left the north, where Hezbollah reigns from Lebanon: they've moved to areas around the Sea of Galilee and other parts of the Galilee.

In other words, we have two major areas now in which Israel is fundamentally unable to keep its citizens safe. So, it has evacuated those citizens; and the citizens now are saying, 'We're never going back until you destroy the enemy that can rain terror on us. We're not willing to raise our kids anymore running to the bomb shelters in the middle of the night. We're certainly not willing to raise our children in the north or in the south--in the north near the Lebanese border, in the south along the Gaza border--with the possibility that people can come over the border again and rape and pillage and burn and murder and do horrible things. We don't trust the government. We don't trust the army.'

So now, all of the IDF's efforts are focused on the south. But if you listen to the news, which I was just doing this morning, the conversation is also about the north, like: 'When is the army going to turn from the issue in the south to the north?' Because the people in the north are not going to move back to Kiryat Shmona, which is a fairly mid-size city, and to Shlomi, which is a much smaller city, and to dozens and dozens of kibbutzim in towns and villages along that area until Hezbollah is either disarmed or moved some five kilometers back from the border.

Not clear how that's going to happen. It's apparently the case that France is very involved in international diplomacy trying to get Lebanon to force Hezbollah away from the borders so Israel does not open a military front there. But we're in a very different situation here now in the end of, well, the beginning of December 2023. This is an existential war. If we cannot win this war--and I'm going to say something a little controversial: It's not clear that we can. It's just not clear that we can. If you look at the press this past weekend, this was the first weekend since the war started in which there was lots of stuff about how all these army breathings are basically BS. The army is telling us what they want us to hear, and they are not covering all of the military failures that have taken place since the beginning of the war.

I mean, we won't go into it now, but the country is sobering up after the first two months of a sense of huge unity and a huge--on all the TV screens--Yachad Nenatzeach: 'Together we're going to win.' We may win and we may not win, and if we do not win, it's not clear how any citizens move back to any place along the Gaza border or how any citizens move back to anything along the northern border, which ironically and crazily means they don't have to have any boots on the ground and they can still have captured territory. They can have nobody on our side of the border and still make huge swaths of Israel with important agricultural, technological, and tourist areas, all included, uninhabitable.

And that's where we are now. This is not the Second Intifada, which was sad but not existential. This is existential.


Russ Roberts: So, we're not going to get into the weeds of the military and the campaign. I watch the news occasionally--and the reason it's occasional is because my Hebrew is not very good. But I like to look at the pictures; and the pictures are very depressing. We see huge portions, it appears, of Northern Gaza reduced to rubble. It's not clear how that leads to victory. It clearly has destroyed a lot of Gazan infrastructure. We don't know how many people have been killed there, but it's a lot, and it's horrible. And it's not obvious what the end game is. Moving south and pushing two million people into smaller and smaller enclaves in hopes of focusing on the worst of them, even the most optimistic view that most of those two million hate Hamas--many of them do--but that somehow we're going to be able to distinguish the people who perpetrated these atrocities and who want to perpetrate them again and have said so--bluntly, without any hesitation, that they want to do this over and over again--it's not obvious how we're going to prevent that.

Part of when I asked you to reflect back on the past is that we've seen this movie before. There's a little too much Groundhog Day in this for me as a newcomer. And I assume for you, as a 25-year veteran, that it's hard to live in this neighborhood. There are a lot of people here who want to kill us. And, we don't want to kill them--irresponsibly. But we do have to defend ourselves, and that puts us in an awful situation. The world is judging us terribly right now. Parts of it have stood strongly at our side, but many, many people, and perhaps correctly, have said this is on an unacceptable response. I don't know what the right response is other than to leave. And I assume many people would like that, too. But it just--to me, it's a very dark--there are many things to feel dark about. I'm just adding another one.

Daniel Gordis: Yeah. There's no shortage of things to feel dark about. In the last couple of days--I don't know if you saw this in the news--the Mayor of Paris--I mean, we're talking about Paris, France, Western Europe--the Mayor of Paris came out and said, 'Hard for me to see Jews living in Paris and France in the next few years.' Not, you know: that there's going to be a wave of antisemitism and we're going to fight it with police and education. Just, the Mayor came out and said, 'Very hard for me to see how Jews continue living in France.' Somebody in Spain, I think a Deputy Mayor of a major Spanish city said exactly the same thing: 'Really hard to see why Jews would continue to live in Spain.' That's an unbelievable thing to be hearing from public leaders in Western Europe in 2023 in the middle of the 21st century.

So ironically, we're in a situation as a Jewish people where the world is saying, 'Yeah, maybe this whole Jewish state thing really isn't so sustainable because the cost to the surrounding populations is so overwhelming.' And at the same time--we're here and we're seeing this in America also--at the same time, it's not good that the Jews can live anywhere else. My brother lives on the Upper West Side of New York, and he and I were speaking last night. He went to synagogue yesterday morning at an Upper West Side synagogue where Bret Stephens was the guest speaker. He said the place was packed. It was standing room only. People were standing in the back and everybody wanted to hear Bret Stephens. Their assumption was Bret Stephens, the New York Times correspondent and columnist and brilliant guy, is going to come and talk about what can we expect to happen in Israel.

And he got up and he said, 'I don't want to talk about Israel. Israel is going to be fine, not so quickly and not so prettily, but Israel is going to be fine. But I'm here to tell you that in the United States, this is 1922. And it's going to turn into 1932 and it's going to turn into 1939. It is not entirely clear to me,' Bret Stephens said, 'that Jews are going to be able to continue living here.' Now, even if that's slightly exaggerated because of the heat of the moment, that's an extraordinary thing for a cerebral, thoughtful person like Bret Stephens to say to a group of Jews on the Upper West Side, which has sort of been ground zero for the thriving of Judaism in the United States. It's a place where on Simchat Torah, the Jewish holiday that celebrates the Torah, they would close West End Avenue so people could dance on the streets. I mean, it's just an unbelievable thing.

So, we're now--by the way, if you just want to leave Israel aside for a moment--as a Jewish people, this has been an unbelievably devastating two months, because part of the world is saying Israel cannot be allowed to defend itself if the cost of defending itself is so many innocent Palestinian lives. So, maybe Jews should think about something else. But in France and in Spain and the United States and many other places around the world, Jewish life is becoming dangerous, nervous, perhaps ultimately untenable. I mean, can you raise your child in America? You and I work at a college together. You're the President; I work at Shalem College. Can you raise your child in America if you know fundamentally can't send your child to an American university? Meaning that if your child is going to go to American university, they have to hide their Jewishness, hide their pro-Jewish/Israel passion. I mean, that's not the college that you went to when you were an undergraduate, and it's not the college that I went to when I was an undergraduate. We were openly Jewish and openly proud of Israel, and it was never an issue.

I went to Columbia in the late 1970s, graduated in 1981. We didn't have a Hillel back then, but the Jewish student office was literally right next door to the Moslem student office. It was perfectly fine. We had our little posters about Israel and flyers about this and that. It was totally fine. There was never a single incident in the four years that I was at Columbia. It's unrecognizable. So, we're facing a devastation for the Jewish people now in which Israel is just the canary in the coal mine.

I'll just say one other thing about this because--so then you say, 'Well, what are we going to do?' If you can't defend yourself here and you can't defend yourself there, where do you go? What's the end game? I was in synagogue yesterday, and a guy who actually is also a Columbia graduate but he graduated about 10, 15 years after I did. Tragically, there's many people who graduated after I did. But, he's a brilliant guy, lovely guy, in the tech world--not surprisingly in Israel. And he was saying something like what you were saying about the horrible casualties in Gaza, and it's devastating to look at these pictures. And then he said something that I thought was really interesting. He said, 'But, they have forced us into is caveman morality. It's us or them, and that's just it. Either we're going to destroy Hamas whatever the cost, or we can't live here.'

And that's what I think. That's the disconnect between what Joe Biden, who has been unbelievable and what Kamala Harris said yesterday in Dubai, which was less unbelievable but more expected--which is: Israel has the right to destroy Hamas, but you can't keep killing these civilians. But what if there's no choice? What if it's either/or: either we kill Hamas, we destroy Hamas but there's a terrible civilian toll, or we're much more reticent to have a civilian toll but we don't destroy Hamas? It's not clear why Israelis would say to themselves, 'This is a place where I can see my grandchildren growing up.'


Russ Roberts: Yeah. And I think it's important. It's hard for me to hear those words. I'm a newcomer. I've been here two years. Our listeners don't know you as well as I do, Danny. You're not a right-winger.

Daniel Gordis: Not at all.

Russ Roberts: No, and you were a very outspoken critic of Bibi Netanyahu in the months leading up to the war, over judicial reform--leading up to the tragedy of October 7th.

Your pessimism is important to be heard. I don't think people outside of this country have any understanding or have a very limited understanding of the mood. This is the way I sense it, and then I'll let you comment. There is an immense resolve here that this cannot happen again. The Intifada, like you said, yeah, it happened again for years. Eventually we built a wall; it helped. But, we pulled out of Gaza; and every few years, Hamas ratcheted up the unpleasantness of being an angry neighbor. And we'd respond; and it was sort of a very depressing, fatal theater that was played out over the years between Israel and Hamas.

It's different.

The world--I think the world is catching on how different it is. I don't know if most people understand the mood here. You'll tell me if I'm wrong. Among my friends--which, of course, is not a representative sample--but of my friends, people like myself who have made aliya, who've moved to Israel, and Israelis that I've come to know through my being head of the college and getting to know people, there's not a desire for vengeance. It's a remarkably un-angry response. It is resolve. It is: We can't put up with this. We can't sit idly by and allow our daughters to be violated and our children to be abducted.

I don't know anybody who likes the military response. It's horrible, and maybe that's not enough. Maybe disliking it is not enough. Maybe we have to stop it and say--it's many, not a large number, but I have met people who say we shouldn't have responded militarily. We should have just accepted this and done a better job in the future of guarding the border.

I think that's a mistake. I'm going to try to write a long essay on that. But, most people don't feel that way. Maybe they should, but they don't. They feel violated. There is a salience of the violence that is, I think, again, hard for people outside this country to understand, a feeling that we were violated--not: you know, when there was a school shooting in the United States, everybody feels horrible. There's a big argument then about gun control, and people mourn those losses. But they're forgotten very quickly. Whether they should be or not doesn't matter, but they are. In America, unless it was your town, you forget about those things and your life goes on, and it's a big country. This is a small country. It's seven million Jews, it's nine million people. It's a big town. It's really more like a big family, and you really have to go to Jerusalem, but especially to Tel Aviv, and walk the streets and see how many reminders are of the hundreds of hostages and kidnapped, abducted people are in your face all the time.

We don't take it lightly. We don't say, 'Well, that was too bad. We go on with our lives.' No. People are desperate to get those people back. It is our greatest strength and our greatest weakness. And, I don't know how long we can do what we're doing in Gaza, and I don't know how long we can do it if it doesn't lead to anything productive. Right now, it just looks like death, and I don't think that's going to sell outside Israel, and I don't see it selling for very long inside Israel.

Daniel Gordis: I think everything you said is exactly right. First of all, let's just clarify. I'm definitely not a right-winger, and then during this whole judicial reform thing, it's pretty much canceled a lot by people that you know very well who just said, 'He's kind of lost his mind. He's gotten hysterical about how terrible this right-wing government is and he's gone overboard.' But I think it was a terrible, immoral, right-wing government. And it was also incompetent, which we're now seeing; and not because of the war part, but it's been unable to take care of people's medical, financial, employment needs. In a whole way of ways, we're seeing what a complete disaster that government was.

By the way, Bibi is in a very, very bad spot because he's articulated two goals for this war: the destruction of Hamas and returning all of the hostages. It's very easy to see a world in which he accomplishes neither of those: get some hostages out but not all of them, batter Hamas very badly but leave Sinwar and Mohammed Deif in place in Gaza. And then Israelis have to look around and say, 'My God, really? Even when we decided to pull out all the stops, we couldn't win?' Israelis don't know that feeling. There's no such thing as, 'We did everything we needed to do and we didn't win.' We've just never had that. I mean, we sort of had that in the Lebanon War, the second Lebanon War--well, [?] the first Lebanon War--but Lebanon was a bit more of a war of choice. In other words, we had to go in and try to stop some of the terrorist attacks on Kiryat Shmona, which is a town in the very north, but it was a different set of circumstances. It was not perceived by most Israelis as being existential.

I don't know a single Israeli who does not think we should be fighting this. I don't know a single one. Maybe you do, and I'm sure they're out there.

Russ Roberts: I know one.

Daniel Gordis: Well, that's probably the one. I just don't don't know any Israelis who think that we shouldn't be pursuing this war.

By the way, I know a lot of American Jews who say to me, like, 'Where is the Israeli Left? Where are these Israeli Progressives that normally I talk to all the time and now I'm not hearing from?' I actually said to some person last week, I said, 'Oh, I can tell you where they are. They're actually in the cockpits dropping bombs on Gaza. That's where the Israeli--.' I mean, that's not cute. That's actually true. The people who were the head of the protest movement are the pilots who said they weren't going to fly who are now flying 24/7. They went right back to work, right away.

Russ Roberts: They said they weren't going to fly because they did not feel that Netanyahu's coalition represented them, and so they stopped doing their reserve training in the months of judicial reform that were so contentious. And then as soon as October 7th happened, they ran to their planes and they--

Daniel Gordis: Two and a half hours later. After it started at 6:30 in the morning, two and a half hours later they were in the cockpits.

Russ Roberts: And everybody else was in their convoy and truck and car getting to their bases and reporting. And others outside of Israel who had been supporting the protests and been an anti-Bibi, anti-Netanyahu were fighting their way to get back here to defend their country. So, it's an extraordinary moment.


Russ Roberts: Do you have any optimism, Danny? Do you have any?

Daniel Gordis: Yeah.

Russ Roberts: Give me what you got.

Daniel Gordis: I have optimism. You said before that my pessimism is a little surprising. I'm not pessimistic. I don't know that we're going to destroy Hamas, and I don't think we're going to get all the hostages back, unfortunately.

But I think that certain things have happened to this country that, at the end of the day, are going to make us much stronger. We have been reminded that we did not move Israel from the Middle East to Western Europe. In other words, we pretended in Tel Aviv that you give enough high tech companies and enough startups and a lot of fancy cafes and bars and restaurants and Tumi stores--you know, we don't have an Apple store, but the closest thing to it--you'll live that kind of a life. And you think: Yeah, back in the 1940s and 1950s and 1960s we were in the Middle East, but now we're kind of in Western Europe.

Well, we're not. We are, as people have been calling it now, [?ba villa ba junga? Israeli Hebrew, 00:43:56], meaning: we're in the villa that's in the jungle. And Israelis are recognizing tragically: if you want to survive in the jungle, you've got to act like you live in the jungle. You can't act like you live along the Seine or you can't act like you live along the Thames. You've got to actually act like you live where you are.

And I think this is going to bring Israelis back to where we were 75 years ago: a profound conversation about why Jewish sovereignty was an important project in the first place. A profound conversation about what kind of a country this needs to be.

I do not believe that all of the divisiveness that preceded October 7th has been washed away. There's, in fact, polls that are beginning to come out now that show that just below the surface the resentments are still there. We're going to have to figure this out very carefully. If Bibi doesn't resign, I think we're in for a very ugly political period, and it's quite possible that the hundreds of thousands of protestors that we saw about judicial reform are going to seem piddly compared to the millions of people who could take to the streets at the end of this war.

I'm not pessimistic about the future of Israel. I'm actually very optimistic about the future of Israel and always have been. I think that this is going to spark a renewed devotion to the project called the Jewish State. If it seemed, 'Oh, that's cute. That's the way my grandparents used to talk about the importance of Jewish sovereignty and building the country and going back to the roots,' and today's young Tel Aviv startup guys and women saying, 'Yah, whatever. We don't talk that way anymore,'--they do. They do talk that way.

And the sense of, as you pointed out so rightly, the sense of shared destiny and our determination to get these hostages back, so many people wearing these dog tags that the hostages have asked that we wear--the hostage families, of course, have asked that we wear--I think something very profound is going to come from this, but I don't think it's going to be pretty. It's going to be horrible for Gazans--and there are many innocent Gazans. Not as many, by the way, as I think a lot of people think. Support for Hamas is much more widespread in Gaza than people want to acknowledge. But we don't really know. It's like trying to do a survey in North Korea. How in the world are you really going to know what people think of the Supreme Leader? They're not going to tell you one way or the other, and the statistics are meaningless.

So, I think we really don't know what people think in Gaza. But it doesn't matter, at this point. We have to destroy Hamas or we can't live here, and it has reduced us to doing things that we don't want to do that make us very sad, but I think there's a determination to do it. And I think that six months from now, a year from now, two years from now, whenever this thing ends, Israel is going to start over. People are asking, 'What should we call this war?' Well, you can't call it the Hamas War because we've had a whole bunch of those. And you can't call it the Gaza War because we've had a whole bunch of those. Some people say, 'Well, you can't call it the Simchat Torah, which was the Jewish holiday on which the war broke out, but it means the joy of the Torah. So, you're going to call it the Joy of the Torah War? That seems a little odd.'

And a number of people have said, 'We should call this war the Second War of Independence.' And people say, 'Well, that's ridiculous.' Well, it's not. There's the Second World War. There's the Second Lebanon war. The Second War of Independence because this was the war where we had a fight--an existential battle--for our right to exist all over again. But not only that: this was the war in which society came together determined to rebuild. We've got to rebuild the army. We've got to rebuild all those areas, especially on the southern border with Hamas, but some in the north as well. We've got to rethink our entire strategy. We have to ask ourselves in the aftermath of the most divisive events in Israel's history, in the first months between January and October of 2023 when we almost came to civil war, and now we're fighting as a completely unified unit. We have a lot of questions to ask ourselves.

So, I'm not pessimistic. I think we're in for a dark period. We're in a dark period. But I believe that the Israel that's going to emerge from this is going to be stronger, more determined, more Jewishly self-conscious in a positive way--conscious that this is not just a Hebrew-speaking European country, but it's the country of the Jewish people. It's even possible that we're going to emerge with a much deeper relationship with diaspora Jews, because we're going to say, 'When we went to war, look what happened to them.' It didn't cause it, but it was the excuse for the antisemitism to rise up.

We're in this together. I think that diaspora Jews may change. Israel may change its reaction to some of them. The Jewish world is hitting control-alt-delete, basically. Mac users have no idea what that means, but that means reboot your computer. The Jewish world is rebooting everything. I think what we're going to look like in 2026, very, very hard to know, but I really believe that 2-, 3-, 4,000 years into this, our darkest periods have always led to periods of revival and resurgence. The Holocaust led to the state of Israel. Destruction of the Temple led to the birth of what we call Rabbinic Judaism. And we have a way as a people of taking very, very dark moments and turning them into moments of light and rebirth, and what that right[?] and rebirth looks like you never know in the midst of the darkness, but looking back, you can see that it happened. And I believe it's going to happen here, too.


Russ Roberts: Let's turn to this question of our relationship with our neighbors. As you say, our relationship with Egypt was pretty good. Our relationship with Jordan, there was some talk, but they've been pretty quiet. Syria--Syria, it's not pleasant. Lebanon is a mess. They don't have real sovereignty. Relationship with Iran is awful. They are a real existential threat. They may fall. They have a lot of internal problems, so that's unpredictable.

But we do have these people in Gaza, and we do have these people, our neighbors, in the West Bank. And the world seems to think that there's an obvious solution to this, which is that: The so-called "moderate" Palestinian Authority, which is--Mr. Abbas is the head of it--let's let them--we made a mistake in 2005. We had an election. To our disappointment, the radicals won, the fundamentalists won--Hamas. But now we have a chance to rectify that. We'll give that to the Palestinian Authority, and then they'll have the West Bank and Gaza. Maybe there are ways to connect them either digitally, virtually, corridors. There's things that could be done.

I don't think the world understands that that's not going to work here.

Abbas has refused to condemn the attacks of October 7th. There will be zero--correct me if I'm wrong--zero tolerance of a Gaza that's run by the Palestinian Authority, at least right now. Maybe that'll change. So, my optimism--which is thin--is that at least with Gaza, there will be a chance to rebuild it using a governance model that is not a reoccupation, God forbid. I don't think there's any taste for that here. The pre-2005 world where the Israeli army patrolled the streets of Gaza to protect the towns and settlements that you mentioned earlier that we eventually took out, removed by the military, Jewish settlements, because we could not protect them, and we wanted to give Gaza the best chance it could have to have some kind of independent life. We're going to have to start--the world is going to start over there with a realistic vision.

There are only two positive examples: Nazi Germany and wartime Japan. Somehow the post-war world that followed their destruction turned out really well. I don't know if they're reliably analogous: they don't seem to be, but maybe there's something that could be done. I expect to have some episodes on this down the road to talk about what creative things the world could come up with that would avoid having people committed to the death of Jews and Israel in charge. That's the world we're in right now, in Gaza, and that's why the statements like we have to eliminate Hamas makes sense. Even though I'm not sure it's possible, and I'm not sure what it means. It's a lovely aspiration. But I think something radically different has to come to Gaza in the future if this ends with Israel, in some sense, victorious, whatever that ends up meaning. Do you have any thoughts on any of that?

Daniel Gordis: Well, I completely agree with you that the Palestinian authority taking over Gaza is a non-starter. I know that everybody in the international world is talking about that. Biden says it, and I can't tell if he's just saying it because he's got to keep his political opponents in the Democratic Party at bay. I think when Kamala Harris, who I don't think understands the region very well at all, says it, I think she actually believes, 'Well, they're kind of moderate and they can take over the West Bank.' First of all, they're not moderate. Second of all, they're very weak, and they're only in power in the West Bank because Israel props them up. And Israel props them up because without the Palestinian Authority, it's going to be Hamas.

So, Israel has always kept Abbas, ironically, in power. But you point out, correctly: Abbas still says to this very day there was no Second Temple--meaning the Jews are fundamentally the Crusaders here. In other words, the idea that the Jews are indigenous to this land in any way is a hoax. The Crusaders are gone, the Jews will be gone.

Russ Roberts: He's a Holocaust denier. It's his Ph.D. dissertation.

Daniel Gordis: He's a Holocaust denier. He did his Ph.D. in Russia.

Russ Roberts: It's awkward.

Daniel Gordis: Yeah, but whatever. It's ridiculous. He's 88. I don't know how many people who were hardliners their whole lives became somehow very different at the age of 88. I can't think of a lot of examples of that.

So, while the international community is talking about the PA [Palestinian Authority] taking over, I think there's exactly zero Israeli appetite for that. There's much more Israeli appetite actually for occupying Gaza than there is for letting the PA.

Now, the question of: what are the alternatives? Well, one alternative that gets laughed at, of course, is the UN [United Nations]. The Hezbollah in Southern Lebanon has accumulated about 150,000 rockets, many of them precision rockets that can hit any hospital, any power grid, any bridge, anything in Israel under the UN's watch. Nobody here thinks that the UN is anything meaningful. So that's a non-starter.

There has been a suggestion of NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] troops. What if NATO troops actually came into the Gaza Strip and patrolled it? NATO is a more serious military force. Possible: NATO along with the IDF, maybe. I mean, is NATO really going to send foreign soldiers into tunnels to track down stuff that Hamas is trying to accumulate? It's a little hard for me to imagine an American mother or a French mother or a German mother wanting their kid going into a tunnel in some God-forsaken backwater of the Middle East to protect the country that they don't really care about that much in the first place.

I am far from convinced that this is not going to be a reoccupation in some way, in some way. In some way. It's hard for me to imagine that the day comes and Israel says, 'Okay, we're done. We're pulling out and we're going back to the old border.' First of all, it seems to me we're going to need to clear out some corridor, a kilometer wide, two kilometers wide. So, even if they can lob rockets, they can't send 3,000 people across the border to burn, to pillage, to rape, to maim, to do whatever.

Russ Roberts: This is the buffer zone idea. There would be demilitarized--

Daniel Gordis: Yeah. You're right. That's the buffer zone.

But the buffer zone, of course, does[?] nothing about rockets. That's the problem. People think, 'Well, okay, then they won't be able to come across the border.' But their rockets can. Israeli children would still grow up with bomb shelters as part of their life. And that's not what Zionism was about. Zionism was about changing the existential condition of the Jew not to be afraid anymore. And I think that's what people around the world need to understand: that this is existential because it has upended the fundamental assumption that Zionism was successful because in creating a state, we created a new reality for the Jew.

How was the Jew of October 7th different than the European Jew in pogroms in the late 1880s and the 1890s and 1903 in Kishinev [Chișinău, Moldova]? The answer, not at all. Nobody came to their aid. Nobody stopped. They were butchered. They were everything that we've mentioned before. We don't have to go into it again.

That's the wake-up call for this country. I think that the idea that somehow this is just going to go back to the old normal--it's not. So, if we have to occupy to keep our kids safe, I think we're going to occupy to keep our kids safe. Terrible. Terrible for them, terrible for us. We pulled out of Gaza because our soldiers are coming back in body bags daily. It was a disaster, and that's why Ariel Sharon pulled out. The irony is, is that pulling out ended up making things much, much, much worse than anybody then could possibly have imagined. We have to figure this out.


Russ Roberts: Well, the economist in me, which occasionally still speaks up: there's no solutions, only trade-offs.

And I want to say another thing about I think what people hope for. What you hear occasionally is we need a Palestinian Anwar Sadat. We need a brave man--could be a woman--we need a brave person to stand up and say this war is not this war that's now 75 years old between the people who lived here when we arrived in large numbers--we'd been here forever--but we got a State in 1948. The people who were already here didn't like it. The people living nearby didn't like it. And so we've been fighting that war now for 75 years. And we just need someone to stand up and say: 'This isn't good for either side.' We need somebody to say something positive about the potential for peace from both sides.

A lot of people on the Israeli side have tried and failed. Very few on the Palestinian side.

The reason I think that's true--there are two possible explanations. One is there aren't very many or any. I reject that hypothesis. I don't think that's true. The problem is, is that it takes an inordinate amount of courage to stand up against a thugocracy. Because they'll kill you. The threat of violence and the potential to use violence to maintain power is very, very stifling of dissent.

Now, the Soviet Union fell, which is an extraordinary historical phenomenon. They were a authoritarian group of thugs. They had an enormous prison system that they put people in without hesitation. They put people in for wrapping a fish in a piece of newspaper that had a picture of Stalin up against the fish, and a neighbor would report that, and then you'd go to the Gulag for five to 10 years. And, you'd say, 'Well, five to 10 years is horrible,' but it often was a death sentence because you were treated so poorly there. So, that--that that system collapsed--we're not going to talk about why, but we have something similar, tragically, in Gaza.

If you have a group of people who are willing to use violence to stifle dissent at the level that they do, you don't get any dissent.

And it's remarkable to me that in this moment, I've seen a handful--but a handful is actually an enormous number--a handful of video clips of people being interviewed in Gaza or in the West Bank, but it's mostly in Gaza, complaining about Hamas. They're interviewed on Al Jazeera, which is a Qatar news station. And they cut off the interview. But the clip somehow gets captured--that this person, despite the threat to their wife, was willing to say that the people who perpetrated October 7th brought hellfire on the people of Gaza--which you can debate till the cows come home whether it's Israel's fault that there are civilian casualties or whether it's Hamas' fault for embedding themselves in civilian areas. And I wish I lived in a world where we would say, 'No, we can't--we'll just take it.' We don't live in that--I don't want to live in that world.

Again, it's an interesting, ethical, and philosophical, and theological question. I hope to write something about it. Others will, too.

But, if you don't--in a world where weakness or a spirit of compromise is punished with death, you don't get a lot of people willing to stand up.

So somehow, my hope--which is unrealistic--my hope is that we can create some kind of governance of Gaza, maybe of the West Bank, or people who just want to have a better life for their children can thrive and become the leaders of their people. And there are such people. There are a handful of those people. Many of them are not on the ground. They're outside of those areas because they know they'll be killed if they live there. But maybe we could have that world someday, and we could live side by side.

Daniel Gordis: That's the hope. I'm less optimistic about that than you are. Point out, I think the Soviet Union fell, but it kind of still exists. Putin's world, and if you look at Russia and Ukraine, these things have a way of coming back. So, yes, it's not quite as big as it was before, but it's every bit the menace that it was before to the international order.

This at the end of the day, I think, is a battle not between Israel and the Palestinians. This is a battle between the West and in the axis of China, Russia, Iran.

We're just fighting Iran. It just doesn't look like we're fighting Iran. But we're being attacked by Houthis in Sudan, who are funded by Iran. We're being attacked by Hezbollah in the north, which is funded by Iran. We're being attacked by, obviously, Hamas in the south, which is an extension of Iran, not directly as much funded as quite the way that Hezbollah is, but still it's Iran. And the United States, which has got aircraft carriers defending us, one which we're very, very, very grateful for, this is really the West versus the Iranian/Chinese/Russian axis.

And this is really, at the end of the day, not really about Israel and Hamas. At the end of the day, this is really about whether or not the West has it in itself to defend the idea of liberal democracy. And that is both the potential for the spreading of this thing much wider than the regional conflict that it currently is, but it's also, I think, a hope for people to come to understand that and to understand that Israel is just the canary in the coal mine.

If the West allows Israel to go to a place where it cannot defend itself as a liberal democracy, they're coming for the rest of the West, too. Which makes this not only about Israel, but it makes it about good versus evil to a very legitimate, in a very real way. That doesn't make it any less horrible to watch what's happening in Gaza. It doesn't make the civilian casualties in Gaza any less heartbreaking--because they really are heartbreaking. But I think it adds to a sense of determination that we have to win not only for Israel and the future of the Jewish people, but we have to win somehow or another for the future of freedom, and for the future of democracy. I believe we will.

Russ Roberts: My guest today has been Danny Gordis. Danny, thanks for being part of EconTalk.

Daniel Gordis: Russ, thanks for having me. It's always a pleasure.